Jenny Pearce

Part One of solving separation anxiety in herd bound horses.

EVERY tension, from EVERY part of a horse’s life is reflected in their saddle work AND in their health and separation anxiety is one of the big deal stress and tension issues for horses.

My horse Bobby suffered enormous separation anxiety. I remember a story before he came to me, about him getting so distressed when the horse next door went out to pony club that he needed the vet.  When he came to live with our other horse Carlos, he couldn’t bear to let him out of his sight for a minute without tearing around the paddock, sliding dangerously near fences and screaming for him non stop.

Twenty five years ago, he was weaned at around 7 months old – a pretty standard age in the horse world.  He was kindly weaned with another foal and handled with love and what was considered best practice at the time.

What I know now, from listening and feeling and supporting so many horses who have suffered from separation anxiety, is that the weaning process that we use – the best practice at the time weaning process that Bobby experienced – is most often the actual cause of the anxiety.

Separation anxiety is completely unnecessary and completely fixable

The good news is that every problem like this that you solve with consideration for your horse as a thinking, feeling being, INCREASES YOUR BOND TOGETHER.

Isolation traumatizes horses

One of the saddest things in the world is seeing and hearing about a horse who is suffering from separation anxiety, being kept by him or herself so that they don’t have a chance to get attached to another horse.  The isolation traumatizes them more than they were traumatized in the first place.  So eventually you’ve got an even bigger problem popping up.

Separation anxiety affects your riding and their health

Little do these owners know that EVERY tension, from EVERY part of a horse’s life is reflected in their saddle work and in their health. If you’re interested in how emotional stress affects a horse’s health, it’s one of my passions – ask me in the comments and we’ll have a chat.

As for the effect on their saddle work, they don’t suddenly drop the stress and tension of separation anxiety when you put your foot in the stirrup.   Stress and tension is cumulative – each stress adds on to the next – so the tension is still waiting there ready to bite you on the butt in all kinds of ways at all kinds of unexpected times.

Separation anxiety isn’t a training issue – it’s a trauma issue.

Does your horse run up and down the fence line, distressed when their mate leaves?  Or when you take them away, do they “just” get a little bit tight and tense?  Is it a huge issue, where they plunge around on the lead or under saddle,  doing anything they can, to get back to their herd or mate?  Or does it just happen occasionally when they’re under pressure?

Do you have a shut down horse who internalizes their distress, gets tight and tense and eventually explodes, while you’re left laying there on the ground asking “What the heck just happened” like in the photo here?

Or do you have a fidget horse who mouths their ropes and/or  can’t keep still, maybe they nip or even bite in their distress?  Or there’s the horses who eventually bite more seriously and get way too handy with their feet when they get upset enough and there’s even the fainting kind of horses that literally just drop to the ground when they are afraid enough.

It’s common to treat separation anxiety as a training issue and be frustrated by the horse’s inability to “get over it” “You know you’re coming back.” “You know they’re coming back.” “This is ridiculous!” “This darned horse won’t do what I want.” Bad horse!”  “Pull your socks up.”  “Oh you poor thing, but I don’t know how to help.” “Freaking heck, what on earth am I going to DO with you?!”  Have I missed any of our reactions?

Separation anxiety isn’t a training issue, it’s trauma issue.  So they CANNOT get over it when they’re in that state, they CANNOT think rationally about what’s really going on, they CANNOT pull their metaphoric socks up and get over it.

If we look at separation anxiety as “just” a problem to get rid of, then we’ve missed the point.

It’s a weaning trauma that we can support them to let go the impact of – sooo many horses have suffered from weaning trauma. 

Or it’s their herdmates weaning trauma we’re helping THEM to let go of when we take our horse away happily (Herd leaders or would be herd leaders CARE about the other horses in their herd and get distressed when they can’t help them. 

Or it’s solving the impact of the detrimental things that have happened or are happening when they leave the Comfort Zone of other horses.

