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SEPARATION ANXIETY IN THE HORSE

By
John O’Leary
Horseman
www.horseproblems.com.au

 ©2002

 

 

This has to be the most frustrating experience possible. Owning a Horse that has the mental condition known as 'separation anxiety' and yet it is rife within the domesticated Horse World. While a person can has several options to better their mental condition, it is not so easy for a horse. Attending meditation classes or enrolling at a yoga training center may be useful for handling your stree or anxieties but we don't have that option for the horse.

Yes it is a 'mental condition' just as Humans suffer from schizoid conditions, so the horse that suffers this finds itself in a similar Mental State, the only difference being perhaps is that the Horse doesn't have the option of Suicide.

You may have seen in a person or in the Movies then, the Human who has 'lost it' totally and someone will slap them right across the face in an attempt to snap them out of it. In a similar way, such a mechanism offers one of the very few chances of remedial work being performed upon the horse with an aim to improve their mental condition. For it is the act of slapping the face and shocking the Human that can bring them around and out of the state of helplessness, for that is what it is. When the horse snaps or is triggered, it is a mental state of helplessness that they descend into.

The other is to sell the Horse to a Home that suits the Horse, where it is in a Paddock situation, in a Herd and that when one Horse is taken out of the Paddock, the afflicted still has another Mate to calm it somewhat.

CAUSES

So what are the causes? Well, horses are inherently Herd Animals and even in the Wild, if suddenly separated from their Friends, they will become frantic as the Herd is the most important thing in their lives. So here are a couple of things that I find can make horses more or less predisposed to the fragile state:
 

  • The Breeder not being mindful of fostering independence in the young horse by not 'biting the Bullet' and placing young stock alone in paddocks and insisting upon it from an early stage.
     
  • Not rotating young stock amongst different friends and neighbors on a regular basis which fosters more independence in them.
     
  • The inheritance of the lack of independence in the young horse, passed down from usually the Mare. This then gets down to Breeding controls of course. If I see a Mare that exhibits any kind of suspect mental behavior or teaching a Foal bad habits like not being caught, I will wean as early as 3 months and I will not allow them in a paddock. I will bond the Foal with a good quiet Gelding and then start shuffling the young horse around regularly
     
  • Horses becoming people dependent can also start their process of being a pawing, yelling young horse. Owners who jump at the slightest movement of a young horse are compounding their own misfortune down the track and possible building a problem profile for later. Young horses that want to move from side to side or paw should be left tied up for how ever it needs until they shut up and go to sleep. Then release them immediately. People who run to them, are forever grabbing the lead rope, yelling at horses, pushing and pulling are often the cause of the start of separation anxiety in the horse.
     
  • And then there was the Racing Industry. The vast majority of afflicted horses are found amongst the 'Off the Track Thoroughbred' What is interesting is that prior to the Yearling Sales, the sample of vulnerable horses is far lower than after they finish their Racing career and there is no doubt that the biggest single cause of separation anxiety in Thoroughbreds. One of the predominant triggers being the 'cross tying' of horses, which sets up the first head and body movements of the weaver, just like the Elephant at the Circus.
     
  • The Halter Breaking process and the leading style thereafter can also play a part. Horses can only be relaxed under Halter when they are not fighting Humans. The act of fighting, pulling, tearing and pushing heightens their stress levels, makes life not nice and can compound their propensity to 'lose it'. Another building block towards the profile of the problem horse. Just as the Trail Horse that turns into a mental case called 'the jig jogging horse', so it is that anti training habits such as hanging off the mouth of a horse at the walk rather than being on a loose rein where the neck can lower and only then the horse relax, so it is that archaic teaching to lead horses as you swing off their head, brings the same result.
     
  • Then we have the affect of 'human frailty' which trains or compounds existing conditions. I am reminded about the difference between the car parks at a Western Show compared with an English Show and the behavior of the horses assembled. You would be struggling to find a horse digging a hole at a Western Show or even moving for that matter but at the English discipline shows, when everyone goes home, it looks like a plague of Rabbits has just been through. Why is that? Two things. The difference in attitude of those involved and the training of Horsemanship that exists in the Western World. They don't accept such behavior, they don't run to them every time they look sideways, they make them stand alone often, they won't shift horses to the other side of the float to give them a friend, they don't get tied to twine and break away which can be another trigger of the problem and at the slightest hint of such behavior, they hobble them early rather later when it is too late. Because of the complete void of the teaching of the subject called 'horsemanship' through the teaching systems, the English discipline people wouldn't have a clue how to nip such things in the bud early anyway whereas the Western World always has people focused on Horsemanship present and these things get quickly passed onto the 'newbies' A totally different culture.
     

