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Best way to distract a nutty herdbound horse while you ride his buddy?

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    Best way to distract a nutty herdbound horse while you ride his buddy?


    TL;DR What do you do when you have one herd bound horse that gets wound when his buddy is ridden to the point where it's starting to negatively impact the buddy? And where the herd bound horse is clearly stressed. Ideas for how to keep the herd bound horse happy and keep the riding horse less distracted

    ----------
    Ok, strap in...

    I have a nutty, herd bound horse (Shane). He's been like that to some degree his entire life. It got worse after he came down with WNV and was neurological at age 7 (he is now 22). After that, his brain just sort of never worked the same. That was more than a decade ago, but just to give you a little background-- he's not 100% normal-brained.

    For the last 5 years he has been living at my farmette. The setup is an 8 stall barn that opens on each side from Dutch doors out the back of the stalls to small paddocks. The back of the barn opens to a 1 acre pasture, which in turn opens to a 6 acre pasture. During the day the horses go out in the 1 acre and 6 acre area with the gate open between. At night they go in the 1 acre pasture. They come into their stalls only to eat and stand under the fans post-hose down. This life suits Shane well, it always has.

    Initially he came home with his buddy Stoney-- who he was the most attached to of any equine period. Over the years other horses came and went from the "herd," though not that often. He never minded when other horses were ridden so long as he was in his stall and he could see Stoney across the way in Stoney's Stall. By the time Stoney and Shane came home they were both retired. I occasionally would mess around with Stoney out of Shane's eyesight and he would start getting frantic in his stall. I didn't do that often, only if Stoney had a wound and needed to be cold hosed in the wash stall (Shane can hear but not see the wash stall from his stall) or something similar.

    By last fall I was down to 3 retired horses at my place-- Shane, Stoney, and Somerset. No one was being ridden. Mostly they were together, although sometimes Somerset stayed in at night when Stoney and Shane were out. Shane didn't care. I could take Somerset away any time for any reason and Shane never even batted an eye. Then I had to euthanize Stoney at age 30. Shane seemed ok as a twosome with Somerset. Then this spring I had to euthanize Somerset somewhat unexpectedly (knew the end was coming, didn't expect it quite as soon). I frantically scrambled and borrowed a friend's retired horse-- Chase.

    Chase and Shane became great buddies. Really inseparable but without any frantic herd bound tendencies from Shane. Chase is just chill. It rubbed off on Shane. Plus Somerset was a little dominant to Shane and I think Shane was overall happier with Chase as a companion. Chase is retired, so there was no riding.

    A few weeks ago I acquired a new mare, Mattie. She's lovely. She integrated in with Shane and Chase like she'd been here her entire life. Really cool, calm, collect, gelding-like mare. With every day that passes, she and Shane become closer. Chase really could care less about her. If he has food, he's happy. She and Shane were just standoffish buddies at first but now are little lovebirds. When I turn them out after eating they buddy up and sniff each other hear to toe. They are always together-- Chase is off in the background eating food.

    Mattie is rideable. And I'd like to ride her.

    The first time I rode her, I put Shane and Chase in their stalls (Shane can see Chase from his stall) and opened the top back dutch door so Shane could look out and see Mattie as I rode her in the 1 acre field. As long as I stayed on one half of the field, she was in eyesight. He was whinnying and calling and pacing in his stall-- even with hay, some grain, and my hubby standing there picking grass and feeding it to him. She was obviously distracted but well behaved.

    The second "ride" I decided to experiment. I closed Shane in entirely, all doors to the barn, and gave him a mash (and Chase too). That's a real treat. That way he couldn't see Mattie at all. I thought "out of sight, out of mind" might be better. It was not. He did a lot more calling to her and she did a lot more calling back and was VERY distracted.

    So I thought maybe he would be better if he was in a side paddock adjacent to where I was riding, where he could move around a little and be near her. Absolutely not. That was a disaster. He started frantically running and became totally unhandleable. She also came unglued and it was all I could do to stuff her in the stall for a second for my own safety. Shane remained frantic and wound up even after I let Chase and eventually Mattie out with him. It took him a solid half an hour to calm down.

