Equine Behavior Questions and Answers

The Question: Decenber EQUUS Magazine featured an article by Dr. Williams about separation anxiety in horses entitled Happy Together and a reader sent the following question to The Equine Behaviorist:

I just read your article "Happy Together" in the December issue of EQUUS Magazine. A friend gave me the article to read after listening to me talk about my 'attached at the hip' horses.

I have had my one horse, a gelded thoroughbred since he was 16, he is now 28. He lived alone until 5 years ago when I got another gelding who was 11 at the time.

I had never owned a horse until I bought the first horse (Bud) so did not know what to expect when putting these two horses together. The man that delivered the second horse (Montana) advised to let them work it out, not separate them by a fence and so I walked Bud up to Montana, let them sniff each other, unhooked the horses, they circled each other once, then began grazing, and that was it.

They did bond immediately. Within days I took Bud into his stall to get him ready to ride. Montana was frantic that he couldn't see Bud and reared up, came down on the tube gate with his front legs, scaring the hell out of me that he was going to break a leg. I then decided to just lead Bud up and down the drive where they could see each other. Bud was unruly, spinning around to see Montana, stepping sideways, and clocked me in the head in the process.

Because I was and am not an experienced horse owner, this scared me and frustrated me. I had always wanted two horses so I could go out trail riding with other people, and now that was the only way I could out. Trail riding together they were fine, but I recently tried to take Montana out (Bud is currently experiencing some chiropractic problems) and thought for a moment that it was going to work. He rode away from the barn very quietly, while Bud was eating in his stall, but when we got two fields away he started to hesitate, look back, and become jumpy and agitated. I decided to get off and lead him since he was giving me the indication that he would bolt at any second. We continued on a long loop back to the barn, him with his head as high as it would go, nickering and looking for sight of the barn.

This particular incident seemed to bother Montana more than Bud. Other times Bud is the one kicking his stall, pacing, and screaming. One and/or the other pitches a fit as soon as the other is out of sight. I only have two stalls, and they are across the isle from each other. I don't trailer my horses, I trail ride occasionally, and while I can do what you recommend by separating them for a couple of weeks after building their obedience and concentration on me, I will still have to bring them back to the same barn, just the two of them, and am afraid that they will instantly bond again.

My question is how do I prevent the rebonding? Should I keep one in a stall, out of sight, and limit their time together?

I really want to be able to ride Montana, he is in his prime, and right now he is just a pasture companion to Bud whose riding days are most likely over.

I have had people suggest that I pony Bud when I ride Montana - do you advise that?

I hope you don't mind me e-mailing you about this, and can give me some suggestions.

The Answer

Howdy.

If you feel confident ponying and think Bud can handle the exercise, that could work. You might also try taking Montana for very short rides away from Bud - the first day, saddle him up and then take him just a little ways from home (a very short distance so he doesn't have time to act up). Then head back home and let him go back with Bud. Next time, go a little further, and then head home. Keep making your rides a little longer and a little longer. What we're hoping to do here is keep Montana comfortable but stretch his comfort level and show him that he always gets to go back home to where Bud is. If Bud is upset, this will show him that Montana is always going to come back to him.

Another possibility is to get a goat to keep the left behind horse company (sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn't). Do you know how to longe Montana? You might also do that - take him away from Bud and longe him, keeping his attention on you. Then take him back - so he sees that even if he has to go away and work, he still gets to go back to his friend. Longing

I hope this helps - and good luck!

The Equine Behaviorist


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