You had a dream about keeping the horses at home and riding off into the sunset. There is only one problem. Your trusty horse turns into a screaming bundle of nerves when you try to ride her away from the other horses. You feel like you don’t really have control over her and you lose your confidence.

This is not a dream. It’s a nightmare!

First, it is important to understand what causes this behavior. Horses are herd animals. For them, they are vulnerable when separated from the pack. Vulnerable like maybe becoming dinner for a predator that they just know is out there waiting to pounce on them!

If you’ve lost – or lost sight of – your child in an unfamiliar place where you don’t know anyone, you’ve probably left them alone, scared and vulnerable. Maybe even a little panicked.

This is how your horse feels when she is separated from her herd. It’s called separation anxiety.

You can help your horse become comfortable with being socially isolated from other horses by using a systematic approach that gradually expands the horse’s comfort zone while reinforcing the positive association of being alone without causing her to panic.

Behavior that is reinforced becomes stronger.

If your horse feels anxious every time she leaves her herd, the behavior is being reinforced. Leaving her pack is always a negative and stressful experience.

Here are my 4 steps to help your grumpy horse friend stay calm when she’s with you.

Step 1 – Find out how far from your friends your horse can be while remaining calm and comfortable. You have identified her comfort zone. It could be on the other side of the fence. So be it. That’s where you start.

Step 2 – Walk her a few meters away from her comfort zone, and be careful to see when the anxiety starts. At the earliest sign of tension, take her back to her comfort zone until she settles down.

Step 3 – Do things she likes while you work with her. Things that feel good like grooming, scratching her favorite spots, giving her a special treat like carrots or apples. Try feeding her morning and evening grain away from the other horses – just outside the comfort zone. If she won’t eat, you’ve gone too far out of her comfort zone – take her back. If she’s a bit stressed but wants to eat, you’re in the right place.

Step 4 – Once your horse stays calm on the other side of the fence, walk her around the perimeter of the paddock. But only if it is a safe area without potential dangers for you or her. Walk her down your driveway – if it’s not too far from the paddock.

Remember that your purpose is to give her good experiences while she is with you and away from her friends. So take things slowly and gradually expand the area you take her.

Consistency and regular repetition affect how long it takes to effect a positive change. So, work with your horse as often as you can. Keep the sessions short – a few good minutes repeated a couple of times a day or 3 times a week is much more beneficial than an hour once a week.

Remember that your horse is suffering from real stress and anxiety. She doesn’t like or want to feel this way any more than you do.

When you understand the horse’s perspective and can help her have good experiences when she is with you by using this systematic training method, she will feel more comfortable and secure in your presence. And in the end, you and she will have a much stronger bond.

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