Separation Anxiety is a Normal Horse Behaviour

Partner Up workshop Logo depicting a horse and human head touching at the forehead with the words Trust, Honesty, Acceptance and Willingness inside a magical crystal ball
Separation anxiety shown by a horse leaping into the air with the handler hanging on to the lead rope

Herd bound, Barn Sour, Separation Anxiety

Herd bound, barn sour, and separation anxiety are topics that seem to crop up often and there are many different strategies to help the horse. These behaviours are seen mostly in a negative light because it creates discomfort for the rider or owner.

 Evolution created horses to become herd animals for survival. From a horses perspective safety comes from being in a group or with the herd, or in familiar settings.

If I want my horse to willingly and happily leave his buddies behind to spend time with me on whatever horse activity I am pursuing, I need to ensure I provide the necessary support/tools/experiences so that my horse feels safe to do so, otherwise separation anxiety symptoms may overtake the joy in spending time with my horse..

There is no cookie cutter approach to dealing effectively with separation anxiety. Ensuring my horse feels safe means I need to be open, able to hear/listen, able to understand, be totally aware of my body/thoughts/feelings/emotions, and energetically able to communicate in such a manner that my horse understands.

The root cause of the behaviour(s) of separation anxiety must be addressed first. Is it lack of confidence, lack of experience, lack of trust, high self-preservation, bad experience/human caused on the horses part or is it handler/rider lack of confidence, lack of leadership, lack of trust, lack of awareness, bad experience/horse caused on your part or is it a combination of both? Until this is identified and rectified there is no moving forward.

No matter how willing you are to seek out help for your horse, it is important to remember there are always 2 parts to every equation. Sometimes the hardest journey is the one we take to work on ourselves. Remember, each and every time we choose to start over with a clean slate we dedicate ourselves to becoming the best we are able to be. 

One thing I know for certain good horses do not happen, they are created by people willing to do the work on themselves. In most cases the behaviour from the horse that was undesirable ceases to exist when we work on ourselves.

Christlot Boylen was interviewed a few years ago by Tik Maynard. When asked “What does being a horseman mean to you?”

She replied, “A horseman will understand the twitch of an ear, or the nod of a head. They have empathy and they understand immediately how to react. They are always aware, and they react to the first signal. They know when to hold on, and when to let go. They put the horse in a position to win, not lose. It’s subtle… With horsemen, you don’t see the problems because they don’t go there. With others, they see it a second too late. Then you have issues.”