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. 🙂