You may be heading out for a trail ride, off to a horse show, or up to the front arena for a training ride. However, if you have a buddy-sour horse in your pasture, you know what a disaster this separation process frequently becomes. You know the drill: You have to trick your way out of the gate so you don't end up with the two "best buddies" (who seem practically joined at the hip) following you out. Then, once you make it past the gate safely, the negative behavior begins.
Lack of attention, constant vocalizations, and pacing are some of the behaviors exhibited by these anxious horses-both those heading out and those staying behind. The scary part is that these annoying actions can quickly escalate into dangerous behavior-rearing, spinning, striking, and/or bolting. And both handler and horse can inadvertently find themselves in harm's way.
In the following discussion, three industry experts-Clinton Anderson, Dr. Jessica Jahiel, and Ken McNabb-offer their ideas on changing buddy-sour behavior to help you deal with this potentially dangerous issue.
Question: From your experience, what causes some horses to become herd-bound and exhibit buddy-sour behavior, while others are unaffected as they either go off on their own or are left behind?
Clinton Anderson: Horses are herd-bound, prey animals. Millions of years ago, a horse's only chance of survival was to be in a herd and outrun predators. While we have domesticated horses and have trained them to compete in various events, we haven't ever been able to completely breed or train the reactive (prey animal) side out of their brains.
Before you can begin to fix your horse's buddy-sour issue, or any issue for that matter, you have to first understand the way your horse thinks. As a prey animal, he has two sides to his brain: the reactive side and the thinking side. The reactive side is what Mother Nature tells him to use, and it's what has kept the horse alive for millions of years. The thinking side is what you want your horse to use when you're around him. The thinking side is the calm, rational, analytical side of the horse's brain.
To get your horse to use the thinking side of his brain, you first have to gain his respect. How do you gain a horse's respect? By moving his feet forward, backward, left, and right, and always rewarding the slightest try.
A respectful horse will willingly ride away from his buddies, and be attentive and respectful of your cues. A disrespectful horse will revert to the reactive side of his brain when you try to separate him from his buddies and will fight you every inch of the way. The difference between a buddy-sour horse and a horse that willingly leaves the barn all comes back to respect.
Jessica Jahiel: Every horse is an individual, and although there are good, established principles and logical progressions in training, it's important to deal with each horse as the unique creature that he is. Just as one child might be happy, comfortable, and at ease his first night at sleep-away camp, another child might be desperately unhappy and cry all night long.
What makes one horse feel insecure and frightened might not bother another horse at all. By and large, though, the more worried and insecure a horse is, the more likely he is to become herd-bound and buddy sour.
These conditions can come on very quickly-a perfect example is the young horse on his way to his first show. Even if this is the first time he's ever met the other horse sharing his trailer, by the time he gets to the show, he's certain that this other horse represents safety and security, and he'll probably have a fit if the other horse is stabled in a different barn.
For horses, bonding isn't a matter of getting to know and like another horse over time, it's a matter of deep-down, instinctive knowledge that a horse on his own is a horse in danger. The herd equals safety; no herd equals no safety.
Horses that truly trust their riders are much less likely to show herd-bound, barn-sour, or buddy-sour behavior, because those horses have learned to accept their humans as not only herd members but herd leaders.
Ken McNabb: This is really a two-part answer. First, some horses in a herd will naturally be lower in the pecking order, therefore they require more security. They'll either receive their sense of security from their rider or they'll receive it from the horses in their herd.
Any time a horse screams for his buddy, you need to imagine that he's really screaming for help, and you need to help by practicing any exercise that will bring his focus back to you.
Part two of this answer is that a lot of herd-bound or buddy-sour horses are developed by us, as riders, by inadvertently releasing the horse from any pressure when he's around his friends. This convinces him that the nicest place to be is among the herd.