Jason Webb’s blog: what to do if your horse suffers from separation anxiety

  • Penny and I had a blast at the Horse & Hound Awards in partnership with NAF last week. We were kindly invited to attend by H&H, and what an evening it was; a lovely meal, free bar and a great band — what more could we want?! It was fun to meet some fellow bloggers, including eventer Simon Grieve and Hovis’s wonderful owner, Karen Thompson, and see the joy from the winners of the awards. The cute factor was definitely miniature Shetland therapy pony called ‘Smurf’, who won The Balanced Horse Feeds Pony of the Year, who although blind himself, continues to transform the lives of hundreds of people living with dementia.

    Since my last blog, I have been very busy on the ‘demonstration circuit’! I worked with an ex-racer, Scallywag, at the Horsemanship Showcase (pictured top and below), and Emmy and Bob, who were having handling and ridden issues respectively at Horses in Health and Motion. Although I would love to have a spectacular ‘show’ at my fingertips, the reality is that my days are spent training other people’s horses, and to produce liberty and ‘trick’ horses that are solid within a show environment takes a lot of time and focus. Therefore, I have always done ‘real-life’ demos, mainly with horses I have not had contact with before. Hopefully, this provides the audience with a great learning opportunity, and it can be edge of the seat stuff, particularly if I’m working with a very tricky horse!

    The exception is when I do my monthly coffee mornings at home, when I work with horses that are in on training, or my own horses. Last weekend was our Christmas coffee morning when we ply everyone with mulled wine and put on some entertainment. Camilla Kruger, who represented Zimbabwe at the Rio Olympics, is based on my yard and she wowed everyone with ‘Sam’ (Biarritz, who she rode at the Olympics), pinging over a course of barrels to demonstrate incredible accuracy and massive oxers, showing his impressive scope. I rode my own JJ, who is now working at medium level dressage, while Hamish and I worked on my four-year-old Australian Stock Horse stallion, Haydon Oracle’s liberty work.

    Camilla showing off her barrerl jumping skills

    On the yard we tend to get more remedial work in the depths of winter, as opposed to starting young horses, and we have some interesting cases in at the moment. I am often asked about separation anxiety, which can rear its head during the winter as horses’ routines are varied according to weather, and opportunities for riding and exercise can be limited. My top tip with regards to managing this issue is to tie horses up on the yard to get them used to the comings and goings of other horses. At first they may get upset and move around each time another horse is moved, but after some time, they will become more patient and accept that if they stand quietly, they will get reunited or put back in their usual environment. Using my tying up exercise will really help with this as it gets their mind off the other horses, and switches their focus to you, and can be used in other situations and show environments. I also avoid turning horses out in pairs. Horses in groups of three or four develop a hierarchy and are much less likely to form an attachment to one horse, which can cause issues when that ‘friend’ is taken away. I also advise people to take a quiet horse to the anxious horse, rather than the other way round.

    A young pony being tied on the yard while her mates are being ridden

    In ridden work, if you are struggling to ride out alone, then try this exercise:

    Work in a field or arena with another, quiet, horse and rider. Position the quiet horse in the middle of the arena, while you work your horse round the outside. Make them work fairly hard, before giving them a break on the outside track well away from their friend. This will encourage them to think that they get a rest when they are away from their friend. NEVER go back and stand next to their friend when they are resting, even if you want to have a chat to the rider!

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    As with many issues that stem from a horse’s natural instinct (in this case, the herd instinct), it takes time and consistency to overcome them. It is often a matter of maturity and experience, too. Get a routine at home where your horse is apart from his mates, before progressing to new environments.

    This is likely to be my last blog for 2019, so it just remains for me to say Happy Christmas and a wonderful New Year — let’s make 2020 one to remember for ourselves, and our horses!


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