Herd-Bound Till Death

Got a new mare about a month ago. We currently have four horses and two pastures which was suiting us fine until this happened. Basically shes a sound, workable, eager to learn mare that’s just about perfect. Unless she’s away from her friends for more than 30 seconds. We JUST got her and she’s already SO attatched to the other horses she nearly killed me today trying to escape the barn (mind you all four of them go in every night) because I decided to put her in first. This is the second time it happened, and so I thought that maybe if I longe the crap out of her, pull out a little monty roberts on her ass and maybe she’ll do better. A perfect join up and a half later she nearly killed me a second time. THERE IS NOTHING IN THE BARN THAT COULD POSSIBLY SPOOK HER. EVERY SINGLE NIGHT SHE GOES IN WITHOUT A HITCH (as long as theres at least one horse in there already). Ugh, I dont know what to do. I thought it might be one specific horse, her buddy Cooper, who is usually the first in, so I separated them, kept her in the round pen and Cooper in the furthest of the two pastures (which sadly isnt that far). Didnt work obviously. Theres no other place I could really take her unless I wanted to pay a 300 dollar board fee, but I guess if theres no other other way its worth it to save my life.

Do you ride her on your property and she is ok?

Honeslty in this situation, (assuming she is ok to ride and handle otherwise) I would just bring her in second when she’s already got a buddy in there.

Join up is a nice idea but science would argue that it’s not nearly as effective or accomplishing what we think. Human company will always be a poor replacement for equine company. If this is her only expression of herd boundness, I would save myself the trouble and risk and just bring in another horse first.


One month is not enough time for her to fully adjust to her new home. She obviously has some anxiety. For now, I’d bring her up second, if she is behaving each time you do it this way. I think any form of punishment right now (like separating her from her close buddy) might make things worse. I’d let her settle and work on some confidence building exercises and ground work, with lots of praise for good behavior. Like take her on longer and longer walks away from her buddy’s pasture. Give her some extra attention and by all means, work on your bond with her to build up her confidence.

Then, after some time (maybe a few weeks or a few months), slowly start working on taking her out first - but not all the way to the barn. Maybe just 1/2 way. Reward. Put her back in the pasture. Bring her buddy up. Then her. Rinse and repeat until you can get all the way to the barn with a calm, obedient horse. My guess is that in time, she’ll settle in just fine.


I have never dealt with an extremely herd bound horse but they are all a bit anxious away from other horses when green. I find a lot of simple ground work and hand walking and teaching simple stuff on the ground, going out of sight of other horses, feeding treats, can get them to start realizing humans can replace horses.

Moving barns isn’t an answer because an anxious horse can get bound to any other horse or herd.

Meanwhile keep yourself safe and think ahead.

Plus horse needs to learn running over a human is not ever an option.


I think you’ve answered your own question. :slight_smile:

Bring her in second or third. No shame in that. No reason to try and train her to come in first + you’re getting a negative result. Best to set her up for success as she’s getting used to her new home. By doing things her way for a while you’ll avoid danger to yourself, and once she’s more relaxed and confident then you can try changing the order.


Too soon to think you can’t work this out. It’s ONLY been a month. Give her more time. I have a nervous gelding
who sometimes took 6mo. or more to adjust to a new barn and new friends.
In the mean time, put her on a good Magnesium supplement, it can help tremendously and most hay is deficient.
Magnesium works on the nervous system and also helps muscles relax.

My mare was super herd-bound and anxious when I first bought her.

Where I board, horses are brought into the barn to eat but otherwise turned out 24/7 in a large pasture. When I bring my mare up to the barn to tack up and ride, it’s often just me and her in the barn. She was quite the nightmare to deal with.

(To be continued, hit reply too soon…)

She wouldn’t stand still, wiggled around when tied, was always desperately looking toward the herd with her head high and ears pricked. It was super frustrating to do basic things like picking her feet and putting on a saddle.

It just took time, patience, and some quiet firmness to bring her around. She was sharply corrected if she tried to do something out of line like running into me, or if she was a jerk when picking out her feet. Otherwise I just went about my business and talked to her a lot with a calm voice. If she threw a fit standing tied, I left her tied and let her work it out. Over time she learned that throwing a fit got her nowhere, I would always wait until she calmed down a bit before untying and turning out. I would praise her with calm words and scratches in her favorite places anytime she stood quietly for a number of minutes.

It’s been a year now and she’s improved so much. Still a little anxious here and there, but nothing like she was. For the most part she stands quietly when alone in the barn. Thank goodness! It just took some time, and a little trial and error in figuring out the best way to work with her anxiety.


