Buddy Sour Horses: Break the Bond by Clinton Anderson
See page 16 of October Horse Digest https://www.horsedigests.com/
Clinton Anderson is featured on this issues cover of Horse Digest
Horses are herd-bound, prey animals. Millions of years ago their only chance of survival was to be in a herd and outrun predators. While we have domesticated horses and trained them to compete in various events, we haven’t been able to breed or train the reactive, prey animal side out of their brains.
Horses have two parts to their brains: the reactive side and the thinking side. The reactive side is what Mother Nature tells the horse to use and it is what has kept the horse alive for millions of years. The thinking side of the brain is what we want our horses to use when we’re around them. The thinking side is the calm, rational side of the horse’s brain. To get our horses to use the thinking sides of their brains we have to first get their respect by moving their feet forwards, backwards, left and right and always rewarding the slightest try.
It’s very natural for horses not to want to separate from each other because they know that there is safety in numbers. When you’re dealing with a buddy sour horse, you have to use a little reverse psychology on him. Instead of the horse thinking that being with his buddy is the best place in the world, you have to make the horse believe that his buddy is the worst thing in the world. That is accomplished by making the horse move his feet and work hard around his buddy and letting him rest away from the other horse.
There are two situations in which horses show extreme signs of buddy sourness. One is if you’re out on the trail or riding with a group of horses and you want to leave the other horses and go in the opposite direction. Often times the horse that has to break off from the group and go his separate way will start jigging, rearing, bucking or any other disrespectful behavior he can think of to get back with the other horses. Some horses become buddy sour when they’re left at home and their buddies leave their sight. In either situation, buddy sourness is dealt with using the same philosophy””make the horse move his feet forwards, backwards, left and right, but in slightly different ways.
In a Group Situation
If you’re riding your horse in a group situation and need to go your separate way, instead of thinking “I need to separate him from his buddies, think I need to make the horse uncomfortable for being around his buddies.” Instead of trying to drag the horse away from his buddies, make him work next to his buddies. Trot him around in circles, canter some serpentines, anything to hustle his feet. You want him to work hard, preferably at the canter, so he gets to huffing and puffing.
After 10 to 15 minutes of working him hard around his buddies, move him 50 to 100 feet away and let him rest. Rub him and give him a chance to catch his breath. It’s important to find a starting point for your horse. In the beginning, you might only be able to take your horse 20 feet away from the other horses. That’s OK, you want to gradually build your horse’s confidence little by little.
After five to six minutes of resting, walk the horse back over to his buddies. At first, the horse will probably be eager to get back with the other horses, but as soon as you’re next to the other horses, put him to work.
If you’re riding with just one other person and that rider is also having the same issue, you can team up and do the Follow the Leader Exercise. One horse will lead and the other will chase his tail. The more the horses have to move their feet the better. The horses can switch positions so that the leader becomes the follower and vise versa. While you’re making the horse hustle his feet, you might as well do a lot of changes of direction so that you’re suppling the horse at the same time.
At no time during the Follow the Leader Exercise are the horses allowed to rest when they’re next to each other. After 10 to 15 minutes of hustling the horses’ feet, separate them and let each of them rest for five to six minutes. When your horse is resting rub him and flex him. After repeating the exercise five to ten times, the horse won’t mind being away from his friend because he gets to rest. Every time he gets close to the other horse, he has to work hard.
Left at Home
The other buddy sour situation that is common is when a horse is left back at the barn by himself. For these horses, safety should be your first concern. You don’t want to leave the horse in a barbed wire fence that he could run through and seriously hurt himself or a stall with a four foot door so that the horse could easily jump out of it. You want to avoid letting the horse run up and down a pasture and getting so upset and frantic that eventually he runs through the fence or tries to jump it and gets caught in it. If you don’t want to take the time to correct your horse’s behavior, then I recommend that you put the horse somewhere safe like a stall or a roundpen where the fencing is high enough that the horse can’t go through it or over it.
I’ve found the best way to fix this behavior is to make the horse hustle his feet forwards, backwards, left and right. When a horse moves his feet he begins to use the thinking side of his brain and will calm down and relax. Before you head out for a ride set the horse that’s left behind up for success. If he’s in a pasture, chase him around the field making him hustle his feet again. Work him for 10 to 15 minutes and then leave and stand 100 feet away from the pasture. Let the horse rest and catch his breath for five to six minutes and then go back in the pasture and move his feet. Repeat those steps seven to eight times in a row, gradually moving farther and farther away from the horse.
Soon the horse that’s insecure by himself won’t worry about being alone because every time the other horse comes around, he has to move his feet. Horses are basically lazy creatures and would much rather stand still and rest than work hard and sweat. You want the horse left behind to mentally get used to seeing the other horse leave and know that everything is going to be OK.
Rest is the reward part of this exercise. If you don’t let the horse rest when you move him away from the other horse you’ll defeat the purpose of the exercise. You want the horse to realize that when his buddy leaves, life is good because he gets to relax and catch his breath. When his buddy comes around he has to work hard and sweat.
Consistency is your greatest ally. In order for your horse to not panic and use the reactive side of his brain every time he is separated from his buddy, you’ll have to practice taking him away from the other horse. You might have to practice this exercise everyday for two weeks before the horse doesn’t react to being separated.
When you’re dealing with a buddy sour horse the most important thing to remember is to get the horse’s feet under control. Move his feet forwards, backwards, left and right and make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult.