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October 2002

Cherry Hill's
Horsekeeping Almanac

Not Breaking
Horse Handling
& Grooming
on a Small Acreage
Horse For Sale
How To Think
Like A Horse
Cherry Hill's Horsekeeping Almanac
Making Not Breaking by Cherry Hill
Horse Handling and Grooming by Cherry Hill
Horsekeeping On A Small Acreage
Horse For Sale by Cherry Hill
How to Think Like A Horse by Cherry Hill

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Gregarious OK

Herd Bound Not OK

The most common bad habit question I receive relates to the "herd bound", "buddy sour", or "barn sour" horse. This group of behaviors is based in insecurity - the horse does not want to leave the herd (gregariousness), his preferred associate or best buddy (companionship), or the pasture or barn where he lives (food and shelter). Just to give you an idea of the many ways this behavior can be exhibited AND to let you know you are not alone out there if you have a herd bound horse, here are a few descriptions of herd bound/barn sour horse behavior.

Brandi writes: "He will not walk home for the life of him. He runs sideways, bucks rears alot, throws himself down and is going to hurt me if he doesn't stop."

From Karen: "They became best buddies very fast but now I have a problem if I want to walk or ride just one. The one left behind goes bonkers, running and screaming until the other comes back into the barn."

Deb writes: "He won't come out from the field without a struggle, he's looking back at the herd and calling. After he finally gets going he's stopping and starting all the way in. Now he's bucking with my daughter on and trying to get out of the ring."

Dear Cherry,
     My gelding has been acting agitated and actually has gotten out twice in the last two weeks. He goes to a neighbor's home (across a busy street!) where there are several horses, some of which are mares in heat. I've secured the gates to keep him from escaping again (hopefully). Could he be lonely and, if so, what can I do other than getting another horse to keep him company?

Dear Z,
How to Think Like A Horse by Cherry Hill     Horses are gregarious and a single horse will almost always seek out the companionship of other horses. That's why, if you have a single horse, you must have very safe and secure fences and gates. You don't mention how your gelding gets out, but you need to find every single place where he might even think about getting out. You probably should use electric fencing to fortify your fences and gates to teach your horse to respect fences and to be sure your horse does not get hurt either by getting tangled in the fence or hit by a vehicle. Depending on the state you are in, you could be liable if your horse causes an accident. You could purchase another horse, a pony, a burro, or a goat to be a companion to your horse.

Dear Cherry,
I've read your info on buddy sour horses and it makes a lot of sense. Here is my situation.
     After 20 years, I'm fortunate to be back into riding again. I have just purchased a sound, nicely put together 4 yr old 1/2 QH/arab. She's only about 14.2 hands high but I felt very comfortable on her. She is buddy sour and that is why she is being sold. The son was too inexperienced to train her away from her buddy.
     The first time I rode her alone, she showed all the expected stress signs when going away from the barn. But, she responded to my cues for turning and moving forward even though she constantly tested me to see if I would let her return to the barn. I was using a hollow 0 ring snaffle bit on her - they had been using a curb Tom Thumb bit. This is why I felt I could manage her.
     The 2nd time I rode her for 2 hours and her buddy was ridden along with me. Of course she was very relaxed until I moved her away from buddy. Then she "pretended" to shy at things and prance, slightly raise up on her back legs, hold her head up high. I made her stand still, facing away, for about 2 seconds, then cued her to turn and WALK back to her buddy.
     When I bring her home, she will be alone. I have no others horses just chickens beside her stall (15' by9') and a dog and a horse crazy 12 yr old daughter. I am concerned that she might get stressed being along but some horsey people have said this might be good for her and help her become bonded to me easier. I already plan to leave her in her stall and work around her a lot until she settles down. Then I will hand walk her around our pasture and property until she is familiar with the surroundings.
     The owner said she had tying problems but each time she let me tack her up while tied to a tree without problems. She also let me open her mouth to check the bit placement. Her owner was surprised because the mare never let her do this! I suspect there was not much bonding as the mare laid back her ears and started to pull when the woman came up beside her.
     Do you have any other advice about managing her stress level when I bring her home? Thank you so much!

