My Separation Anxiety Heartache

Separation anxiety is a very common problem, and most horses will experience it at some point in their lives, but what happens when your horse goes from being mildly upset to becoming a danger to herself and others, and what can you do about it?

Skye has always struggled with her separation anxiety to varying degrees, but in the last couple of months or so, her anxiety and reaction to change has become more and more extreme. I believe a lot of it comes down to her being separated from her mother as a foal, but as I purchased her as a 10 month old, I'm not too sure what really happened. 

Since then she's been in a herd, with one other horse and has been turned out on her own with other horses nearby. At our current yard, she was kept in a field with my friend's horse for a good couple of years, before it became apparent that they had become too attached and were both displaying signs of distress when one was taken away from the other, and so we had to separate them.

Skye was coping well with this, and settled relatively quickly after she'd been running around screaming for a while. My friend's horse goes back to his trainer every year for about a month, and although Skye gets upset when he's taken away, she soon settles down and seems happy in her own company.

Well, for the last couple of months, things have just gotten worse and worse. As soon as the other horse is taken out of his field to be ridden, poor Skye loses her mind! I should mention that she's able to see him the whole time and is never more than 50m away from him as her field is right next to the yard and school.

This seems like a very extreme reaction and I'm wondering if something has happened in the field whilst they've been turned out.

Even when I'm there, she acts exactly the same, and gets herself so wound up by galloping around that she crashes through the electric fencing. I can't get anywhere near her, and I think even if I could, she'd still run right through me to get back to him. I'm terrified that she's going to hurt herself, another horse or myself and my friend.

It's absolutely heartbreaking seeing her get so upset and not being able to do anything to make it better. But it's also frustrating. When I take her away from the others to ride, she's absolutely fine, no reaction at all. She has good ground manners (for the most part) and she isn't bothered at all when I'm riding her in the school. She just can't seem to cope when she thinks she's being left on her own.

The other day, I went to get her in and something really, really upset her. I couldn't catch her for ages, and eventually she just jumped - yes, jumped! Back into her field after I'd put the fence back up.

But it's not just upsetting for me, it's dangerous. When she gets that way, there's absolutely no reasoning with her. She doesn't kick, but if she feels threatened she might, and it's also likely that if I stood in front of her to get her to stop, she'd just run into me.

I'm at a complete loss with what to do, I've put her on a magnesium-based calmer to see if that takes the edge off a little, and although it seems to be doing something, it hasn't stopped her from getting to the point where she loses control.

As a result, I've made the difficult decision to move yards, and I'm praying that by being in a bigger yard with more horses, she'll feel a little more secure. I'm still undecided whether she should go back into a herd or stay on her own, but I can't risk her getting this bad again, so I'm going to try having her on her own with others nearby and see how she copes.

The change in routine should do her some good too. We haven't been able to get out hacking as much as I'd like at our current yard, and this could be a reason for her having more energy than she knows what to do with! And, hormones coupled with the spring grass could also be having a pretty big impact on her behaviour too.

At the end of the day, horses are herd animals, and Skye's anxiety is a very natural response to distressing situations, but I want to make it easier for her to feel safer. I'll let you know how it all goes at the new yard next month!

Have you had any experiences with separation anxiety? I'd love to hear your stories and suggestions!