  • Handler induced Stress in the Horse.
     

RACING INDUSTRY

I often equate the Race Horse with the poor 'Jews' during the Second World War. Being herded into Trains on the way to their death and separated from their Families and Friends. They would soon bond to any other Human being, just as the afflicted Horse attaches itself to others. Doesn't matter which one or if they haven't even sniffed or touched them. One look and remove that horse and they are off on their fence running, pacing, weaving, pawing and all of the other things that they do. To the Horse, the Racing Industry must be similar to the Trains to Auschwitz. These Horses do not enjoy the Sport, they gain a high degree of tension, have their Bodies filled with Drugs and God knows what else, are fed until they want to jump out of their skins, are injected with Hormones, whipped violently for trying their Hearts out over the last 200 metres and the list goes on. So they lose their natural 'Equine Spirit'. They only have one thing, their Friends, anyone, known or not known. They cry for their Herd, their past, their real selves. This makes them most susceptible to catching all of the various vices that such horses take up. Prisoners take up Smoking, Drugs, Gay Sex, Violence, depression or suicide, horses take up weaving, pawing, head chucking, running, not eating, bolting and so on. All being cries for help of course.

With regard to my point above, re causes, it is little doubt that the vast majority of affected horses come out of this Industry for their style of leading horses and the resultant constant fight and confusion, sure makes sure they are headed down that path.

Anyhow, lot's of the Thoroughbred Horses come out of the Industry with a heightened fear of being alone as they carry the memories of their mental anguish with them forever.

Regardless of the cause however, the fact is that these horses present one 'fistful' of a challenge to Owners' and I can assure you that I would never entertain ownership of such a horse. A quick perusal of my site will also show that I won't entertain owning an Ex Racehorse either. I like good odds, not bad ones. Read this:

So what can we possible do with these horses. I get the letters almost daily from plaintiff owners'.


TWO TYPES

There can be two reasons why horses commence with any of this type of behavior. Being allowed to become spoilt brats where they train their owner just like the kids of today train their parents or the genuine damaged mind type of horse that we have been speaking about. Success of fixing the 'spoilt brat' is far easier as it doesn't have a mental component with it. The troubled horse is far more difficult.

THE BRAT

These are caused by owners and include such things as, going to the horse every time it moves, fighting with horses at tie up rails instead of allowing the rail to do the job, yelling at horses that start to paw instead of ignoring them or doing something about it in a training manner, spoiling horses rotten (carrots and sugar) not allowing them to be horses (taking the horse out of the horse), bribery and corruption or giving into them for peace. (just like the Maccas syndrome)


OPTIONS

  • The first then must obviously be that the owner of the Horse, if trained by the Pony Club, British Horse Society, TA.F.E. Colleges or the Racing Industry, has to go through a conscious and physical process of taking responsibility for the welfare of their horse and to change the old habits of handling and Riding that compound stress in already fragile horses. For if they don't, there is no point reading on any further.
     
  • Top on my list would simply be to get rid of the horse and hopefully not to have purchased it in the first place. Which brings me to the Purchase of Horses and that it is almost impossible to test at purchase. Here is one such that was sold to a 12 year old first horse owner on my property last year. Go buy a Thoroughbred and you have a high chance of buying such troubles.


 

  • Secondly, just don't try to mend their minds. Just give them a mate and work around their condition. Even if is a mini Pony, a Sheep or a Goat.
     
  • or try giving them a reality check.
     

SEVERITY

Different horses have different degrees of separation anxiety and some respond to intervention better than others. That is influenced by the degree of severity of their condition or the strength or weakness of their character, largely influenced by their parentage or upbringing.

I find therefore that some horses respond much more positively to proactive training mechanisms than others and that you will never know the profile until you try various things.
 

FORMATIVE YEARS WITH THE OWNER

I meet horses regularly and have one here right now, that exhibits early signs of the problem and there is little doubt the Breeder is somewhat to blame. Sooked, moddy coddled, spoilt rotten, no rules, horse out of control on the ground to the point where the horse was locked up in a yard and the Stud couldn't even lead the horse around competently. They took the 'horse out of the horse' and turned it into a 'human' and one with little respect for the rest of us. That type of up bringing sets a young horse up to be a possible candidate for 'separation anxiety'.
 

