Preventing herd-bound(ness?), keeping horses at home

How do I keep my horses from developing separation anxiety?

I’m moving my gelding soon to a little farm that I’m renting. Small 3 stall barn, one 2-3 acre pasture and one ‘quarantine’ paddock against the barn, which is across the drive from the pasture (so no shared fence line). I have one ‘boarder’/half-lease situation lined up, with a little 3 year old mare that is weaned but owner wants to get away from her dam (I believe they currently share a fence line) and have someone handle her daily. My horse is currently and has usually been at big hunter boarding barns, with solo or group turnout, but has been at a much smaller place with just 3-5 horses and was fine.

My concern is with just the two of them, and more specifically the only other horse being a mare, that he might get attached and become a pain to ride or bring up alone for grooming/baths/etc. I’ve read some horror stories on here under the ‘separation anxiety’ tag and really want to prevent such things. Ultimately I’d like to be able to hack down the road or take the mare on educational hand walks on the trails without having someone lose their cool.

My first instinct would be to turn them out in separate paddocks to prevent this, but the smaller one is small enough to really be more of a run. I could rotate them back and forth between the bigger and smaller, but I don’t want to cause a different problem by disrupting their routine every day. Lastly, I potentially could run step in posts and hot tape and divide the bigger pasture, but there is only one gate so I’d be walking a lot further to turn out in the lower section, and it would add another water trough and longer hose, as well as the expense and maintenance of the hot tape. I am willing to do these things, but a little overwhelmed (and maybe worrying about a problem that isn’t there?).

Does anyone have thoughts or suggestions on a routine or set up that might help prevent attachment issues? I was thinking of starting from day 1 having one hang out in the barn alone for a bit after the other goes out, bringing up one and feeding some yummy treats and hay in the stall and then turning back out, etc.

There was another thread recently on this topic you may be able to find…but I have a mare and gelding at home and have zero issues. In fact, I just got home from trail riding the gelding and the mare was happily munching hay when we pulled back in.

My biggest piece of advice is to handle them separately as much as possible and think of it as training. When you only have two, it’s easy to get lazy and lead them in or out together, take them both when you want to ride, etc.

Bring ONE in the barn at a time for grooming, meals, treats, whatever. Train them to be comfortable being alone with you. Handwalk one out of sight of the other and when relaxed, let them graze as a reward. When the farrier comes, leave one turned out while the other is in the barn being shod. Little things like that make a big difference.

I’ve never had to do separate turnout, but I suppose if you had a really herd-bound one it would help. You may try my other suggestions first and it they aren’t improving over time, then considering separating them for turn out.

Honestly, it CAN work with two, it will just take some effort on your part to prioritize working with them alone as often as you can.


Horses are herd animals. They are often uncomfortable if they live in a herd, then left alone when you remove one. It is easiest to have three horses, rather than two. That way, when you take one horse out to ride/train/groom etc, the other two still have each other. The one you take out to ride is not alone, he is with YOU, who should be the most influential and important being in every horse’s life, and if you are an effective trainer, you will take that place in his life when he is away from the others. If this is not the case, the problem is with the human, not the horse. The third “herd member” does not need to be a horse, and does not need to be a rideable horse. Sometimes a goat will suffice as the third herd member, sometimes an equine retiree/pet. You can only “train” the horse you are with. You can’t train the horse who is left alone in the paddock. Some horses don’t care about being left alone while your train/ride/groom the other, but such horses are rare. No guarantee that you will have two like this at your farm.

Horses always have “favourate friends”, and “not so favourate” friends, and tend to object more when their favourate friend is removed from the herd. But most seem to be able to substitute the less favourate friend as an acceptable companion in time… if they have to. Hopefully accept them adequately to not commit suicide over your taking their favourate friend herd member away for a while.
Being kept together or in separate paddocks makes no difference. They are still a “herd”, whether or not there is a fence between them.

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You may be worried about something that will end up a non-event.

My (late) TB came from the track, lived in several boarding situations for the 12yrs before I brought him & my other horse home.
Turnout had been in small groups & with DH’s horse who I had to put down before moving to my farm.
2nd horse was added just 6mos before I moved both to the farm.
Turnout at this last barn was in a group of geldings - anywhere from 10-12 horses.
So, AFAIK, TB had never been solo.

About 3mos after moving them, I took Horse #2 camping for a weekend.
I worried TB would be upset being Home Alone.
Checked with my farmsitter that 1st night & he was fine.

Turned out he could care less when I took #2 away.
Flipside was #2 was not so calm when TB had to overnight at the vet.
Paced the fenceline calling all night (it was Summer, so my windows were open, pasture ~100’ from house).
But I did continue to take 1 or the other away - either to ride in my indoor, or to trails.
They were fine with that.
A Sniff-fest when the 1 came back, then business as usual.

Re: your concern at changing routine
If you routinely switch pastures, then that becomes their routine. :sunglasses:

In my experience the issue of becoming attached/herd bound to a horse is determined by the individual horse. For example, a friend trailered her horse and picked up a friends horse at a different farm. Upon unloading at the show my friends horse was completely attached to the horse he rode in the trailer with.

Some horses are extremely herd bound, others not at all.

I do agree with 2dogsfarm about changing the routine is the routine.

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for us it is Always the mare that has become attached to the gelding …the guys just look at the whinnying mare with a question mark in their eyes of What’s Wrong With Her?

