Severe separation anxiety (+ other issues?) Help!!

So today I had a bit of a disaster - my new ‘dream horse’ went on a bucking frenzy and threw me into the dirt :ambivalence: I wasn’t asking him for anything tricky - he bolted as soon as I hopped on. (If you want to skip the backstory, go to the last paragraph.)

He’s a very new horse. It’s been uni exams, so I haven’t ridden him in probably over a month (I do have a family friend who I think has ridden him though). Last time I was down he went like a dream, a little forward but definitely manageable. Awesome ground work, was following me around and being very responsive. Easy walk, trot and canter. Was only able to ride him for a few days before heading back to uni halls.

This time was a new story :confused: He’s been split into an adjacent paddock to his companion (feed reasons). I tried to lead him out of the paddock last night and the further we got from his friend the more anxious and unmanageable he acted. Eventually he was practically jumping around my in circles until ripping the lead rope out of my hand and sprinting back like a madman.

Today I led him and his buddy up to the shed together, which meant that he didn’t freak out, but was still trying to pull ahead on the lead rope (which he didn’t do a month ago). Tacked them both up and led them down to the arena. His friend was being ridden around the other end of the arena while I did some ground work with him. A little distracted during lunging but still going fine. Leading was nowhere near as good as a month ago - he used to be very attentive and did everything I asked. This time I could tell his focus was on the other horse - he would spin his head around (and turn before stopping) if we walked away, and pull on the lead if we walked toward. I made the unfortunate decision to get on him anyway. As soon as I was in the saddle he bolted out of the arena and proceeded to buck like a psycho in one spot until I was thrown into the dirt :dead: before sprinting up the hill and back up to the shed.

The main problem here is that I don’t know what caused his reaction. Quite a few factors had been changed, and I don’t know which (or if all of them) pushed him over the edge. Since I don’t know the problem I can’t fix it, which means today might happen all over again. He was wearing a new saddle (similar make and same size to his old one) and new bridle. Also, he had recently been split into an adjacent paddock to his buddy for feed reasons - his separation anxiety was much worse this time, but I don’t know if this small separation would be enough to freak him out? He may not have been ridden in a while too. So what do I do now?? Do I split them up, or put them together? Do I keep him with the new gear? Do I just get back on and pretend nothing happened?? Help please!!
As an aside, if his main problem was separation anxiety why didn’t he bolt straight to the other horse like yesterday?

In my opinion and experience, absolutely split them up. If he can’t act like a sane animal with Friend, then Friend goes bye-bye. Some horses get really attached if they are allowed to sit without a job and just hang out with another horse. My friend’s gelding is like this, and yours might be one too. If you know you are not going to be able to ride him due to school I would either put him somewhere where he can see other horses but not touch them or put him in training/hire someone to ride him, or both.

I sympathize. My mare had a bad heat in August and the geldings in her barn were acting up (screaming nonstop and pacing when she left), and after a few days of this she got nutty too. Absolute craziness, not wanting to walk on a lead, pawing and plunging on the crossties, galloping and screaming in turnout for hours. Totally out of character for her. I promptly isolated her in a mare motel where she was nowhere near other horses. She got to stay there for two weeks while her heat subsided and she got her brain back in her head. Then she went back to her usual stall/run without any problems, and has been her normal couldn’t-care-less self ever since. Sometimes something triggers them and they just get nutty and attached out of seemingly nowhere. It is alarming to witness and frustrating to deal with, but giving them an extended (or permanent) vacation from the object of their obsession seems to cure them.

Looking back at your post I realize that you mentioned that he is new, too. Did the seller mention a history of being herd bound? Hopefully this is a product of him having too much down time and not just his usual personality. Did he come from a program/training/some other situation with a lot of structure?

Oh yea, separate them. I’ve got one who gets attached if left bored and with the same horse for too long. Unfortunately he can’t go with my other gelding (who is a bully), so I settle for moving his friend back and forth and switching which paddock he goes to. It keeps him from having a full melt down when I take his friend away. Luckily none of mine are silly when they are the ones leaving.