Separation anxiety as a health issue 

Apart from the difficulty and sometimes danger of dealing with a horse with separation anxiety, it also contributes significantly to health issues like muscular skeletal problems, arthritis and laminitis just to name three of the most common.

No, I am not saying that separation anxiety is the cause of ALL arthritis and laminitis and ALL muscular-skeletal problems.  I am saying that the stress of separation anxiety contributes and CAN be the cause of all kinds of stress related illnesses.

Arthritis AND laminitis AND vast amounts of muscular-skeletal problems are stress related illnesses and conditions.  Again, if you’re interested in HOW emotional stress is such a big causal factor in arthritis and laminitis and muscular skeletal problems, then ask me in the comments, I’m happy to have a chat.

More articles coming

This is a BIG subject, so this article is the first in a series about separation anxiety, that I’ll write as I get time.  I’m not exactly sure how many “lessons” this series is going to take yet, but it will include some stunning success stories of de-traumatizing herd bound horses from people on the Fast Track program.

And it will include some techniques for helping your horse to release the old trauma.

There’s a problem though

The first problem is that solving separation anxiety takes putting the horse’s needs first.  It’s a TRAUMA  and you can’t use push or pull or force or be aggravated or frustrated and give a horse the confidence in you that they need to let go of a trauma.  You have to have the “right” attitude of an open heart that is willing to understand where they’re coming from.

And you can’t be under the pump with time pressure.  The time frame HAS to be for the horse’s needs. The irony is that the better WE get at Feel, the more confident a horse is to turn over to us and the less time it will take.

But those are not the biggest problem. 

The biggest problem is that those techniques I’m planning to talk about, will be worth very little to you unless you apply them with Feel.   It’s your FEEL – that thing that you feel and act on even before you see the first sign of a problem with your eyes, that makes it possible for a horse to turn over to you and for THEM to want to solve the problem too.  It’s your FEEL that gives you the understanding of the gift that you hold in your hands when a horse turns their heart over to you.    And that takes a bit more than a few articles on a blog no matter how well they’re written. 🙂

And don’t worry if you don’t know what I’m talking about yet – FEEL is the thing that we are so good at teaching here – that holy grail of horse people everywhere that turns ordinary people into extraordinary.  I’ve never met anyone who didn’t have Feel just waiting to be developed in the unique way that we go about it here.  If you’re wanting a hurry up to being extraordinary with horses,  you’ll see all our training programs listed at the top of the page.

See you in the next “whatever time span it takes” me to do the next part of this series.  We’re still in the middle of the Happiness program and so much of my time and energy is allocated to that, but I’m planning on soon. 🙂



  1. Malayna Nicolls 09/24/2018, 2:39 am Reply

    Following. I have been working on this with my 15 year old paint mare.

    • jennyp 09/24/2018, 5:24 am Reply

      What have you been doing to try to help her Malayna?

  2. ShonaF 09/21/2018, 10:20 pm Reply

    Wonderful post! I agree that the body is dependent on the emotional condition of the horse which will affect all body systems. To further the issue many of these horses become so panicked that they pull back or flip over etc. This is when the body now has additional trauma and stress and needs to have specific help to become balanced again. I am a bodyworker certified in Masterson Method, and also finishing a degree in Equine Osteopathy. We need to address the WHOLE horse.

    • jennyp 09/22/2018, 7:31 am Reply

      What a fabulous combination of bodywork Shona. I’ve very much enjoyed what I’ve seen of the Masterson method. Don’t forget that we have a free to advertise world wide list of alternative therapists here if you would like to promote yourself. 🙂

  3. Adele 09/21/2018, 8:00 pm Reply

    I have a beautiful 13yo WB mare who lost her mum to a snake bite when she was just 3 months old…she called for her mum for a week. I know so very tragic, but the breeder weaned her of course but she was not able to be put with another horse for comfort. As a result she gets quite desperate when her now paddock mates are taken out to do be worked. Is there anything that can de done for her situation as it is as distressing for me as for her.