I agree the real problem maybe leaving the filly behind to ride and not have her cause problems to your mount and herself (physically) if you do not have a third horse/pony to babysit. I do not see this goiing well with a young filly as a companion, who is being sent to you it sounds like to be finally weaned friom mom.

But take me with a grain of salt as I seem to be a pro at training horses how to be herd bound…and anticipating problems where there are none.


Thanks everyone! The idea of needing a third has indeed crossed my mind - I just wasn’t planning on it as I wanted to shop for another personal horse (I’m on a budget so it wouldn’t be a “yay next week we have one coming!” type thing). I will keep all this in mind, maybe fostering a nice quiet gelding from the rescue would work.

Edited: spelling

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IIWM, I wouldn’t separate the horses unless and until you have a problem. Give them a few days to get acquainted and work out who’s boss. While they’re getting acquainted, spend time with them, both alone and together, and get everyone used to you and their new routine. When things have settled down, take your gelding out for a ride.

Three years ago my riding horse lost his donkey pasture mate. I adopted another gelding to be his new buddy (not rideable due to kissing spine), and like you, I was worried about separation anxiety. I introduced the new guy over the fence for a few days, then turned them out together. They ran and bucked and decided (after my riding horse got kicked) that the new guy was boss. After a few days, I took my riding horse out for a ride. At first there was much frantic calling and jigging, and after about a quarter mile my horse felt like he was about to blow. I got off and walked him until he settled down, then got back on and we finished our ride. When we came back home, my riding horse was walking calmly like always and new horse was grazing in the field. The next time I went for a ride,and every time since then, my horse doesn’t even flick an ear when his pasture buddy calls. And pasture buddy has learned that when we leave, we’ll always come back, so he might as well enjoy his grass. He still calls to us, though.

Like others have said, a lot depends on the personalities of the horses. I’m lucky that my riding horse likes to get out and see what’s happening in the 'hood, but I have seen horses that seem to believe they’ll die if their buddy isn’t with them. Hopefully your two horse herd will have enough confidence to avoid a big meltdown.

well for our guys that would not and did not work as the Paired horses were just that paired. Where has he gone? she says screaming as loud as she can.

There are seven head here, remove some one’s buddy/lover horse then they really do not care about all those other things in their way as they try to find the removed horse.

Works pretty well as a person can work two horses at once, the horse you wanted work and its buddy who has flipped out because He is Gone.

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I agree that you should be able to make this work with two horses if you get them used to time apart from the beginning. I think they should be turned out together from day one, with separate time away from the field - maybe they get special treats in a stall at separate times, etc. One you get the filly comfortable on her own in the barn, you can start expanding her universe. But if she gets nervous about individual hand walks, I suggest taking the gelding out with her until she is confident. For a young horse, leaving the property can be scary enough, doing without another horse could be terrifying. It’s more important that she learn to be confident and curious when she heads out on the trail. Focus on alone time on the farm until she is confident with that. At the same time, work off property with the other horse. As her confidence in both circumstances grows, you can combine them to go off farm alone. Slow and steady with the young ones is the best approach.

This is one of those things that could go fine, or could be a giant headache, and it’s hard to tell in advance which it will be. When I brought my horse home 9 years ago and bought a yearling (both geldings) I almost immediately acquired a mini donkey companion because the yearling lost his marbles when I took the older horse out to ride. That worked perfectly. Of course as the yearling grew up and started also going off-property, the donkey was not thrilled to be left behind but thankfully he had the good self-preservation of a donkey and would merely walk the fence, poop, and bray.

Over the years I’ve had 9 (?) different equines here 2-4 at a time and only one of them was completely content to be turned out all alone, left alone in the barn, or left alone on the property. Another one is mostly okay but will gallop around if it’s extra windy or there’s construction noise from next door or whatever. Most of the rest might be okay alone in the barn but not the field. A couple would lose their marbles alone in the barn. Most have been fine to be taken away alone but not to be left alone.

Handling them separately on a regular basis has helped but doesn’t completely eliminate the possibility of panic injuries, and of course if I’m off riding another horse I won’t be there to work with the one left behind. It’s tricky when there’s just one of you.

IIWM I would try them alone but be ready to bring in a buddy quickly if needed. Two is a really tough number.

Maybe I’m the odd one out, but I had more problems with three horses than two. With three, the one who got taken away was NOT happy. And if I took away the alpha mare, the two geldings were frantic despite having each other.

This has been on two different occasions, with different combinations of horses and same issue every time with three.

I would wait on adding a third until you give them time to get settled and into a routine. Hopefully it won’t be necessary!

You never know until you take one away. I’ve had 2 horses at home ( mare/ gelding) and they could care less when I rode off down the road leaving ( either) one behind.

I have 3 now and one goes berserk and the other 2 get a tad concerned but do fine being rode alone or left alone.

It is 110% an individual thing.


As others have said it totally depends on the horses. Two of my geldings lived together for years with zero issues. They were always happy to see the other one was back, but never carried on or had dangerous behavior when one left.

But before that, I had a different gelding who completely LOST IT whenever a herd member left, and at that time I had 3 horses. It didn’t matter, he wanted everyone there and if one left, he would do dangerous things to try to get to them. With him, I found the only thing that worked was he had to be in a separate pasture all the time. He could not be turned out in any sort of herd situation.

I’ve found the amount of horses needed before you don’t have herd bound issues is 4. I don’t know why, but 4 seems to be the number.