    It's not practical for me to have my husband babysitting Shane every time I ride Mattie. Nor can I trust Mattie to be ridden at home as a "backyard horse" if Shane is going to come unglued and infect her this way. I don't know if I just need to keep doing it until he gets over it. Or if I should try to distract/calm him in some way. Or if there's some combination of setup that I'm not thinking of that you think would be more conducive to keeping everyone happy.

    My fences are not set up for goats/minis/minidonks and I would quickly be minus 1 husband if I mentioned that Also I don't think that would placate Shane. He seems to get very attached to one horse and one horse only and he's thrown Chase aside and picked Mattie. Any ideas welcome!

    Thanks for reading this TOME.
    ~Veronica
    "The Son Dee Times" "Sustained" "Somerset" "Franklin Square"
    http://photobucket.com/albums/y192/vxf111/

    #2
    IMO, Mattie needs to learn to listen to you and not react to Shane's antics when you are riding or working with her. Shane may get over it - or not - but either way she needs to pay attention to you and not him... I have had to do this several times when a new horse arrived at my farm. I always ride alone, so the first few rides on a new horse often involved listening to buddies screaming, and correcting any herd-bound behavior from the new horse. It's NOT fun - lots of circles, leg-yields, moving away from the barn, going further down the trail, etc. any time the horse reacts to his buddies' shenanigans. Eventually they learn that calling/screaming, jigging, running toward the barn and any other herd-bound behavior results in MORE WORK and most will give it up if you calmly persist (and reward when they pay attention to you!) My current riding horse is a submissive gelding who lives with 2 bossy mares, one of which screams the entire time I ride him. He learned on day 1 that reacting to her noise only got him more work/longer rides; now he ignores her completely when I am on his back. If you are not comfortable working on this by yourself, get a trainer to help you. Riding should be fun, not stressful!

    Comment


      #3
      I have a similar but much milder issue riding my mare - her gelding turn-out buddy does not go fully nutty but I hear him occasionally do a pathetic whinny, and maresy gets distracted but remains obedient. It's not BAD but it is annoying to refocus her sometimes.
      My solutions: I turn him out in a paddock where he can see maresy while I ride. Is that possible in your set-up?
      Otherwise, the other thing that I find as a helpful distraction is soaked alfalfa cubes - again, mine is not nutty enough that tasty treats that take a while to eat are enough of a distraction.
      The herd bound stuff is easily the most annoying part of having horses at home

      Comment


        #4
        I would lock Shane up in his stall and just concentrate on Mattie. My daughters mare is my " shane" in our herd of 3. I just put her in the dry lot which is a smaller pen off the lean- to which is fenced with roundpen panels and has excellent footing and I let her have her melt downs while I ride.

        Yes, she is upset, she is drenched in sweat and has completely lost her marbles by the time we get back, but she gets over it. Sometimes there is no easy way to do it.

        Comment


          #5
          When you say the back of the Dutch doors open to small paddocks does that mean each stall and a small attached paddock? If so, I’d let Shane out in that with some hay and let him meltdown in a small safe place. I suppose it could help if Chase was in an adjacent paddock since he stays calm.
          Then I’d do as others suggested and work Mattie making sure she keeps her mind on you and the task at hand. It may not be pretty for a while but things should settle down.

          Comment


            #6
            The mare needs to go out of sight and stay that way, for some weeks. Or forced separation where they can always see each other but far enough apart to prevent socializing. I have 3 mares and a gelding. One of my mares is very fond of the gelding. I do my best to keep them apart most of the time. They don't go out together, they don't go in stalls next to each other, and I try not to put them next door in the drylots. If the mare is in the 1st paddock, the gelding is in the 4th paddock. Otherwise they would be nibbling and loving on each other and calling when separated. My mare is notorious for falling in love and getting upset with separation. Within sight but no shared fencelines seems to be the key to keeping a peaceful herd.

            Otherwise, I have no solutions for you.

            Comment


              #7
              All of the above suggestions can help. I also put them on omeprazole since they are clearly stressing. If one is really cuckoo its worth a small ace dose for a few days. Good luck! Managing the relationships can be a PIA pr sure.

              Comment


                #8
                Perhaps try the degrees of separation technique?