    • jennyp 09/21/2018, 9:43 pm Reply

      Yes there’s lots to help her with. Sign up for the blog Adele (second box from the top on the right hand side of my page) and you’ll get notice when I write the next article in the series. :)) And grab The 9 Keys to Happiness with Your Horse while you’re there, because that will help you with some of the concepts when I start talking about solutions. Hmm I wonder why the breeder didn’t put her with another horse? I would think that it would compound the trauma for a herd animal to not have anyone at all after losing their mother?? Not that there’s anything you can do about THAT now. We have to deal with what we have to deal with in this moment, if that makes sense.

  4. Andrea Rosentrater 09/20/2018, 10:59 pm Reply

    Excellent article and looking forward to the others.
    As a professional trainer, separation anxiety played a major part of every interaction, even though I didn’t realize it fully. It was a thread that ran through every resistance.
    Tension and trigger stacking due to separation anxiety were causing a lot of training issues and behavioral issues I was spending a lot of time fixing: rushing or fighting under saddle, bucking, hollow posture, uneven circles in the direction of the barn, to name just a few.
    Enter positive reinforcement. Figuring out that separation anxiety was wrapped up in what I would call people anxiety, the association of people with aversives, opened my eyes to the root of the issue.
    And suddenly, separation anxiety just went away. With the horses I bring in for training, separation anxiety disappears within the first few days or first week. It’s not something I work on, it’s just a natural consequence of the way I now approach training.
    I’m spending more time on building advanced maneuvers because that time isn’t spent on overcoming separation anxiety resistance.

    • jennyp 09/21/2018, 7:40 am Reply

      High five Andrea! I love the way you expressed that – tension and trigger stacking – yes, it’s one thing stacked atop another until it’s an uncontrollable giant for some horses. You’ve also identified the big deal – that when we can flow with the understanding of the what and why and what to do with whatever tensions and upsets are affecting this horse, right at this very moment, THAT resolves the fear and anxiety.
      I’d love to know, when that separation anxiety has gone away with horses that come to you for training, is it just while they’re with you because they have such confidence in you? Or is it gone completely when they’re back with their owners too?

      • Andrea Rosentrater 09/21/2018, 9:50 am Reply

        That’s a very good question. So, with my clients using a lot of traditional methods, and me utilizing a lot of positive reinforcement, you would think that there would be a disconnect there when the horses go home. But what I am observing is that it seems to break the cycle of this self-fulfilling prophecy anxiety. It’s similar to the tying phobia that a lot of horses have where they set back and they pull back. They’ve pulled back, had a really negative experience, and maybe gotten hurt, and so the next time they get tied up they have this expectation and this anxiety and this anticipation about what if that happens again? Which makes it even more likely that they will set back and pull back again, so it’s really almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Horses with separation anxiety are very similar; they’ve had a traumatic experience, and so every time they’re separated, they start to display this fight or flight behavior in anticipation, which makes it more likely that they’ll hurt themselves or have a conflict with a human, creating an endless cycle of escalation. Completely rewiring the association that they have neurochemically with separation is my approach. So so when they’re with me they’re building these really appetitive, positive associations with being caught, tied up, saddled, separated, etc. When they go home, they may no longer have those associations, they may become neutral, or they may even be slightly aversive, but they no longer have this phobic response of fight or flight. Horses are pretty stoic and adaptable, and will deal with a lot of aversive situations as long as they don’t feel like they’re in danger. So, as a short answer to your question, no, I don’t see separation anxiety return in it’s phobic manifestation. However, I have seen resistance issues return in horses that are heard bound because they’re getting worked too hard, or it’s too aversive away from the barn. I’m sure that it’s possible for latent or spontaneous relapse to occur as well with the right trigger, which is why I encourage clients to utilize positive reinforcement as much as possible, or at least be aware of the balance of the aversives that they’re using so that they understand trigger stacking and their appetitive/aversive buckets of balance tipping…
        It’s tough to try to help a lot of horses that are working horses, ranch horses, cow horses, competition horses, etc. But it seems like if you just give these horses a chance, a little positive reinforcement goes a long way, and lasts a long time, and has a ripple effect.