This. You have to stay calm and let her know what is acceptable an d not. No dangerous behavior allowed. Do your ground work. Lead her out in a rope training halter (or if you are experienced-a chain over the nose) and use it. As firecracker said once she learns it will get her no where she should learn to co-operate.

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This is not fixed in one session.

If you can not stop her leaving the barn you are not the one for the job.

To start with don’t leave her in there by herself without you, but when you are in there with her, her attention has to be on you and only you.

No sort of touchy feely, not correcting her properly, not telling her who is boss will work in this situation. You do not need NH Horsemanship. You need Good Horsemanship whatever form it comes in.


This. OP, what is she doing that results in her getting away from you?

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She typically just goes into her stall, I try to close the door, she takes advantage of me moving for a half second and charges back out. She is so desensitized to her nose that once she gets it in her mind to get out, she can drag me (literally still on my feet) straight out of the barn. I’ve tried going in with her but that usually results in me nearly getting squished and/or a tug of war with her walking out of the stall and me, once more, being dragged behind her. Its very odd considering how polite she is when other horses are present. Anyhow, I will certainly keep what all of you have said in mind. She was put back in the pasture with her buddies today, and will consider the magnesium. And I do think it is a problem with just being out of sight of her herd-mates. She’ll walk to thr barn just fine, however once inside the real trauma starts.

If she isn’t in a rope halter already, I would recommend getting one for her and using it to instill some respect for pressure on the nose. Perhaps look into a rope halter with knots.

I would install a respectful, snappy backup on this horse. Make sure she knows that when you ask her to back up out of your space, she needs to do it and do it NOW. Behaviors like charging or dragging need to be nipped in the bud asap or they can escalate and become dangerous.

If the barn is the problem space and she backs well elsewhere, I would work on this in the barn aisle if it’s safe and open, provided your aisle flooring isn’t something she could slip on. Put another horse in a stall for the first few lessons to set things up for success. Quietly and softly ask her to back up by putting pressure on the noseband. If she refuses, increase the pressure. If she still refuses, give some small, rhythmic bumps. If she’s still refusing to back, I would swing a lead rope at her chest to further emphasis BACK UP, lightly first but increasing pressure as needed. Here’s the important part. As soon as she backs, release all pressure for a minute or two and tell her she’s a good girl. Rinse and repeat. Keep lessons short and positive.

If at any point she tries to charge out and drag you, do whatever it takes to get that horse stopped and moving backwards. Use whatever pressure necessary on the nose, and remember it’s harder for them to brace against a rhythmic bump than a steady pull. If there’s a high risk of her taking off and dragging you, maybe use a long rope so you have more room to get her under control and back to you. Also, wear gloves, rope burn sucks. As soon as she is under control and respectfully backs away from you with ears and eyes on you, release all pressure and tell her she’s a good girl.

Once you have her backing well off of light pressure in the aisle, back her in and out of her stall. Do it as often as you can so it becomes almost second nature to both of you.

Also agree with other posters that have mentioned that if the problem arises when she goes into the barn first and is alone, just bring her in second for a while. Give her some time to adjust to her new life. Work on getting a respectful back up in the meantime. Do these things incrementally, over time, working toward a point where you can safely bring her in the barn by herself. Then, if she tries to charge or drag you, you have some tools installed and will be better equipped to handle the issue.

Now there’s more than one way to fix these kinds of issues, and others may have better advice. The above is just where I’d start if I was in your shoes based on the info you’ve given.

Good luck!

Edited to add: The reason I emphasize backing so much is she needs a mindset shift. Right now she’s charging “forward,” trying to get out and get away, completely blowing you off. You need to be able to catch that behavior (hopefully before it escalates), and shift the “forward” to “back.” Get her attention on you, get her thinking “back up” and moving respectfully out of your space when you ask for it.


I went through something similar when I brought my new horse home in October. It is just getting resolved to my satisfaction now.

YOur horse still needs to settle, and she doesn’t respect you.

Mine used to try to spin on the crossties to see her friends, try to bowl me over. My horses who have lived with me don’t try this. They know it is not acceptable. Now the new mare is learning it.

I walk all all the way in to the stall. I stop her, I turn her around. I put her head in a corner, I tell her to stand. There is no halter removal until she stops fidgeting. Then I unbuckle the halter. Tell her to stand. Remove the halter, tell her to stand. Basically everything I do she needs to stop and stand. I give a quick pop on the halter or smack her on the shoulder.

I expect them to behave whether a friend is in or not. She’s a show horse. There are times she will be without her friends or they come and go. I demand she listens to me. I have zero tolerance for rude behavior.

6 months later, I now rotate if a friend is in first or not. She is a huge BWP and I expect she respects me and my space.

