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Day 65 - Anxiety (Separation)

100 days Dec 05, 2017

When I asked you to tell me what you were having trouble with or what you'd most like to work on with your horse, anxiety came top of the list.

It seems many of you have horses that are anxious and you're not always sure how to best deal with it.

Anxiety manifests in many ways and this time I'm going to talk about the horse that hates to be left alone or the 'barn sour' horse, suffering from separation anxiety. I received various questions around this theme, including the horse that rears and spins when it can't see its paddock mates, the horse that calls out when ridden alone and a number that didn't want to be left alone in the paddock. They are all basically the same problem and there are a few things you can do immediately to start to ease the problem.

Again, we have to break it down as much as we can for the horse so first of all, we need to know exactly what's causing the problem. Let's say it's the lack of 'friends in sight'. Work out how far from the paddock mate your horse is happy to be without getting anxious and then start there. Breaking it down means that you work your horse where it's comfortable and then move a little further away (not much!) and work him/her until they're comfortable there and so on.

It's really important that you have the horse mentally engaged in the lesson. If he/she is thinking about their mates back in the stable and not how interesting your lesson is then you won't be successful. Think of it as a great challenge for being the best possible teacher you can be. Lift your energy and praise to help engage the horse.

I rarely train with food treats and this is one situation that I would definitely keep food away. An already anxious horse is not going to want food and it will only serve to confuse the issue. Stick with clear pressure-release and lots of praise and scratching for rewards after you release. 

I'll talk about the food reward a bit more next time but in the meantime, what are your thoughts on it? Leave me a comment below and let me know.

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