Previous owner said he was an absolute dream when hacked out alone, but never actually lived with another horse. Last time I was down he had been with the other horse for a few days, and was absolutely fine. Previous owner got a girl to bring him back into work and sell him - she said that he never acted up and didn’t get separation anxiety there.

The lady that helps to look after the horses when I’m away says that she thinks his ‘friend’ involves more of a hate than love relationship. Apparently he often bites/kicks/annoys my horse - but then I don’t understand why my horse wants to go running back if I lead him away? She suggested leaving them in the adjacent paddocks - which hasn’t seem to have helped so far, but then I also don’t want my horse to injure himself going ballistic if I take the other horse away. :confused: I might try find a paddock that’s in sight but further than his current one.

Find out what kind of program he was in at the last barn, and try to mimic that. Feed? Too much grain for a horse not in work? Type of feed…brand, and what type of hay. How often he was worked and for how long. Bit type? Stalled or pasture, or turned out? Pasturemates?
I’d find out about the barn that got him back in shape to sell, since he was going well at first, as opposed to owner who may not be 100 percent truthful, or glossing over things.

My first reaction is did you pull blood when you bought him? This sounds like a situation where some longer acting drugs wore off. And I think jetsmom has it right – this horse had problems that weren’t fully disclosed or minimized.

If this were my horse, I would sell him. You can spend lots of time and money, as well as risk injury with this kind of a horse. Why deal with a horse with so many problems when there are other perfectly nice horses available?

Sounds like this horse doesn’t fit your management.

He may need to be one that needs to be with a professional and being trained regularly, at least for a while and then kept with someone that will keep him busy.

Maybe eventually, with more training and a regular program of plenty of use and some time, years maybe, he would be the Steady Eddie you need, that stands around and you can ride once in a blue moon and he will still be the same horse.

Right now, I would not keep taking chances that he won’t again repeat his resistances, some that are bucking people off.

A great idea to put him again with the one trainer that had him riding well again, maybe see if they can re-sell him for you and help you find a more suitable horse, or help you with a program that fits the horse better than you have now.

Sounds like you picked a very nice horse, just had some holes you are finding out about the hard way.
It may not be anyone’s fault, horses some times act different in different situations.
He may not have become buddy/barn sour before, why you were not told he did.

Hope you didn’t get hurt this time around.
Try not to keep doing the same and expecting a different result, especially when you can get hurt doing so.

What would I do? I would use the old saddle/bridle, lunge him first and ride him… and see. If he’s again distracted and ignoring you… he would have to be permanently removed ‘from friend’. I think herdbound can include a horse being attached to a herd leader or horse he doesn’t get along with, particularly in the case of a horse who was kept alone like this one sounds like he was, then introduced to a ‘friend’… a la ‘love the one you’re with’.

As an aside this is what makes me all :rolleyes: when rescue people suggest not separating ‘bonded’ horses. Seriously people? headdesk

The main problem is that you did not do anything with him for a month and then expected him to be just fine. The other problem of course is he never lived with another horse before, suddenly he found an equine friend, bonded, doesn’t see you for a month, you come along and try to ride him and then are surprised he is not a robot and happy to go out like before.

You don’t have to sell him or move him from other horse if set up does not allow for complete separation. You do need to design a management program where he is separated form the other horse each day to work and he is expected to work and concentrate during those times. He has to get on a schedule where you, or somebody comes out and works with him every day or at least 6 days a week. you can lunge and hand walk for a few days or a week till he gets settled in and rid of the worst of anxiety and understands that this is work time, then graduate back to riding and patiently persist every day.

Some separation for night or parts of day re stalls or paddocks would be better but am not sure of the set up you have.s

Sorry you hit the ground; that is always saddening plus it plain hurts.

I think you hit the trifecta: out of work for a month, horse is new to you, and new tack. This is resting on the buddy business for a perfect storm.