                Put Shane in the turnout with the common fenceline to the riding area. Ride Mattie right along the fence line, back and forth, while Shane follows along by her side on the other side of the fence. Make sure when you turn Mattie to turn her INTO the fence, so she never has her eyes off of Shane. Think TOF.

                When the two of them are calm and bored with this routine - might be 5 minutes, might be 5 days - make your turns on Mattie AWAY from Shane. Think TOH. One or both may get upset by this depending on how chill they are at this point. When you can ride back and forth turning Mattie away from Shane without anyone getting upset, then you can start to deviate.

                Ride your fenceline and when you get to your turning spot, walk away from the fenceline just a couple of steps, and then go right back. Basically do a small volte. Do this at both ends. Try doing it halfway down the fenceline, try changing directions every 10 steps. Mix things up with changes of direction, keep it unexpected, but don't go too far. Try changing up gates, wtc to the extent possible, etc.

                Once they are bored with this - again, might be several days - start the up/down fenceline routine and then try riding away. Pay very close attention and turn Mattie back to the fenceline BEFORE anyone gets upset -- listen for Shane, pay attention to Mattie.

                If you can curb the anxiety as its mounting in their wee brains, but BEFORE either one acts on it, you can "train" the horses to be chill in a time of crisis. They learn its never going to go so far that they should get worked up. Like getting into a hot bathtub, you first put in your toe, then take it out, then your foot, then take it out. You ease your way in while your skin acclimates. Same with them, you ease the separation.

                Your timing in this has to be exquisite. You'll make mistakes, but you'll learn.

                If antics ensue, don't discipline, ignore. Pretend nothing is happening. Obviously, don't get hurt, or go past your ability or her ability to keep it together, stay safe, but ignore.

                Use the boring fence time to think about where her feet are, especially in your turns, and try to think of picking up and placing down each foot in the order you want and where you want. When you can put a horse's foot anywhere you want, anytime you want, you have complete control of their brain.

                Use the boring fence time to work on suppleness and obedience, try shoulder in, then haunches in, 3 quarter tracking, etc. Make it mildly challenging and interesting so she doesn't turn you out, but doesn't feel pressured too much either.

                When you finally make big headway and can ride away and come back, ride back to Shane and pause so the two of them can "soak" in the lesson they just learned. Praise them both.

                You can train this behavior away but it takes incredible patience and a lot of time.

                You are far better off doing this every day, 20 minutes a day, than an hour a couple times a week -- when possible.

                good luck!


                edited to add: If they are so beside themselves that you can't swing a leg over Mattie while a fenceline is between them, start this in hand, same idea, just on the ground.
                Being terrible at something is the first step to being truly great at it. Struggle is the evidence of progress.

                Comment


                  #9
                  buck22 's post above is solid.. but I feel you OP. I deal with some degree of this every spring -- my geldings live out in a herd and the rideable ones get the winter (Dec-Jan usually) off. There's always theatrics in the paddock the first few weeks that I bring the rideable ones back into work -- especially with the retired ones. They run around screaming their heads off the first few days while their buddies are off working for a living

                  I found that putting the retirees in stalls while I rode only made it worse. I don't know what your set up is, but mine were more dangerous to themselves in the stall than they were outside. Don't get me wrong, they ran around like idiots - but at least they weren't kicking walls or having tantrums in an enclosed space. What I did find helped, was tacking up the riding ones and then giving the retirees a quart of grain in a feedpan outside while I went and rode. Usually they'd be distracted by the grain for a bit and I was already off on the trail by the time they realized I was leaving.

                  It's one of those things where I found the only solution was consistency -- you just have to do it every day until they realize it isn't a big deal. The rideable ones usually call and act a bit up, especially if the retirees are galloping the fenceline right next to them, but by week five of working it is a non-issue again.

                  I like the suggestion to start small, along the fence-line. You mentioned Shane is retired, but can he do something "tiring" for 20m before you ride Mattie? Maybe go for a spin on the lunge line or work in hand? Then give him his hay and some grain and take Mattie out?

                  This is also one of the situations where I think you have to do your best to ignore the bad behavior, because bringing the horse back just reinforces it. It can be nerve-wracking watching them gallop around like idiots, but I found reminding myself they do that all the time (even when I am not home -- especially if there's a paddock visitor like a turkey or a hawk) helped.

