As herd animals, it is equine nature to seek company and bond. The relationships between a mare and her foal is very deep, and potentially one of the most difficult to sever.
Stud farms are prepared for the weaning process, and by maintaining the “herd” environment, foals soon adapt to their new independent lifestyle.
“We get our youngsters used to being handled and groomed, so that they enjoy the individual attention. That way, when we take them away from their friends, it’s a positive experience,” says Susan Attew of Holme Grove Stud.
It’s best to keep your horses as part of a herd, then the one left behind will stay within the herd, suggests equine behaviour specialist Jill Shephard.
“Horses with a problem about their pair bond leaving the yard while they remain stabled, cope better if they have something to keep them occupied. Try giving a snack ball to play with or hang things in the stable to keep the horse busy.
“Some horses like a mirror [specifically designed for equine use] on the wall, so that they always have a partner, and the radio is often a good distraction, although classical music is usually more calming than heavy rock!
“Whenever you separate pair-bonded horses by leaving one in the stable, it’s best to do so for a minute or two at a time initially, gradually increasing the absence until they are happy about being on their own.
“To separate horses in the field, split the paddock in half with electric tape and separate the horses – again only for a few minutes initially, then gradually increase the time apart.
“Once they are comfortable with this, you can run an extra piece of tape parallel to the first but about 1ft away from it, and over a period of time increase the distance between the two tapes.”
Jane Holderness Roddam of the West Kington Stud explains that “we try not to let our horses get too attached to each other.
“If a potential problem develops, we split the horses up and put them with something else, and then keep moving them around, so that they don’t become too dependent.”
Occasionally, pair bonding is actively encouraged, but not necessarily between two horses. Some highly strung racehorses have been known to settle with a Shetland pony, a donkey, goat, or even a sheep, to accompany them to races.