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The buddy problem.

From: Lorelei

 Dear Jessica,

I've got this one problem horse.For background information I've got a three year old Morgan filly that I bought at six months of age,she had been fully weaned before I got her.I brought her home and introduced her to my other horse(10y/o at the time, gelding), they soon became best buddies. Now my problem is that whenever I take my gelding out for a ride or whenever she cannot see him she starts to trot and gallop around the corral until I bring the gelding back or until she is WAY too tired to move anymore.In the winter this is a very big problem because she sweats herself up (Canadian winters are very cold-20to-30degrees Celsius). I have tried to "wean" her the way you would a foal from its mother and I have tried tying her up. No success at anything!! Could you tell me why she does this and maybe tell me how I could get her to stop "freaking" out?  My friend who is also a horse-person came up with the theory that my filly was weaned too early (all of her foals have continued to nurse until yearling age), could that be possible??

Thanx, Lorelei

Hi Lorelei, welcome to HORSE-SENSE! Your filly's problem is a typical horse issue: she's telling you that she's very dependent on the presence of her buddy, and that she feels insecure whenever you take him away. This is 100% normal horse behaviour, so don't worry that your filly has bizarre deep psychological problems. It's nothing to do with actual weaning, early or late -- and by the way, "early" weaning would be weaning within the first two or three months. Weaning at four or five months is quite normal, and not a problem for the foals or the mares. ;-) On some farms, mares and their fillies often share the same pastures for a year or more after weaning.

You're up against something much stronger and more basic: a combination of horse history, evolution, and instincts. Horses are herd animals, and they'll make a herd out of whatever's available: twenty other horses in a big field, five other horses in a small field, or ONE horse in the adjoining paddock. Horses find their security in herds, and they feel threatened and frightened when their security disappears. You have to find a way to make your filly (a) feel secure when her buddy is gone, and (b) understand that he will come back.

The easiest way to do this is to start with very brief separations, taking your gelding out of the field and working with him for a short time where she can see him. When she's more relaxed about that, you can take your gelding out of the field, walk him around the barn where she can't see him, and then bring him back. Then take him out of the field, walk him around the barn where she can't see him, keep him there for five or ten minutes, and bring him back. The next day, do the same thing again, and keep him away a little longer. Your filly will call and run around, but her buddy won't be gone long enough for her to become really frightened, and she'll eventually learn that yes, he goes away, but then he comes back, and that makes the "going away" part much less worrying. If you try to do it "cold turkey" and just take him away for a few hours, she will work herself into a sweat -- as you know! She may never be completely relaxed about being alone in a pasture -- it's not a normal situation for any horse, and she's a very young horse -- but she can certainly learn to worry a lot less, and run around a lot less. You may be able to help the process along by giving her some hay to keep her busy while her friend is gone. At first, she'll probably walk in it instead of eating it, but you'll be able to track her progress by seeing how long it takes before she starts looking for her hay when you take her friend out!

The other side of this is the idea that you should also take your filly out and do things with her, so that she begins to look forward to her time out of the pasture, and so that she can accept that kind of separation, no matter which one of them is being worked with.

If you can teach her to accept her buddy disappearing for short intervals and then reappearing, she'll be much more relaxed about life in general. And this will be useful when you begin riding her, since you'll probably want to go out with a friend who will be riding your gelding or another horse.
Horses form those same "buddy" attachments with their trail companions, and there are all sorts of good exercises you can do on trails that will teach them to become more independent of one another and more focused on you.


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