        • jennyp 09/21/2018, 12:50 pm Reply

          We use a different language but the same result. I’m very glad, that’s LOVELY to hear about. It’s similar here too – once the release has happened, it’s happened. So unless a human comes along and makes what happens when they leave their mate really traumatic again, like it was for too many horses when they were taken from their mother, then the really bad separation anxiety is over. The horse doesn’t want to be miserable either hey?
          We don’t use positive reinforcement per se, not like you do anyway. It will be interesting to see what you think of the way we do it when I get time to write the next article! 🙂

          • Andrea Rosentrater 09/21/2018, 11:26 pm

            That is so wonderful to hear! Looking forward to your next article!

  5. Jackie Moore (Jackers) 08/07/2018, 7:28 am Reply

    Hi Jackie from sunny UK (and for once that is not tongue in Cheek) We are having amazing hot dry sunny weather. Downside ground is too hard to ride my lovely girls. Had to share this. Tonight at turn out for night time grazing. My daughter took Mika to the field first – out of sight – I was putting head collars on the other 2 AND Bea did not start pacing round the pen or hollering, we had one cry when I moved from her to Echo. Something is happening. I am not sure I am feeling anything, more observation.

    • jennyp 08/07/2018, 8:59 am Reply

      Woohoo! What did you do differently?

  6. Kathy 08/05/2018, 10:21 pm Reply

    This is THE biggest issue with our 6-gelding herd!
    You’ve definitely gotten my attention 👂

    • jennyp 08/06/2018, 3:46 am Reply

      I expect you’re a bit daunted by having 6 horses with separation anxiety. The good news is that horses CAN learn from other horses. The trouble is, that usually they are learning more fear and tension, because that’s far too often what the other horse is experiencing. So then people think they can’t learn like that. I’ve seen it happen over and over again now. You can reduce / release the fear of the whole 6, by picking the horse with the most need and get them in their deep Comfort Zone, working with FEEL – that thing that we feel long before we see what’s going on with our eyes. It is possible to have the whole herd releasing the majority of their old fear and stress and tension at the same time. Then there’s just some little individual tidying up things to get each horse in their Comfort Zone.

  7. Jackie 08/05/2018, 12:51 am Reply

    How is it that after 40 years being with horses I am only now realising that separation anxiety affects pretty much 100% of our domesticated horses and responsible for pretty much all behaviour issues. I have 3 horses and all 3 certainly have this issue in varying degrees/differences. Where do I start.
    Jenny you gave me some very helpful pointers with Bea after my post referring to the seminar on separation anxiety. Yesterday I took all out of the pen one at a time, I did not venture very far and I just watched them all. The most interesting bit I found was when I stood next to the pen with Echo who is the shut down one. Bea kept on yawning. They are turned out at night and I take Mika to the field first. Bea always hollers quite high pitched but when I was walking back to get the other 2 her neighing dropped off from the high pitched scream to a quieter sound. I think that is a result.

    • jennyp 08/05/2018, 9:02 am Reply

      That’s a GREAT start – well done Jackie. Well separation anxiety isn’t responsible for ALL behavior issues, but it is a serious contributory factor for most of them. Were you able to find the FEEL for what to do and when? Or are you working off what you see with your eyes?

  8. Petra Webstein 08/04/2018, 1:33 pm Reply

    Hello Jenny, wonderful topic you are approaching here. I wholeheartedly agree with you. Calmness, openess and allowing of time does wonders with so many things that are going on in our horses life. Thank you for being such a gracious advocate for this.