ON THE GROUND OR UNDER SADDLE

  
I have almost total success with these horses when I am riding them but that is not gained easily. The one thing that I have learnt is that you have to lift your demand as a Rider and even shake a horse up, (slap them in the face) to shake them out of their thoughts and to focus them onto you. The degree of the strength of riding depends upon their profile of course and sophisticated and investigatory methods should be used by carefully following of the my theory of 'Riding with Justice'. In other words, working on a scale of zero to ten whilst carefully observing the reactions and deciding how far you have to go with strength in order to make them forget their Mate and concentrate on you.

The one sure thing and probably the greatest reason why the Amateur can fail with this is their reticence to shake a horse up for the good of the horse, bearing in mind that you could be saving their life. If you don't go there, you will never know what the limit of the horse was or how successful you could have been. Imagine being 30 seconds from total ridden success and you never knew it because you whimped?

In short, if you can ride with the assertiveness and strength of leg, spur, whip, accompanied with rein control and aggression if needed, at some point, the horse will forget it's mate and listen to you. That then triggers a switch to psychological dependence on us and can form the start of a successful and happy ridden career based on mate ship and the horse being relaxed knowing it is in your good care. It will revert straight back to it's normal self when put back in the paddock however. Put yet another way, if you can bulldoze and baulking, yelling horse, out the gate and give them a 'ride from Hell' around the District, it will soon forget it's Mate.
 

GROUND:     

I often get letters regarding out of control horses on the ground, being led mainly. "My horse is running all over me, I have trouble leading it, it won't concentrate on me" and so on. This is an area where the out of control ground mannered horses, caused by sudden separation anxiety because it walked 10 metres away from it's latest friend and thinks it is never going to see it again, can be sorted out.

Once again however, this is where we must rise up to the occasion and where every training philosophy that I have ever talked about or probably anything you have ever read about, must simply go out the window.

  • Firstly, if you are not competent in handling a horse on the end of a lead rope, meaning that you can't get way down a 3.6 metre rope, away from the horse and to be able to utilize the loop/slack in the rope in order to become al powerful and to be able to snap a horse around, then forget it. If you are trained by Pony Club or the British Horse Society with the 'lead them by the beard', forget it because there is a key here.
     
  • No horse that is out of control on the ground, no matter the reason, can be fixed unless you are proficient with the principals of Natural Horsemanship and talented in the use of the rope and rope halter. NOT LEATHER OR WEBBING.
     
  • Once again, you must simply take the initiative away from such horses, instantly and shake them up while you are at it. No starting low on the scale, do that later. Simply rip them into gear fast, get their attention, dismiss right out of their head any thoughts of friends, "slap them in the face" if it were a Human and then, change the rules right back to sophisticated Horse Training with all of the levels of pressure and release.
     
  • The vast majority of people cannot do this. They don't know how and certainly, no ex Pony Club system people can. That is why the vast majority cannot. So here are a few photos of me, simulating an out of control Horse but showing you the rope handling and the power of it. If you learn how to use the power of the loop in the rope to be able to snap a horse's head around and to put them back behind you and away out of your space as well, you have captured their mind. That equals relaxation
     
  • The reason why no Racing Industry type leading of a horse can ever assist one of these horses is this. In order to relax a horse, all fight must be eliminated and removed. They must be put onto a 'non contact basis' whether on the lead rope or the bridle. Any fight, struggle via the lead rope to the head of a horse and you have a compounding of the original problem, caused by resistance. Resistance that you can never win and therefore can never gain improvement. Set yourself up for any push/pull/shove with horses and YOU LOSE!! That is why most horses that are out of control on the ground, whether caused by separation anxiety or the failed leading systems in the first place, are never improved. You have to remove all fight and that takes away all power. Only then can their mind start to think about it and to soak up the removal of struggle from their minds.
     

AT LIBERTY:    

Controlling them at liberty  is a vastly different matter however and it depends heavily on total dedication, complete consistency and often thinking outside the square. The other ingredient is that we must be prepared to keep lifting the bar as the horse negates each ploy you try and being in for the long haul. Options that can work are:

  • The use of 'leg restraints' at the commencement of an attack but the immediately release from them upon the horse settling. Carried out each and every time, immediately and with release based on training so that the horse understands the message we are trying to send. Making the bad things difficult and the good things comfortable. The horse starts to run the fence, you go and put a set of hobbles on it and it is controlled to a shuffle. If it settles after a time, immediately remove them but replace the moment the horse goes to start up again. If it learnt to handle hobbles that well that it starts to canter in them, (as some can do) put a third on with a sideline. Up the anti as far as it takes to find the breaking point of the horse, to win but to remove them just as fast. (leg restraints should not be used without knowledge and the proper equipment and facilities)
     
  • The use of electric shock therapy. There are now remote controlled electrical stimulation devices that one can buy, to aid with training but once again, this depends almost completely on the 'idiot with the trigger' If you are a good Horse Trainer, with reading, timing and savvy, you will be highly successful but all systems are only as good as the handler. I have tested this system and it is by far the easiest and giving more control. The horse starts to run the fence. You rush out and loudly warn it not to, using your training nouse with timing. The horse stops and looks at you. It walks off, fine, it trots, give it an electric shock and yell out 'no'. Repeat many times and the horse will soon learn that running, weaving or digging may not be the desired behavior and your voice will then do the trick.
     