     It sounds like you have connected well with this horse and have a good handle on things.
     And I agree with the "horsey people" you have talked with that say having the mare alone at your new home will be a good thing. You will be able to continue building your horse-human bond while she adapts to her new home. This really is ideal and is actually the "treatment" I recommend to people who have buddy sour horses. I often suggest they try to find a neighbor who will take the buddy for a while to help break the bond and allow for the formation of a better human-horse bond with the horse that remains at home.
Making Not Breaking by Cherry Hill     My suggestions are: make sure the horse gets plenty of exercise including turnout, in-hand work (as you suggested around your property), some ground work (such as longeing and ground driving) and riding in various places and at various times of the day. The more varied you can make your interactions, the more solid and strong your bond will become.
     Don't overfeed your horse so as not to create excess energy and don't leave her in the stall for too long of a time as that can tip the anxiety scale as well.

Dear Cherry,
Could you please give me some advice on how to correct aggressive behavior due to separation anxiety in pasture horses? Also, will this behavior be picked up by my other horses thru example? My problem, specifically, is as follows: I have a big bay mare (16 hands, 1200 lbs.) 5 yrs. old. She has always been a bully w/ any other horse that she is pastured with (Kicking to the extent of vet. trips, sutures, etc.) Recently, I purchased a 7 yr. gelding that eventually obtained dominance (after several deep gashes and numerous abrasions). Now, however, when I try to take him out of the pasture to ride, she attacks him while I am trying to lead him out because she anticipates the separation. (They are the only 2 horses in this pasture, which is about 2 acres). I have moved her to another smaller pasture, which I had to take my weanling foal out of, as I was afraid she would be hurt by the mare. Can I correct her behavior, or must I continue to keep her isolated?
      I have already been kicked accidentally by her while attempting to take him out. She is big and very strong and I am afraid she will hurt someone, as well as the other horse. She had been by herself for about 1 year before I got this gelding, so gets extremely agitated at separation, attacking and kicking him to prevent me (or any one else) from removing him. Please send advice-my other horse is well behaved and I don't want him following her example. Also, the foal (in the next pasture) gets very agitated and starts rearing, charging around and whinnying frantically, as this scares her. Again, I don't want her learning by example. I appreciate any advice you can give.
Sincerely, Kim

Hi Kim,
      I am glad that you are aware of how dangerous this can be - in fact it is one of the most dangerous situations - handling horses in a "group" situation, even though this group is only two. The problem is that the horses are still behaving in their horse mode, or at least your bossy mare is, and you only have control of the gelding. It is one of those no win situations as is.
      You say "she attacks him while I am trying to lead him out because she anticipates the separation" and "attacking and kicking him to prevent me (or any one else) from removing him. "
Horse Handling and Grooming by Cherry Hill      I question whether you've read this correctly - I doubt that it is separation anxiety that makes her attack him - in my experience, she attacks due to the fact that you have him haltered and she has the opportunity.
      This is what I would do:
      Separate the mare from both of your other horses.
Work with her regularly so that she really respects you on the ground, has a job, has plenty of exercise and is more tired than full of it. Do lots of in-hand exercises that make her pay attention, give you personal space, long whoas on a long line etc.
     She may never be the type of horse that you can pasture with another as she will get too "buddy bound" to him or her. Some horses, and especially mares, can be like that.
     Whenever I see the first sign of something like that, I immediately separate those two horses and give them a new environment and routine. Herd bound or buddy sour horses are some of the hardest to deal with once the habit has become deeply ingrained.
     After you have worked with the mare to the point where you can feel you can do anything, any time, anywhere with her in hand, then if you MUST put her back with another horse, be very cautious, and you might want to make a habit of going to get the mare first, taking her up to the barn and tying her, then going to get the gelding, tying him, then taking the mare back out and turning her out on pasture.
Horse For Sale by Cherry Hill     There just is no way you can discipline a loose horse while you are trying to lead your good gelding - no one can unless they carry a bull whip! Just kidding - that is not an option, but you see what I mean. It would be impossible to discipline her while she is loose running circles around you and your gelding or charging you. But the better her ground training is, the more respect she will have for you and your space, your body language, and your voice. Also, be sure to work her and ride her often so she doesn't use her excess energy up on you and the gelding!
     I'd suggest you have your vet check her because there is a chance that she could have a hormone imbalance that causes her to be so aggressive - that really isn't normal.
     I hope this helps you but I think you already realized when you wrote that you probably have to keep her separate. It simply is not worth the risk. Do be careful.

For other articles on the Herd Bound or Barn Sour Horse, see:

How to Tell if a Horse is Herd Bound/Barn Sour

Sweetening the Barn Sour Horse


"Any behavior that is repeated becomes habit, even though it was not formally designed as a lesson. Horses are constantly learning as a result of their handling and the environment."

from Making Not Breaking by Cherry Hill

That's it for this month. Keep your mind in the middle and a leg on each side.


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