Are You and Your Horse Herd Bound?
If your horse is herd bound, buddy sour, or attached to one or more horses in your herd, you know how hard it is to get that horse to leave the group without throwing a fit. The good news is this:
The better you understand this, the easier it will be for you to deal with the problem.
Before you start to deal with this issue, ask your self one question. Are you herd bound, too? People are often just as herd bound as their horses – and this exacerbates any issues you have while riding if you perpetuate the horse’s herd bound behavior with your own.
If you like to always ride with someone and do what they do when riding… If you like to meet friends for coffee on a regular basis… If you struggle to be alone in your house… If you always want someone to do something with, like go to the movies or have dinner… Then you’re herd bound.
If you’re herd bound, and can rationalize why you shouldn’t be -- but you still are… Then imagine how hard it is for your horse to break the habit. First, he is a true herd animal, you aren’t. Second, he can’t rationalize one single reason why he shouldn’t hang out with the herd. In fact he knows deep in his heart that there is safety in numbers. It’s part if his nature – and has been since the beginning of time. Your horse knows that he belongs in a social group. And where the group goes, or in many cases where the group isn’t going, is where he belongs.
Because of this reasoning and natural instinct, often times when we try to leave the barn with only one horse, he calls out to his friends at the barn, and they call back, basically saying, “Hey! Come with me!” Or, “Hey! I’m over here! Where are you guys?” When the other horses answer, I’m quite sure they are often saying things like, “We’re over here relaxing by our food.” Or ,“Ha ha ha! It’s your turn to carry the rider today, have fun.”
Your horse decides that he would rather be with his buddies than with you. This is natural.
So how can we help our horses get over this issue?
First, understand that it’s normal and relax about it.
Second, figure out if you’re a bit herd bound, too. People who are herd bound have a tough time teaching their horses NOT to be herd bound. When someone is herd bound, the first thing they do is rationalize all the reasons that their horse is behaving the way he is. They justify the horse’s actions by saying things like, “Well, he isn’t very brave.” Or, “He’s always had a friend.” And, “I don’t blame him -- I don’t like going alone either.” All of these things create a body language and posture that says to the horse, “I’m like you, too, and I don’t blame you.” The problem with these types of thoughts is that the horse reads body language directly and not the thoughts behind it.
So while your mind might be saying, “Come on! Let’s go! It isn’t scary to be by yourself,” your body is saying, “I agree with you--it IS a little scary.” Your mind rationalizes, and you think or even say out loud, “Come on! We’re going whether you like it or not.” And you try to make it happen. But your horse reads the false bravado in your voice, heart and body posture, and they react to it by fighting harder to stay with his friends.
Sometimes when I’m first interviewing a new client or talking to someone at a clinic, I hear comments like the following:
The list goes on and on…
The interesting thing is that I see the same traits in the human as those they’re talking about their horse having. I see people who are herd bound and unsure and wanting to fit in. I see people with very few expectations of their horse. I see people who talk about their horse as if it was stupid and couldn’t understand a thing the human says.
I have news for you -- they CAN and DO understand us. Not in the same way we understand one another, but in a way that is far more deep. How do I know this? I feel it. I feel the change in the horse’s body posture when these people are talking about the horse compared to when I’m talking about the horse.
I can take a horse from an owner who has told me that the horse is frightened or herd bound and in a short time have the horse doing things the owner couldn’t get the horse to do after months of trying. Certainly one difference is that I am a professional, and I’ve had lots of experience with thousands of horses. So I have more techniques than the average horse owner has. But that’s only part of the story.
The real reason I get so much done with a horse and can change them so fast is my attitude. First, I always mentally tell the horse they are brave and don’t need the herd to go and have fun. Second, I make sure that my body posture is following what I’m sending mentally. Third, I act as if what’s happening isn’t a big deal and even though the horse is upset and calling out and wanting to turn around and go home, I’m constantly thinking about where we’re going and what we’re doing.
I continue to direct the horse to do what I want. I don’t punish him for trying to do what he wants. I will stop him, block him, make it difficult for him to do the wrong thing, but I don’t punish him and get angry at him for trying to be a horse.
If he’s too hard to ride through this issue, then I dismount and walk him away from the group. If he has to dance around, then I’ll give him the proper steps to dance to. If he whinnies, I mostly ignore it unless he screams right in my ear. Then you can usually hear me verbally tell him to “Knock it off.” And I might wave my hands at his face and make him back away from me.
There are many things we can do to help a horse over come being herd bound, but the first thing we must do is let go of our own “herd bound” issues. Try having coffee at the coffee shop by yourself and actually enjoy it. Go to a movie by your self. Have dinner out alone and see how it makes you feel. Do you feel self conscious, awkward, unsure, unsafe, longing to have someone else there? If you do, then congratulations – you’re herd bound, too.
Change YOU first -- then it will be easier to change the horse.
Next time we can visit about things to do and not do to get your horse over being herd bound.