  • I have used a stock whip. Horse starts walking fence, I warn it verbally, it ignores me, I give it a flick in the rear or even crack the whip. Warning it with voice. Repeat, repeat. I have got them so far with this that I could open up the Dining Room window and yell out to stop a horse. That particular horse had a day paddock off a yard and stable. It started up in the paddock I would immediately chase it in, give it one over the rump on the way out, horse settled, I let it out. Repeat for months :)
     
  • A good shot with a catapult and small pebbles does the trick nicely and horses can be easily programmed not to run fences with this system.

 

With any of these systems and others, vigilance and consistency are the key and if you are not a committed person, forget it. It is hard work, it is emotionally draining which is why you couldn't give me one and I will never own another. The principal of making their negative behavior uncomfortable and the relaxed behavior comfortable. If by accident I did, it would be gone the next day and probably to the Abattoirs because many of them would be better off dead than alive. Sad but true. They can end up looking like skeletons, you can't keep weight on them and they drive the owner nuts, often ruining their quality of life.
 

THE TRAIL

Pony Club, Tafe Colleges, Racing Industry and British Horse Society. They all have one thing in common. The Military Training systems.

I make these comments for those dealing with a Separation A Horse that you are wanting to trail ride.


One of the contributing or at least compounding factors regarding stressed horses is the manner in which they are handled. Go to any Western Show in the Land and find a stressed horse on the ground! I bet you can't find one. Go to any English Show in the Land and will find them and the difference is in the ground handling. Horses have an increased level of heart rate and stress when they are fighting with an owner. The mere fact of pulling or pushing against an owner, whether it be by the Body as they move the feet of the owner or via the head as they take the contact against the hand of the owner and then move it, increased their level of stress. Not only that of course but it increases the level of evasion, ignorance and attitude. So how can I find some proof of this?
Go find a Western Horse that 'jig jogs' uncontrollably and will not walk. You won't. In fact you can jog them on command, cool as you like and come back to a slow walk on no rein any time you like and with the minimum of fuss. All of the 'mental headed' and 'jig jogging' horses are found in the English World and are caused by people hanging off their mouths at the walk, just the same as the Race Horse Trainer hangs off their head whilst leading. Same result exactly. 'jig jogging' on the lead. A mental condition from learned evasions, caused by out dated and archaic systems that are still handed down from the ages via the institutions named above.
Show me a Western Horse at a Show that moves it's head or neck in line up???? You can't. Now go watch the Queens Cavalry and see them flinging their heads from knee to Riders face as their go through their torment, desperately trying to communicate to the Geese on top, that they are actually not running off and so pleeeeeeeeaaaase take the hand brake off. Go to any Hack Show and watch them do their little cunning 'walkies' in circles behind the line up in an effort to con the judge that the horse really does stand but in reality, turns into an idiot if a point is made of it. Again, stressed horses that are in turmoil, caused by the systems. BHS to PC to Hacking. Same World.


So before anyone starts tackling their problem horses, go have a look in the mirror. If you are locked in the dark ages with your leather and webbing halters, your multi colored ropes and like to hold the horse in a vice like grip, don't bother reading any further as you won't have played your part.

The difference in styles. If you are not the Rider in the centre, 'Hacking out', it will be highly likely that  you will not have a relaxed horse!!

A pleasure Rein.

 

MANAGEMENT

As I said earlier, these can be highly complex horses and to fix them difficult indeed. Often out of the depth of the average owner without training or some other back up. So here are some ways that can work.

The thing you must know is that these horses are almost always set in the ways or now have mental problems. The first time that you go to re-train them and change the rules then can cause uproar and unless you can steel yourself to handle the repercussions, don't start. I mean possibly leaving a horse tied up for 5 hours or if one threw itself on the ground, leave it there until it gets over itself.