Since I got “tough” on her- life is mich easier. She knows what I expect. I am consistent with her handling. She may never be like some of my others that I can leave the door cracked when I adjust blankets etc. that’s ok. She must respect my space. The only way to do that is consistent work.

To combat herd bound behavior, her relationship with you must become more important TO HER than her relationship with the other horses. YOU must become the most influential being in her life. It must be YOU that she looks to for reassurance and safety, and to tell her what she should do. Currently, you don’t have this relationship with her, her horse friends are more important to her than you are. You must earn this position in her mind, it isn’t given easily. You must earn it by being fair, making good decisions for her, and TAKING the position of leader in her mind. Showing her how you would like her to behave and making sure that she does just that, and rewarding her for doing the right thing. You haven’t had time to get that done yet with only having owned her for a month. It’s easier if the owner before you managed to get this relationship done and you can simply step into this role, but often this is not the case. If she is mowing you down and bolting over the top of you, you need to use a chain shank to make sure this does not work for her (and to keep you alive). I also agree that some things are best avoided until a later time in your training and relationship, in order to set you both up for success. Good luck, and stay safe.

Lots of good advice.

I just wanted to add: Keep in mind she is scared and anxious. She isn’t rude, bad or disrespectful. Don’t punish: teach. Teaching might take force, but it needs to never be done in anger.

Also keep in mind join up uses the same principles of a cat “playing” with a mouse. It might get you a submissive horse, but it won’t help with her stress or knowledge (you aren’t becoming her leader, you have become a predator she can’t escape)


Curious what her training/experience was before this. I’m guessing maybe a horse that has lived in one place forever or at least not a busy barn?

And how old is she?

I think it will take a lot longer than a month to undo the “training” (aka life experiences) she had prior to her arrival. I definitely wouldn’t longe the crap out of her for being herdbound. That’s not going to fix anything except make her anxious about working.


It’s been a month. That’s not much time to adjust. Horses are similar to dogs IMO in that they rely on pattern and routine to assess potential threat. Difference in routine? A person or animal present that normally is not? Strange smell? Any of these can put a horse on high alert. Horses also rely on the collective strength of the herd for safety. My general observation is that horses in a new environment are generally extra reliant on the herd. Probably because they don’t know the normal routines and patterns yet so they must lean on the judgement of the established horses to alert them until they become familiar with their new surroundings.

Punishing the horse with lunge work, etc just reinforces for her that her judgement is correct. Bad things happen when she is forced to leave the herd. The bolting is a safety issue and of course should not be ignored. But in this case where it’s a fear reaction on the part of the horse? I would simply avoid putting myself and the horse in a position for it to occur. Unless there is some unavoidable reason to bring her in first, just don’t. If you must, take additional precautions like having a second person with you, shutting the outside barn door, and having a “special occasions only” food waiting for her in the stall. I’ve found a little top-shelf quality alfalfa is great for distracting fearful horses. Provided it’s not contraindicated by dietary restrictions. It’s indulgent and takes longer to eat than grain.)

Once she’s had time to get more settled, you can start teaching her that being with you is awesome and she can rely on you to keep her safe in the absence of the other horses. A boarder at the barn had a similar issue with a new horse pulling away and running back to the herd. When it happened while I was standing around during my older child’s lesson, I stepped in to help because the owner was rattled. We brought the horse back up to the barn and I stood holding the horse instead of trying to cross tie it. My younger child has great timing at dispensing treats so she was in charge of offering baby carrots. The owner groomed the horse and we all lavished attention on her. The horse quickly forgot all about her herdmates still being out and being the only equine in the barn. Someone must have tried to teach her to shake hands at some point, because she started hamming it up and holding her foot up for a carrot. It was sweet to see. She wasn’t cured overnight but she was much more relaxed in subsequent interactions. And no issues at all now.


All of what youre saying makes sense. I havent had much luck on this website thus far until this post. Thx so much. To answer some questions, she has oy ever lived in two homes before (with the same owner) and had been imprinted on. I think I was honsetly so baffled by this behavior because she has only ever even met one horse before, her dam, who died like 8 years ago. I figured she wouldnt really have herd bound issues because of this, though I guess maybe separation anxiety from being away from the one who imprinted on her has possibly negated that. Shes 21, 15.3 hh, and roughly 1,300 lbs. If her buddies arent in the barn she even ignores grain.

Wait: this horse was kept in complete isolation for 8 YEARS!?! No wonder she is psychologically damaged. That is not a healthy way to keep a horse regardless of if it is what she is used to. I am glad you have her with other horses now, even though I am sure her current behaviour is likely quite frustrating.

Have you tried spending time just grooming her until you get an Allo Grooming (reciprocal grooming) response? This can really help reduce stress levels, and may help her create a positive association with you.