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“Herd Bound” Horses

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New Situation, New Problem…

But there’s always a solution.

You’d think that with a horse I’ve had for 30 years, Apollo, that ALL the issues or problems would have been ironed out by now.

Well, Yes and No.

All the issues he had in the past, especially when he was young, have been ironed out.

But now that we are in a new situation, a new problem has arisen.

Apollo has connected so deeply to his new pasture buddy, Jack, that he is now “Herd Bound” or “Barn Sour”. He runs around like a nut case every time Jack’s owner comes and takes him out to ride.

He became “herd bound” very quickly. But I can understand why. He lost his father and his best friend within months of each other, and then he lost his home and his two girlfriends who shared a fence line with him a few months after that.

Poor guy was sad, lonely and scared.

When Apollo first moved in Jack had an abscess, so he wasn’t taken out of the pasture much and the two of them took care of each other.

Unfortunately for Apollo, now that Jack is healthy, he is being taken out almost daily to ride.

Jack’s owner comes out, tacks him up, gets on, rides for about an hour or two on trails, comes back to the pasture, takes his tack off, and then leaves.

The New Situation is that Apollo is “herd bound” to Jack.

Here’s the New Problem…

It started out that when Jack left the pasture and Apollo would run around, he would basically run along the fence line, make a nice little pathway in the grass, get some exercise, and then settle down and eat grass with Ray being on the other side of the fence.

No big deal.

But for some reason, Apollo has actually gotten worse when Jack leaves and now runs along the fence line and the entire length of the pasture as hard as he can.

He runs, stops quickly, whinnies, turns around fast, and then runs back to the other side and does it all over again.

Because of this I’ve started working on resolving the herd boundness issue. It’s a 3-part process.

  • Step #1 – Take Apollo out on his own without Jack and keep him calm and happy.
  • Step #2 – Take Apollo and Jack out of the Pasture and have them doing things separately at opposite sides of the farm.
  • Step #3 – Take Jack out of the pasture and stay with Apollo keeping him calm and happy

The herd boundness was not a big problem but it was something I wanted to start working on right away. So, I started by taking Apollo out daily and leaving Jack in the pasture by himself.

That worked great. Apollo is happy to leave Jack and he loves going for walks with me. He stays calm and happy.

That was my first step to decrease the “herd boundness” in Apollo.

This was helping, but Apollo would still run around when Jack left the pasture.

I was a bit worried when it was muddy from the rain or the snow, but I also hoped that Apollo would be smart enough not to hurt himself.

Then I moved on to Step #2…

I would take Apollo out for a walk at the same time that Jack’s owner took him on a ride.

This worked great too. Apollo had no issues whatsoever with getting out and going for a walk even though Jack was going in the opposite direction.

Unfortunately, I had not gotten to Step #3 yet when Apollo did hurt himself.

It was the first day that the ground had actually frozen solid. He injured his stifle by running really fast, stopping just as fast, and twisting as he turned himself around to run back on the frozen hard ground.

The vet came out and said, “it’s not too bad and should only take about 6-8 weeks to heal completely. He doesn’t need stall rest, but you should keep him from running around too much.”

My first thought was, “How in the heck am I going to do that?” Especially with Jack going out for a ride every day.

Well, I spoke with Jack’s owner and asked her if she could allow Jack to stay with Apollo for just one week without going out for a ride. That would allow Apollo the time to rest that he needed to at least start his recovery.

She said “no”. I was shocked!

She was going to continue to take Jack out to ride every day.

Now what?!

I was determined to find a solution that was good for Apollo. Because if she kept taking Jack out every day and Apollo continued to run around on his injured leg, it would get much worse very quickly.

I thought about it all night and worried.

  • I couldn’t put him in a stall by himself because it would cause too much anxiety and stress which could bring on colic.
  • I couldn’t leave him out there alone when Jack went off to ride because he would run around and cause more damage to his injury.
  • We couldn’t move Jack out and another new horse in that didn’t go riding every day because Apollo would still be running around trying to find Jack. It would even be worse as it would be a lot longer than just during a ride.

I was determined to make lemonade out of these lemons!

So, I asked Jack’s owner to let me know when she was going out to the barn to ride so that I could be out there to keep Apollo calm while she was gone.

I was happy she said “ok” to that.

Even though that meant I had to leave my house and stop whatever I was doing whenever Jack’s owner texted me and whenever Jack’s owner decided she wanted to ride, I was willing to make that happen for Apollo’s sake.

No matter what day or time of day, or no matter the weather, I would drop everything just to make sure Apollo was safe.

I have always believed that “everything happens for a reason” and I found a silver lining in this mess.

