Q: My mare suffers with separation anxiety, whether at home or a competition, and hates being away from her companion. What’s the best way of handling this?
John Jones answers:
Separation anxiety is quite a common problem and sometimes dates back to a stressful weaning as a foal. Your mare’s fears are only natural – horses are herd animals, so being away from her equine friends makes her feel more vulnerable. Therefore, you need to gradually build your mare’s confidence in being on her own.
Start off small and practise at home in an environment you both feel confident in. Practise in-hand to start with, taking your mare off for short walks, perhaps allowing her to graze at the halfway point. Practise leading her varying distances away from her friend, before building up to taking her out of sight of her companion. Soon she will learn that she always comes back to her friend. She needs to see you as someone she can feel safe with, so that you can become part of her herd.
By using familiar groundwork moves with her, you can help her gain confidence and work on gaining her attention. Groundwork is often missed, but it is an opportunity to enhance your relationship with your horse. Your groundwork also reflects in your ridden work, so the more confidence you gain when leading her out in-hand should then transfer to your ridden work and hacking out alone.
I suggest not going to any shows until you have practised more at home, then take her to a show just as a practice run. Don’t, however, enter her in any classes – instead, practise leading her away and back to the lorry/trailer and to her companion. This is so that she learns she will always get to go back to her friend.
Practice for progress
Try not to see this as a problem, more a training exercise, and enjoy spending lots of time together. Remember to reward her when she is calm and aim to gradually build up the time you separate her from her friend.
Above all, have fun and try not to get too task focused – the more time you spend with your mare, the better, and you’ll soon see her progressing.