What to Do About Herd-Bound Horses

By nature, horses are prey animals. One of the attributes of animals of prey is that they tend to live in groups to provide an extra level of security. Horses will naturally feel most safe when they have at least one other horse around. However, this can also pose the problem of a  horse becoming anxious or stressed when taken away from its herd to be ridden or cared for. 

How do you fix a buddy-sour horse? Help your horse positively associate leaving their herd to go to the barn or out of view by feeding them routinely away from their friends. Making your horse’s time away from their friends a good experience will help them to be more comfortable away from other horses.

Dealing with a buddy-sour horse can be frustrating and overwhelming since there’s no worst thing than seeing your horse stress out and get anxious. It also makes it difficult to do anything with them if they are always wanting to get back to their herd. In this article, I will share the best ways I have found to help a horse get over being herd-bound.

Buddy Sour-Horse Solutions

Remove Your Buddy-Sour Horse From the Herd to Feed Them

Food is a great motivator for any animal! I’ve found that the easiest way to help a horse start getting comfortable leaving its herd is by taking them out to eat. Horses love food and are easily driven by food! If you can develop a routine where you’re taking your horse out regularly to be fed, they’ll start to look forward to leaving their friends to go eat!

Depending on your horse and how attached they are to their friends, you may have to start by taking your horse away from their herd and at least feeding them to where they can still see the other horses. As your horse starts to learn the routine and get excited to go eat, you can feed them farther away from their friends, even to where they can’t see the other horses.

Fix a Buddy-Sour Horse By Establishing a Routine

establishing a routine is vital to helping a buddy-sour horse feel more comfortable being away from their friends. Horses learn by repetition; the more they do something, the more comfortable they will get, and they will learn what to expect and anticipate.

Expectation and anticipation are important to both humans and horses. When it comes to a buddy-sour horse, expectation, and anticipation can help them feel more comfortable, as they know what is going to happen next.

My horses are fed grain and supplements in the morning and evening. This presents the perfect opportunity for me to separate them twice a day so that they can eat. When it’s feeding time, they’ll both be at the gate and they’ll even walk to their individual spots where they get fed. I’ve made it to where they can’t see each other when they eat, as they are divided by the barn. 

taking care of and training your horse is a lot of work; it’s important to know what goes into it before you purchase a horse. To learn more, visit my article Pros & Cons of Owning a Horse: From an Actual Horse Owner.

Gradually Lengthen Your Buddy-Sour Horse’s Time Away From the Herd

You won’t fix a buddy-sour horse in one sitting; it’s going to take time to fix this problem and help your horse gain confidence being away from its buddies. You need to practice your routine every day or as often as you can to be successful.

One thing you can do to start building your horse’s confidence away from its herd is to gradually lengthen the time your horse is away from its friends. For example, you take your horse out to feed them.

Once it is done eating, you can groom the horse before taking it back to its herd. Grooming feels good to your horse, and it only takes a few minutes to do, so it’s a great activity to add to your routine of removing your horse from its herd.

Other Things You Can Do To Fix a Buddy Sour Horse

While taking your horse out to feed them is a great way to introduce the concept of leaving the herd, there are other things you can do to progress. Here are some other helpful exercises I find when it comes to handling buddy-sour and herd-bound horses:

Work Your Buddy-Sour Horse Around The Herd

Like most animals, horses like to take the path of least resistance; you can use this concept to help your horse see that running back to their buddies isn’t always the easiest thing to do.

For example: imagine you’re riding your horse, and they suddenly take off toward the pasture where their friends are. Instead of trying to ride your horse away from the pasture again, stay a while and work your horse there. Show them that running to their buddies actually means more work for them.

Work your horse hard there, and when you go to ride away from the pasture again, let them walk and rest. This way, they learn that leaving their friends is actually the path of least resistance. 

Likewise, let’s say you go and catch your horse and try to lead them out of the field, but they refuse to go further and leave its friends. Take them back towards their friends and start lunging them and making them work. Don’t let them walk until you are leading them away from their friends. Once again, you’re showing them that leaving their friends is actually the path of least resistance.

If you need a step-by-step guide on how to lunge your horse, check out my online course here.

Add Fun Things For Your Horse to do When They Leave the Herd

Oftentimes, we tend to develop a routine where every time we take our horses out of the field, it is to either work them or ride them. This causes the horse to develop a negative association of leaving their herd and going with their human.

It has to be fun and rewarding for your horse to leave their friends. Besides using food, you can also make your riding routine more enjoyable by changing things up and keeping things interesting for your horse!

Try a new discipline! If you practice dressage regularly, try going on a trail ride or popping over some poles. If you do show-jumping, try barrel racing! This doesn’t mean you have to completely change disciplines, but cross-training your horse can be fun for your horse and also beneficial for making both you and your mount more well-rounded. 

Keep your ride engaging for your horse by including a lot of transitions, direction changes, serpentines, and other exercises designed to keep your horse guessing.

To learn how to tell if your horse is bored, visit my article How to Tell if Your Horse is Bored.

Take Your Horse Away From Their Herd Regularly

One thing to keep in mind is that you can’t fix a buddy-sour horse in one sitting. Helping your horse feel more comfortable being away from its friends is going to take time and consistency. It’s something you’re going to have to work on as much as possible, and it’ll probably be something you’ll have to maintain even once your horse is comfortable leaving its friends. 

Removing your horse from its herd regularly can be daunting in the beginning. Your horse may start to act anxious and nervous, and could even become dangerous to you and itself as it tries to get back to its friends. One thing I have found helpful is putting a buddy-sour horse in a smaller area where they can’t gain speed or momentum to jump or crash through a fence. 

To learn how to tell if your horse is stressed or anxious, visit my article Signs a Horse is Anxious, Nervous, or Stressed.

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Carmella Abel, Pro Horse Trainer

Hi! I’m Carmella

My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

Thank you for reading, and happy trails!

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