Seems like I struck a chord in my newsletter Q&A column this month with my answer to Beverly about her hopelessly herd-bound horse. I’ve gotten a lot of emails from people with similar stories and their struggles with their horses. I’ve been thinking a lot about this subject lately.
Horses are instinctively herd-bound animals, so it’s something we have to expect and understand about these animals. Horses are reliant on the herd for comfort and security—the two things horses want most in life. Unless and until you can convince a horse that what you have to offer him is as good or better than being with the herd, in terms of security and comfort, he’ll never want to go anywhere with you. Understandably, this is one of the biggest issues that arise in horsemanship and one of the most frequently asked questions is, “How do I make my horse leave the barn yard?”
Training and temperament are two huge factors in how herd-bound a horse becomes. You can change a horse’s behavior through training—for better or for worse (not all training is good, nor is all training intentional—people often train horses the wrong thing inadvertently). However, temperament is something a horse hits the ground with and little can be done to change it. Again, good training can affect a less-than-ideal temperament, but training cannot change a horse’s temperament. Some horses are very brave and independent; others are flighty and needy. In general, mares have more tendency to be herd-bound, but some of the worst cases I’ve seen were geldings.
Of all the horses we have, my horse, Dually, is the most prone to being herd bound—he’s a very friendly, gregarious horse and needs companionship. Fortunately he’ll settle for any kind of companionship and so humans will suffice, if there are no horses around. I constantly am vigilant to whether or not his behavior is affected by the presence or absence of other horses, but he is a brave and obedient horse with professional handling and quality training all of his life. While he may not want to leave the barnyard by himself, he will and does without hesitation or question. When I am at a show, I am very careful to keep his mind focused on the task at hand and to keep him separated from other horses.
What’s been your experience with the herd-bound horse? Are you lucky enough to have a horse that is not prone to be herd-bound? Have you ever seen a horse that was essentially ruined because it has become unmanageable when separated? I used to have a dog with separation anxiety and although she was only 14 pounds of pure Jack Russell muscle, she could tear through a frame wall to get to me. Imagine that mentality on a 1,000 pound horse! Some of the emails I’ve gotten have sounded that bad. What’s your story?
Ride hard but ride safely,