I am very superstitious about new tack. One Item Only, and take it easy on that day. Horses can feel flies on their bodies; a new item probably sends them signals too.

Hope you get good results from all the great advice above.

Make it a superfecta, probably he got full rations without work or was stressed over his feeding situation, fighting over food, so add that in there as well.

Agree that this horse needs regular work, whether a full training program or a part lessor or somebody. I’d advise bringing him back a week of chain over the nose ground manners six days, then onward. He’s probably a good egg, he is just expecting lots of structure and has none, he may have been in programs all his life.
Some horses you can pull out of a field and they know their job and others need to be in the groove daily or they think they are some sort of feral beast.

It’s rough to be in school and have those commitments and no time, and I hope you aren’t too sore. Good luck.

I posted last winter about a horse and his nervous adult owner. Horse and rider had been fine for the first few months, and then it went to heck.

Similar to yours, he developed an attachment to the horse that was stalled beside him. They were also turned out together, but the horse he bonded to, was actually a bit of a bully to him, and they did not hang out in turn out (it was a group). I think, in my case, the horse was so anxious at being stalled beside the bully that it kept him anxious in general and it crossed over to other aspects of his life.

We moved the horse to be with more passive horses, and kept him out 24/7 and the anxiety greatly reduced. We are going to try stalling him again this winter, but if the anxiety returns he will be back on outside board.

I think that horses, just like people, don’t always understand WHY they are anxious, just that they are, and it transfers to other aspects of life. Your horse might be anxious about the bully horse/friend so much, that he is permanently stuck in survival mode.

I would try to shift his living arrangement, and then try to work with him within his comfort zone until he can shift back out of survival mode.

I think this sounds like a very good plan :slight_smile: Will try old tack (which was actually new tack the last time I rode him but worked fine), lunging and ground work to try to get him back to being attentive. Might tie friend up in arena paddock so that he’s in sight (since that is where he was when I last rode) to start with.

I can split them up completely, I just don’t want my horse to hurt himself - he goes ballistic sprinting up and down his fence-line. Might try move them one paddock further away so that they can just see each other but are still distanced.

I think the relationship between the horses is definitely a bit weird, and probably not helpful. Neither of them had paddock mates for years in their previous homes.
As an aside, he hasn’t been fully out of work for a month. I have a family friend that’s been riding him probably about once a week - she said that she has seen him acting more silly than he was to start with, but he’s never bucked her.

Also, just for some more info: Both of them live in paddocks not stabled, they’re off hard feed for summer now (I’m in NZ) & my horse is on unlimited grass (he’s underweight at the moment, so might be putting him back on some hard feed).

I like the separated by one paddock idea…try it. Best of luck these situations are so frustrating.

I had to put the old guy on the other side of the barn, complete visual separation, when we boarded for a couple of months. Old guy was being brought in overnight to eat but at home if we separated in that manner pony would chase the old guy as soon as he was brought back so we opted for total separation, out of sight, out of mind.

At home what worked was both brought up into two pens with hard food and hay + cubes, just different quantities. I know it sounds like anthropomorphism, but pony would keep track if he wasn’t being treated the same.

It’s maddening especially when you haven’t got the time.

I’d look very hard at your unlimited grass – I suspect that could be a large part of your problem. I’m in NZ too and the grass is like rocket fuel at the moment. Even if your horse needs to put on weight spring grass might not be the best idea. You could try removing him entirely from grass for a week and see what you’ve got. Feed as much hay as he’ll eat and cool energy such as beet pulp and high fat supplement.

Honestly, the best advice I ever received when I bought a slightly under weight horse was not to worry about putting weight on immediately. All too often people get a horse, give them time off, stuff them with high energy feeds and then wonder why they are totally unrideable. To clarify: slightly underweight = lacking topline and a few ribs showing, not really underweight.