                  Good luck!!!
                  AETERNUM VALE, INVICTUS - 7/10/2012

                  Comment


                    #10
                    I'm on "team tying" for the horses that want to act foolish.

                    Hay bag of excellent "treat" hay in front of him. Tie him to the wall/post/whatever you have that works best. Walk away, and don't look back.

                    I feel like some of them, with the ability to freely move/pace/use their bodies, it causes them to work themselves up even more than if they were restrained.

                    Comment


                      #11
                      Ugh. COTH’s unempathetic attitude toward separation anxiety issues always makes me a little depressed. Separation anxiety is an ANXIETY. When horses get like that they fear that feeling of being alone and insecure. Even though you know they’re only being separated for 45 minutes, they don’t know that. To them is “oh my god I’m never going to see my friend again and now I’m alone and going to be eaten by a lion.” Permanently separating them, is pretty much just making that fear closer to reality. It also doesn’t really work as well as we think it does. Sure, horses stop reacting and appear to settle once you isolate them but it’s not because they’re any less anxious on the inside. They just stop reacting. It’s no coincidence that horses that live alone are much more prone to ulcers.

                      I think that locking them in a stall, tying them up, or anything of that nature is cruel. If they’re already anxious you shouldn’t be putting them in a position where they have less control. I would leave them in their paddock or pasture or whatever and even throw a flake or hay so that over time, they realize, “hey my friend left and it really wasn’t so bad.” Give them the comfort of their safe space, let them have a little treat to soften the blow, and eventually, they’ll put it together that the friend can go leave and they will still feel secure and safe and they’ll get their friend back and nobody is eaten by a lion.

                      I know a barn owner that had a horse with bad separation anxiety and her solution was to round pen the horse every time it’s friend left. That’s a bad plan because the horse learned when the friend left, not only is it scary for the horse but he also will have to run around in circles so she took a situation that the horse ALREADY didn’t like and she made it into a situation that he wouldn’t like even more. She asked for my advice after seeing how confident my 3 year old was when her roommates would leave the property and she was shocked when I told her to just give him some hay and do nothing. She was under the impression that this would be “rewarding bad behavior” but I explained to her that separation anxiety isn’t really “bad” behavior. If a child is afraid of dogs we don’t treat that as bad behavior and punish the child right? We treat is an anxiety that yes, we definitely need to work on but we’re not going to punish a child for feeling afraid.

                      I think the key is to just treat it as an anxiety and not a training issue. People always get into trouble when they get into this “he needs to learn to deal with it so I’m going to show him by throwing him into a stall, or tying him up, or round penning, or whatever.” When if you can just be understanding and patient the anxiety gets better on it’s own.
                      Last edited by Equkelly; Sep. 5, 2020, 03:07 PM.

                      Comment


                        #12
                        Warwick Schiller has some fascinating videos on working with horses that have separation anxiety. The “work” is geared towards helping horses feel confident and calm by creating a peaceful connection between human handler and anxious horse. No round penning / lunging / chasing of horses is involved. Some of these videos are free via his FB page. Others require are a small monthly fee to view on his subscription website. I really appreciate his philosophy of helping horses overcome anxiety and have had good results using his work with my horse.

                        I think one of the worst facets of separation anxiety is the increased opportunity for injury to horses and handler. A previous poster had excellent suggestions to work the horses close together. I think that would be a very valuable approach. Basically keeping horses under panic threshold. This would really tie into the Warwick Schiller method.

                        What approach is best for OP may be dependent on the facilities available and the behaviors presented by the horses. I personally would be nervous about leaving a horse to run madly in a paddock with fencing that horse might challenge or less than desirable footing. A stall that is safe and secure may be a better choice.

                        What I have done, with good results, is to combine dinner time with practicing separation. I started with pulling one herd bound horse out of paddock. Feed one inside the paddock, feed the other right outside the gate. Slowly increase the distance. Slowly increase the time they are separated ( ie groom horse outside of paddock after he’s done eating). This worked for me when I dealt with two horses at home that became overly herd bound.

                        Good luck OP!