  • Tie the horse up to the tie up rail and leave it. Ignore it's pawing or calling for as long as it takes for it to stop, whether that be from boredom or exhaustion. It could be hours it matters not. What does matter is this. On the zillionth of a second after it stops it's tantrums, go immediately to it and untie it. Reward it with whatever and put it away. Repeat every time you catch the horse for something.
     

  • Ignore horses that move around at tie up rails. Providing they are standing without pawing and without moving your feet if you are present, who cares. I see people constantly grabbing the lead rope and pulling on the heads of horses that are tied up, creating a fight, stress and even the very problems that are being discussed here, all to no avail. You cannot physically impose your will for a horse to not move it's feet.
     

  • Find and put your horse in with another horse which is already an independent type and preferably savage or a 'bitch from hell' Let that horse teach your horse to stay away and graze on it's own. To start to learn to be with itself and to change it's mental thinking. Horses teach horses better than we can. Feed them 50 metres apart. Later, put your horse in an adjoining paddock, on it's own and seek to make friends with it yourself.
     

  • If you have several paddocks and horses, rotate the horse amongst different ones regularly, not allowing too much bonding.
     

  • Where you have ridden problems, yelling, atempting to refuse to leave home and so on, become a more assertive rider and ride them out of it. Go on long trail rides, alone and stop now and again, lay on the ground and allow your horse to have a pick of grass. Let the horse learn to associate your presence with enjoyment and horsy stuff. On the arena, fix it with all of the 'leg yielding' tools and 'roundness'. Make the horse concentrate and be assertive and demanding enough to over come the thoughts of 'mates'
     

  • Completely cut your horse off from contact with others, bite the bullet, leave it for weeks no matter what the behavior and see what happens.
     

  • Train your horse responsible with 'leg restraints' as a tool. http://www.horseproblems.com.au/DVD%20Sales.htm Do not play around without knowledge and proper training. This will open up to you many ways to beat and re-train such horses. Believe it or not, the horse with the mental problems often greatly benefits from being challenged with such training as they need to be 'snapped out of it' before they can then begin to think with a clear mind. You can't train horses with a mental condition. You first have to defeat it. The mere use of a set of hobbles can even become the 'crutch' that the horse needs to relax with and the hobbles even become their 'comfort zone' Progressively then, diminish their use (with training) to end up with a normal horse again.
     

  • One of the quickest ways to start up a bond with horses is to float them together. Horses that have never met each other will bond with one trip in a float, no matter how short. Handy under some circumstances but not otherwise. I liken it to the 'Jews' on the way to the concentration camps on the German Trains where they no doubt would have bonded quicker through fear of the unknown or the suspected.
     

  • I have successfully used stockman's hobbles many times to fix yard or paddock fence runners. Proper preparation and leg restraints training must occur firstly though, in your round pen. Then the hobbles must be used with complete sophistication and training. NOT as "here's a DVD so now be quiet" The horse starts running, install the hobbles. The horse eats grass, remove them and give 'reward and relief' repeat thousands of times. I have even trained Stallions with this.
     

  • Always eliminate the Veterinary of course and investigations into blood counts and balances, hormone imbalance and so on should be under taken and ruled out.
     

  • Don't try to train horses at the Show unless you are not competing. Don't compensate for them. Tie them on the opposite side of the float to any travel mate and make them get over it. Preferably travel them alone however. If allowed, train them in the warm up arena with proper Dressage and assertive riding but don't compete.
     

  • Never lose your cool with these horse but always nip new things 'in the bud' immediately with proper and on going ground manners training throughout their lives. Don't wait until things are established.
     

  • Always use 'Justice in ownership' In such instances of Rick's letter, be fair to horses. Always use empathy. Don't lock horses in boxes if you don't need to. If you have to, don't leave them there for a second longer than they have to be. If letting out other horses along side, let them all out together and don't promote trouble. Learn to read the signs and act upon them. Goal causes mental problems with Humans too!!

This too from today.....

All in all the Mare and Mini filly spent a week together on the trip down from N.S.W as they were held over in Melbourne for almost the whole week before coming on to South Australia.
Now we can not separate them, as soon as each horse looses sight of the other they both go into instant panic mode, my mare stresses terribly, runs franticly around her yard, calls constantly and gets all sweated up and as you say they both have a brain snap and neither will listen to anything that is asked of them. Both are stabled adjacent to one another at night and spend their day in adjoining yards.

I would NOT have them in adjacent stables or adjacent yards and I would immediately get rid of one of them and start again.


 

Remember, fight and turmoil caused by a lack of knowledge or technique of an owner can never solve these problems!

Caused by Man in the main and the horse pays the price.......

 

Mail: horseproblems at horseproblems.com.au

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