I’m [QUOTE=bobsyouruncle;8402582]I think this sounds like a very good plan :slight_smile: Will try old tack (which was actually new tack the last time I rode him but worked fine), lunging and ground work to try to get him back to being attentive. Might tie friend up in arena paddock so that he’s in sight (since that is where he was when I last rode) to start with.

I can split them up completely, I just don’t want my horse to hurt himself - he goes ballistic sprinting up and down his fence-line. Might try move them one paddock further away so that they can just see each other but are still distanced.

I think the relationship between the horses is definitely a bit weird, and probably not helpful. Neither of them had paddock mates for years in their previous homes.
As an aside, he hasn’t been fully out of work for a month. I have a family friend that’s been riding him probably about once a week - she said that she has seen him acting more silly than he was to start with, but he’s never bucked her.

Also, just for some more info: Both of them live in paddocks not stabled, they’re off hard feed for summer now (I’m in NZ) & my horse is on unlimited grass (he’s underweight at the moment, so might be putting him back on some hard feed).[/QUOTE]

Being in NZ changes things considerably. Please tell me you don’t have your horse on dairy pasture otherwise known as rocket fuel.
What grass is he on? What stage of growth is it at? Two things come to mind.
1 You could be seeing a case of the spring sillies, when the grass flush comes in. Many staid and sensible sorts get amped up on Spring grass and behave terribly.

2 I think this is more likely. We have been seeing grass affected horses here in the BOP, and many of them act in the way you are describing. Check out http://www.calmhealthyhorses.com/ and read about the grass types and effects. Many people I know are currently using a product called ‘graze ezy’ but there are different ones put out by other companies.
Manic separation anxiety is the poster boy for grass affected horses. My vet has been known to refer to them as ‘like being as high as a kite on lsd’ to remind people it is not a behavioural problem but a chemical one.
The cheapest was to see if it is grass related is to simply take him off the grass completely and feed hay. You’ll know in a couple of days if that was the problem.

[QUOTE=Dreamwalker;8402898] We have been seeing grass affected horses here in the BOP, and many of them act in the way you are describing. Check out http://www.calmhealthyhorses.com/ and read about the grass types and effects. Many people I know are currently using a product called ‘graze ezy’ but there are different ones put out by other companies.
Manic separation anxiety is the poster boy for grass affected horses. My vet has been known to refer to them as ‘like being as high as a kite on lsd’ to remind people it is not a behavioural problem but a chemical one.
The cheapest was to see if it is grass related is to simply take him off the grass completely and feed hay. You’ll know in a couple of days if that was the problem.[/QUOTE]

Ok :slight_smile: Thanks! I had heard about grass staggers and the like but I didn’t realise spring grass had such a massive effect on horses. So if I take the horses off grass, and put them on hay they should settle down without having to do anything about separating them? Do you need an additional supplement, or does simply no grass do the trick?

Also, is putting them in a low-grass paddock ok? I don’t think I have an area completely free of grass

If you don’t have a paddock with no grass available then I suggest you feed a supplement. No grass is best but not always entirely practical.
Yes if this is the problem, then you don’t have to seperate them. A couple of days should see them calm down, a few weeks and they should be back to normal. But you need to be vigilant about the grass. Even snacking while tied up to be tacked up can cause problems (I’m assuming you don’t have acess to cross ties etc but have the typical NZ set up of twine to a fence or rail:))
Read the site I posted above, there is a wealth of information and if you have questions you can email the people and chat to them.

Update

Based on research and what you lovely people have said I’ve decided his issue is probably the grass. Particularly after talking to his previous owner, who didn’t feed him grass, and who also had no issues with him at all.

My next question is this… I’ve talked to people at Natural Horse NZ about their products, and looked at the GrazeEzy & AlleviateC SOS supplements. Are these really much different to just getting a regular vitamin powder mix or adding magnesium & salt to his dry feed? The lady at Calm Healthy Horses said that she’s received great feedback about the AlleviateC, but based on the ingredients it’s just Mg & Ca? Has anyone on here had experience with these or other supplements?