                        Comment

                          Original Poster

                          #13
                          Thanks for all the advice. I am back with a happy update.

                          Chase went home. So I am down to two horses now.

                          I decided to load Shane, the retired horse, up on things to distract him in his stall. He gets hay, and grain in a treat ball floor feeder, and an Uncle Jimmy's Treat Ball, and soaked beet pulp and alfalfa cubes. These are all things he does not normally have in his stall (other than the hay).

                          For 2 weeks solid I put him in, gave him his distractions, and took the riding horse, Mattie, out to ride. No matter what the retired horse did, I just kept riding her and he had to deal with it. He actually was MUCH less frantic when I closed ALL the doors and windows so he couldn't see her being ridden than when he could hang his head out the dutch door and watch her from his stall. He seems less worried if he can't see her (out of sight, out of mind?). With all those distractions he stopped getting wound up. Now he will call out once when he hears her walk out of the barn. And if she's been gone for 30 minutes or so he'll call again. And that's it. He is too busy stuffing his face to pay attention to her.

                          She's been good through all of it. Does clearly know what direction is home/him but doesn't do anything bad or call out to him.

                          So it seems the combination of TONS OF TREATS and just doing it every day for 2 weeks solid has done the trick. He will now stay ALONE, no companion, in the barn while I ride her and she doesn't seem worried about him while she's being ridden. She is very level headed and I expected her to be good. I am slightly surprised and pleased that he came around so quickly. The way to his heart is through his stomach, and food uber girlfriend.
                          ~Veronica
                          "The Son Dee Times" "Sustained" "Somerset" "Franklin Square"
                          http://photobucket.com/albums/y192/vxf111/

                          Comment


                            #14
                            People always get into trouble when they get into this “he needs to learn to deal with it so I’m going to show him by throwing him into a stall, or tying him up, or round penning, or whatever.” When if you can just be understanding and patient the anxiety gets better on it’s own.[/QUOTE]

                            I don’t think it’s about “showing him” but rather keeping the horse safe. Perhaps you’ve never seen a really anxious horse run up and down a fence line, or worse, through one. It can be pretty scary to watch and a stall is certainly a much safer place for him to have his meltdown.

                            Comment


                              #15
                              Originally posted by ORbred View Post
                              People always get into trouble when they get into this “he needs to learn to deal with it so I’m going to show him by throwing him into a stall, or tying him up, or round penning, or whatever.” When if you can just be understanding and patient the anxiety gets better on it’s own.
                              I don’t think it’s about “showing him” but rather keeping the horse safe. Perhaps you’ve never seen a really anxious horse run up and down a fence line, or worse, through one. It can be pretty scary to watch and a stall is certainly a much safer place for him to have his meltdown.[/QUOTE]

                              That is why I always put a horse who is anxious about being alone ( when we ride out of sight ) in a smaller area they are used to being in that has 100% safe fencing. In my case round pen panels are the only fencing I feel confident in using for this purpose.

                              In most cases with repetition most herd bound horses learn to deal with their anxiety when left. For me doing things the same way with them each time I ride helps. They learn what to expect and over time it helps.

                              Comment


                                #16
                                Originally posted by ORbred View Post
                                People always get into trouble when they get into this “he needs to learn to deal with it so I’m going to show him by throwing him into a stall, or tying him up, or round penning, or whatever.” When if you can just be understanding and patient the anxiety gets better on it’s own.
                                I don’t think it’s about “showing him” but rather keeping the horse safe. Perhaps you’ve never seen a really anxious horse run up and down a fence line, or worse, through one. It can be pretty scary to watch and a stall is certainly a much safer place for him to have his meltdown.[/QUOTE]

                                There are people with the mindset that separation anxiety is something you should punish the horse for though. I think shutting the horse in a stall and closing all the doors and letting the horse flip out is not right IMO. Putting the horse in a stall with some treats, and yummy food is different and I think that’s why OP’s situation worked out fine.

                                Also I would SO much rather my horse be in a large paddock with safe fencing than a tiny stall. Adding claustrophobia will only increase the anxiety in an already anxious horse. If you don’t have safe fencing, you should be fixing that anyway IMO.

                                Comment

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