Do you know what the downside is to keeping only two horses? Sometimes separation anxiety appears when the horses are removed from each others’ presence. This can present some challenges when you are one person traveling with two horses.
Bear and Shiloh have been pastures mates for about 2 and half years now. Fortunately so far, I can easily remove either of them from their paddock to go do groundwork, riding or have the farrier/veterinarian attend to them.
Neither horse fusses about leaving other. I am able to safely work with each horse without them turning into a ball of nerves when they are alone with me.
But for the horse left behind in the paddock? That is more problematic. Bear generally handles those situations better than Shiloh. He rarely gets visibly upset. Shiloh, though, can become much more emotional. He often whinnies. Sometimes he even races the fence line with his tail flagged.
It is hard to be a herd animal and find yourself suddenly single. Your instincts from birth tell you that being by yourself is unsafe. And then you add in some stressful life experiences to the mix.
At both their ages, Bear at almost 26 and Shiloh at almost 18, they were obviously weaned from their mothers. They have changed owners a number of times. They have also both been the only horse left after their respective pasture mates died. They know that sometimes, a horse leaves and doesn’t come back.
Of course, I don’t know exactly how they process or associate these issues. I don’t think anybody can say for sure since we can’t get inside their heads. But clearly, anybody who has been around horses for longer than a minute will see that separation is a source of stress for many horses.
So what does all this have to do with clinic preparation? I’ve signed Shiloh and me up for two, multi-day riding clinics this year. I don’t want to leave Bear behind at home by himself so I’ve secured stalls for both of horses at the clinic locations.
Since Bear is retired, I won’t be riding him in the clinics, but if I have the opportunity, I would like to see if I can include him in a groundwork segment or two. At the very least, I’ll probably want to hand walk him periodically. He’s not used to stall confinement. As an aged horse with arthritis, I don’t want him to stock up or stiffen up. This means Shiloh will have to stay behind in his stall and watch me and Bear walk off together.
So in addition to riding Shiloh as I usually do, I am taking Bear out of their shared paddock. I do a little groundwork with him in my round pen while we leave Shiloh behind.
Below, Bear and I practice some liberty work without halter or lead rope. I work to see if I can encourage him to follow me through a little obstacle course. Shiloh is alone in his paddock while Bear and I are in the round pen.
Now see if you can “spy with your little eye” Shiloh watching Bear like a hawk.
When I asked Shiloh how he felt about being left behind, here was his response to my inquiry (he also showed off his off-set pair of chompers in this photo- you may recall my mentioning that he was kicked in the face as a foal- one of the reasons I ride him bitless).
My horses have a new ride this year so part of the clinic preparation is also practicing loading and unloading in a new set up with a ramp. And I’m thinking I need to give those tails and back legs a nice shampooing to remove a Winter’s worth of staining!
We also completed our first, brief field-trip of the year off the property to the local boarding/training barn. Bear practiced staying in a stall while I rode Shiloh in their indoor arena. The day we loaded and traveled was super windy so it was good exposure in working in less than ideal conditions. We all know that clinics don’t always take place on sunny and 75 degree days.
Here is Shiloh post-ride and sporting his travel halter. He is looking worried about what we are going to do next, but he loaded back up like a champ. Bear, Shiloh (and I!) returned home safe and sound.
Hopefully we will be able to get to our clinics and have a successful experience in tackling this separation issue. But there’s a lot of steps before we get there. Ever noticed how many stars have to align for you to go somewhere with your horse(s)?
You have to stay healthy. Your horse(s) have to stay healthy. Both your truck AND trailer have to stay in working order. Your horses have to load (this is a biggie!). Your family and any pets/livestock remaining behind must avoid having any crisis that require your attention. Ditto for work emergencies.
I’ve had trails rides, horse shows and clinic plans all derailed by every one of those issues, much to my disappointment. Whenever I actually arrive at a ride location with horses in tow, I always feel charmed and amazed (maybe a little dazed too).
How about you? Any plans with your horses this year? How are you preparing yourself and your horses for your own adventures?