  9. Steve 08/04/2018, 1:26 pm Reply

    Hi Jen, Thanks for your reply. Always interesting investigating the possibilities. Over the last few months, Twist has taken a giant step forward in his ridden work as I have become even more gentle with him and given him more freedom. His confidence and strength has improved soo much. Lofty was getting a bit light on, so I have been feeding him. Twist wanted to eat too but in my opinion, didn’t need it, so I hadn’t given him any. After reading your article and listening to the webinar, I let him in to clean up after Lofty had had enough. Lofty drops a fair bit and leaves quite a few scraps. Twist seemed pretty happy with that deal. I love the change of perspective from a training issue to trauma. That is a huge and big deal absolutely. It is also a wonderful concept for some people issues in Counselling that I am currently involved in. Cheers.

    • jennyp 08/04/2018, 5:27 pm Reply

      I love the way that solving horse issues gives you insights into human issues too! 🙂 🙂

  10. Susannah 08/04/2018, 10:46 am Reply

    I am so happy you are doing this topic. I have and extreme case of separation anxiety. Or actually I have an extreme horse that has separation anxiety. I’m not sure how to help it bc they both have ringbone and I don’t want either one of them running back and forth. The one you can do anything with he is just a cool dude. He could care less if you take him away or the other one a way. His buddy on the other hand has a complete meltdown if you take the other out of the stall and it doesn’t matter if he is 2” from him on the other side of the door. Full out panic. The one that panics I can take out and do anything I want with no problems. The only issue comes when I take his buddy away from him. Or actually it starts if I even look like I’m thinking about putting a halter on his buddy. I have had bad experiences trying to put him in with other horses too so quickly gave up on the approach of rotating roommates.
    Can’t wait to read more!

    • jennyp 08/04/2018, 11:43 am Reply

      You’re going to enjoy this series then Susannah. Your email looks familiar – did you do 21 Days to a Quiet Mind? Not being able to take his buddy away 2 inches is extreme, but still totally fixable. He has to develop confidence that you are a) hearing/feeling him and b) acting on what your hear/feel – and it sounds like he needs THAT as a foundation before he can turn over to you with such a big trauma – that’s why I asked about 21 Days to a Quiet Mind. You could sit in one of those meditations with him just opening to understanding where he’s coming from. Mmmm I had to go look it up – it’s Day 16 that has the big heart opening, problem solving meditation in it. There might even be something else underneath that once we are connected deeply enough to figure it out.

      • Susannah 08/04/2018, 9:33 pm Reply

        Thank you Jenny I will go look for Day 16. He used to be pretty extreme about taking him away from his buddy too and I was able to turn that into a nonissue so I am confident the opposite is also solvable.

  11. Susan Jackson 08/04/2018, 8:31 am Reply

    Thank you Jenny for this gift to us and our horses. We are paying close attention!

  12. Nikky 08/04/2018, 6:51 am Reply

    I have a 13 yr old welsh pony with seperation anxiety.
    I take him everywhere with our TB in the float to prevent him charging around the paddock and busting out of his paddock. The TB is fine it is just our little man.
    He comes with us. Saves me worrying and he likes a day out with us.
    How can we help him to chill out by himself?
    He came from a huge 20000 acre property and ran feral with 500 brahman cows. Unhandled and feral. He was 5 when we got him. He is 13 now.
    He is a reactive pony and very distrustful of strangers. Trusts us but not strangers.

    • jennyp 08/04/2018, 9:49 am Reply

      That’s what we’re going to be talking about in this whole series Nikky. Taking him with the thoroughbred is a lovely idea, I expect it helps BOTH of them, but the “very reactive pony” means that he is carrying a lot of old fear, that he simply doesn’t have to have and that you can help him to get rid of. Supporting them to find confidence and trust in people again is a wonderful journey. Let me know if you’re up for it and I’ll point you in the right direction.

