Freedom does not like to be left alone. The key word here, is “left.” Freedom will happily ride out away from his friends; he always enjoys an adventure. But if he is left behind he weaves, he paws, and he runs. Back and forth along the fenceline he gallops, his racetrack past extending into long, fluid strides. Basically, he has separation anxiety. And because I haven’t been riding enough this summer, he has become extremely attached to “his girls” — aka, “the harem.”
Today I had the temerity to ride Zelda. I didn’t take her far — just to the ring on the other side of the house. Sometimes, if I think Freedom is going to go ballistic, I’ll give him some Ace to keep him from losing his marbles, but I knew I wouldn’t be on for long and decided to chance it.
He screamed for her to come back. He raced down to the fence to see where we went. He rolled in frustration. And he completely ignored Curly who was happily eating grass in the pasture next to him.
Zelda? She was bemused. She listened to him, one ear cocked in his direction, but she didn’t answer. Several times I rode over to show him that we had not been abducted by aliens, and she gazed serenely at him while he weaved in place.
He’s a silly creature, but a horse that gets that upset when left alone can be a danger to himself.
Dealing with separation anxiety
It’s not unusual for horses to be herd bound. They are social creatures and they form attachments. In particular, geldings can become quite protective of the mares in their herd and want them to stay under his careful eye. It’s also quite common for racehorses to suffer from separation anxiety as they live an environment where horses are rarely — if ever — left alone.
Some people recommend putting a horse in his stall, preferably with some hay to distract him from the temporary absence of his friends. That wouldn’t work with Freedom as 1) we have no stalls and 2) putting him in a stall only increased his anxiety the few times we tried it.
With Freedom, this happens whenever I’ve been traveling (or injured) and he forgets that he can survive without his girls (it also happened when I had a second gelding and they lived together). I have to systematically leave him behind, gradually increasing the amount of time when we are out of sight. Usually after a few days he comes to accept that we WILL return and after a few half-hearted calls, he calms down enough to graze, even though he stays on alert. In some cases, such as when his friend Willow left for another home, a sedative works wonders. I know he’ll get over it; I just need to make sure he doesn’t hurt himself while his anxiety is ratcheted up.
How have you dealt with separation anxiety with your horse? Any tips?