This injury pushed me to go to Step #3 quicker than I would have liked, but we continued to move forward in our training.

Step #3 was to have Jack leave the pasture and keep Apollo calm and happy in the pasture.

The first day I did this, Apollo became a horse I had not seen since he was a 2-year-old stallion near mares. Wild and crazy.

Jack’s owner had texted me that she would be there in an hour. I got there in 30 minutes and she had already taken Jack out and was out of sight.

So much for her giving me notice of when she was coming out so I could keep Apollo safe.

Apollo was running up and down the fence line on three legs. He was hoping on the injured leg. He was upset, high strung, wouldn’t stop moving, whinnying, and had started to sweat.

Oh boy!

I quickly haltered him and took him in the run-in shed to give him some treats and calm him down. But it was a bit too late for that.

Apollo wouldn’t stop moving. He kept whinnying, was pushing into me, and he even kicked out at me with the injured leg. He was now dangerous and unruly.

The only thing I could do now was to keep him from running and hurting himself more and to keep me out of his kick zone.

Luckily, Jack came back in about an hour and by that time Apollo had settled down enough for me to touch him.

Once Jack was back in the pasture, all was fine, and it was as if nothing had ever happened. Apollo was quiet and calm again.

I then stressed to Jack’s owner how important it is for Apollo’s health that Jack not be taken out without me being there.

Today was the second day and Jack’s owner did give me time to get there, but she was taking Jack out when I arrived. Luckily, I grabbed the halter and was able to halter Apollo before he went ballistic again.

What was interesting was that today, Apollo only whinnied a few times, watched as Jack left and paced back and forth only a few times.

Apollo wouldn’t eat anything while Jack was gone, but he calmed down, let me groom him and pet him, and actually enjoyed some quality belly scratches. Then when Jack came back, two hours later, Apollo acted like he didn’t even miss him.

Big difference!

It was nice to see the change from day #1 to day #2 and a distinct change from the start of day #2 to the end of it.

This will last for a few weeks until Apollo has healed and then he has a special surprise coming…

His two girlfriends from the old farm are coming to stay with him and he will have his own herd again.

Yippee!

I’ll keep you updated on our progress. And in the meantime, these three steps are something you too can try too if you have herd bound horses.

Please let me know any of your experiences with herd bound horses and what helped you in the comments below.

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  • Tammy Farmer says:

    I love your stories to the solution. Apolo is a lucky boy.

    • Thank you, Tammy. I’m lucky to still have my boy. He is doing really well with these three steps to becomeing “Un”herd bound. 🙂

  • Thanks for the really helpful tips, Teddie 🙂

    • If you are trying this with your horse, let me know if you need anymore details.

  • Deborah Houk says:

    Thank-you for this topic. I have two horses who are together 24/7. I started the same process that you describe. My pinto does not mind too much when I take my QH out, especially if I leave hay for her to munch while we are gone. However, my old QH mare goes wild when I take the pinto out. I wish I could say that I am able to calm her down if I stay with her while someone else takes the pinto out, but that is not the case. In fact, it is dangerous to stay with her. She doesn't even know I'm there and would run me down if I got in her way.

    My arena is within sight of the paddock, but that doesn't matter. I now just take the pinto out to the arena and ride while my QH works herself into a lather in the paddock. She does get better if I do that several days in a row, but if I skip some days due to weather, other obligations, etc, I have to start all over again.

    I would love to be able to trailer the pinto out for a trail ride or lesson, but I don't dare. I'm afraid the QH would do something drastic. So far I have not found anyone to ride with me on a regular basis. Both horses are fine riding out together. My QH is my heart horse that I love more than anything and we have been together for 15 years. I will do whatever it takes to give her the best life, so if it means keeping them together all the time that's OK. But in the back of my mind I worry about what would happen if the pinto had to go to the vet and be away for a while. The situation is not ideal.

    • Just do it gradually and they will get used to doing things alone with you. You have time and really aren’t in need yet to have them seperated. I used to ride Jazz and Apollo out together, pony Apollo. They both got to the point where the one left in the arena had his favorite treats to much on while we were away, which they liked. Plus, they both liked going out with “mom” to play and get some quality fun time with me. I was lucky enough to never need to have them apart for any real legnth of time. If the vet wanted them on stall rest, they both would be in stalls next to each other. The good part was that when Jazz passed, Apollo missed him but was ok on his own without issue. It wasn’t until he moved to the new place next to his new buddy Harry that he became Herd Bound again and new issues started.

  • Stephanie says:

    Teddie – Thank you for your story and the steps you have been taking. I have been experiencing similar with my horse. I'll use your steps.

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