      • Nikky 08/05/2018, 9:20 am Reply

        Hi Jenny
        What we have done with him.
        Lots ground work
        Trick training. He counts, plays soccer, waves a flag and bows. He is very attached to my daughter who was 5 when we got him. She did lead classes on him. Then onto off lead. He will lean back on his haunches and eyeball strangers and objects he isnt sure of. He went to pony club a few times. Daughter is too big to ride him but still plays with him. He loves little people not big people. But he will accept the farrier and vet and dentist if one of us is next to him for reassurance.
        We walk the TB out of sight and little man calls out and runs up and down the fence. We come back when he settles down and he hangs at the fence watching. If we go for a ride he has to follow which can be a bit of a worry with cars etc.
        We have done lots of desensitizing. He is still reactive. He loves going in the float with us. Sticks his nose out the side of float to get the breeze. But sometimes he has to stay behind and he gets heartbroken.
        What can we do?

        • jennyp 08/05/2018, 10:08 am Reply

          Awww he sounds gorgeous, bless him. 🙂 Desensitising is interesting. We should have two words for the important nuances in the way people use the word. One way people use “desensitising” is about getting them to “put up with it” and if that is what we’re doing, it will always cause other problems somewhere else – because fear is cumulative, each fear that they have to “put up with” adds on to the next and intensifies their fear. So this way of using desensitisation will ADD to the horse’s reactiveness in other areas. Another way of using the word means “getting something into their Comfort Zone” where they understand it and are completely comfortable about whatever it is. Every time we use our Feel to help a horse have something in their Comfort Zone, they get more and more confidence in us generally as well as the good news of not being frightened of whatever that is. The WAY that we go about helping our horse find that Comfort Zone can be a big deal too. In our on line program Fast Track to Brilliant Riding, we have this technique that I call Release, Re-learn and Re-Program that supports a horse to let go of OLD fears and traumas in a way that is just so heart warming to be a part of. You can read a bit more about how that technique is the foundation for our work on the marketing page for Fast Track. The section on Release Re-Learn and Re-Program is the one with the girl riding into the sun. You sound like you really want to solve that separation anxiety problem NOW, Nikki, I am smiling here. It could be the beginning of a beautiful journey for all of you. So go have a look at Fast Track to Brilliant Riding and if it appeals to you, I have in mind a surprise for you. 🙂

          • Nikky 08/05/2018, 12:47 pm

            Thanks Jenny. I will.

  13. Steve 08/04/2018, 6:24 am Reply

    The timing of this subject is perfect. I have three horses (geldings) and a visiting Shetland mare. Recently I put Twist in a smallish paddock with the pony while I had lunch, when I came out he was in a lather of sweat and completely distressed. It has taken days for his body to relax again to a half reasonable level. This stress has transferred to Bucko albeit not to the same extent but certainly not good and he was formerly quite settled. Kind regards Steve xoxo

    • jennyp 08/04/2018, 9:57 am Reply

      Gosh that’s a big reaction for something you would have expected to have been not a big deal. That’s the thing hey? WE think it’s not a big deal and yet clearly it was a melt down and for TWO horses, not just one. It’s going to be interesting to see whether Twist was upset for himself or if he was herd leader worrying for Bucko, who has a history of being a lot more more fragile? Maybe you’ve got two horses to work on. As you know, horses DO learn from each other in their deep Comfort Zone, so that should reduce the work load! 🙂 We had a whole seminar on separation anxiety in last month’s Fast Track Live Seminar, that’s what made it easy for me to pull my finger out and get this written. Did you get the email and the recording Steve?

    • jennyp 08/04/2018, 10:19 am Reply

      Actually I had another thought Steve. I can’t see that this issue has just popped up out of the blue – it’s existed down deep for ages. So how much of both these horses original and extensive muscle problems has been tension from underlying old separation anxiety? Ooo… fixing this could be a chance to bypass masses of old muscular skeletal stuff?

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