HELP: Severe Seperation Anxiety - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 26 Old 01-21-2012, 04:34 AM Thread Starter
Join Date: Jan 2012
Location: Brisbane, Australia
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Exclamation HELP: Severe Seperation Anxiety

Hello, I am new to the forum and hoping someone on here may have an idea about a solution to a major problem I have been having.
I have a young Thoroughbred (6 yr old) who I bought off the track about 4-5 months ago. He has always been a very sociable boy right from day one, friendly with any horse he meets and never too keen to have his neighbours taken away. When I first bought him I took him to an agistment where I had another horse, and about three other agisted horses on the property. He had his own paddock and was stabled at night, though the stable was attached to his paddock, not in a normal block with other horses. He had neighbours on either side and would whinny a little when they were taken out, but nothing too bad.
I bought him home about a month later once we had a free box and yard. He is across from another yard where my mare lives, we have them in these stables attached to small yards (maybe 5x5 metre stables and 8x8 metres yards) at night and then they are let out into paddocks at breakfast.
Though he was no closer to this mare then any of the horses at the agistment, (He shared a fence with the old horses) he developed a massive attatchment to her from day one.
I ended up moving him to my instructors property for his first few weeks of work (He came to us very light in condition, so the first 2 months I spent just putting weight on him) and was absoloutely fine there, never got attached to any of those horses despite being much much closer to them then he was to her.
I have since bought him home for a spell and he is drivng me (and himself) crazy. The mare can't be taken a few steps away from her stable before he starts to freak out, and we have had to paddock them together recently to stop him trying to run through the fences to get to her. Until recently this seemed to work but I went away for work to Melbourne (another state in Aus) for a month and left him and the other horses in the care of my sister.
She called me frantic a few days after I arrived saying that the mare had been in heat so she had seperated the two into adjacent paddocks during the day, thinking he would be safer as she is VERY aggresive when in season. He freaked out and ran through the fence, badly injuring his hock in the process. She had the vet out but there wasn't much the vet could do, he wasn't putting any weight on it at all and the vet suspected ligiment damage, but because of the location it would be impossible to tell even with an x ray. She suggested confiement, antibiotics and rest and basically just wait and see if it got better.
I was mostly unreachable after the first few days due to a lack of phone signal, so everything was left to my sister. I returned home about 5 weeks ago and to my horror he had lost SO much weight, he was about half the size he was when I first bought him. This is aparrantly because the vet had said to keep him confined in the stable until his leg healed, and the mare had been let out. He had spent all day every day since the injury pacing, bucking, kicking, throwing himself at the gate and walls trying to get to the mare.
Since I have returned the attatchment to her has doubled what it was when I left. She can't be moved even a few metres without him losing it, and yet they cannot be stabled together due to her sour nature and size (he would lose any fight they had, he is smaller and much more placid in nature). A few days ago I have tried to end the attachment once and for all by moving the mare to a neighbours property and leaving him alone - he hasn't settled at all. Three days later and he is still pacing, bucking, kicking (His leg has healed somewhat and he is now putting some weight on it) He has now injured his other leg kicking at the fence but nothing too bad, he has been pretty lucky. He has lost all the weight I managed to put on him and is again skeletal, no one seems to know what to do. He hasn't eaten since she was moved, he is constantly worked up and covered in sweat, I really don't know what to do at all.
ANY suggestion at this point would be welcome - selling him isn't really an option I can consider right now, ignoring the fact he would never sell with the injury and his current condition anyway, he was really showing a huge promise as a show jumper in the few weeks we had him in work, his nature when not stressed out is just perfect, he is one of the most trainable horses I have ever come across. So I really am willing to do anything to save this horse, I fear he will gravely injure himself if this continues.
Anyone have any ideas?
I have some photos to help get an idea of everything,
These first photos are his weight when he was in work.

Now these are the weight difference once he started stressing out over the mare. (Just a few weeks)

Here is his leg as it is now, healed quite a bit.

And finally, I have included this picture to show where the yards are in relation to each other. In this photo he is actually in the mares yard (The swapped them to try and see if it would help at all, it didn't) And the red wood fence you can see is where his yard is. This distance is about as far as you can take her before he loses it.

Again, any suggestions would be welcome! I have been considering buying him a pony as a companion (Could not use a horse as there is not enough room in the yards for two big horses) but am worried then that I will just move his attachment onto something else, and have the same problem with the pony. I can hardly work a pony with him now can I?

So frustrating!!! Seems like there may be no solution :(
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post #2 of 26 Old 01-21-2012, 09:01 AM
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I wish I could give you a magic answer but I know of none.

Geldings like this are not all that unusual. When we get one, we just sell them. We have too many horses to be able to deal with them and drugging horses is not what we do.

This is the main reason that we never mix mares and geldings and try very hard to not put them across a fence from each other unless it is 'hot'. We do not even like to do it then if we can keep from it.

There is one thing you can try. I know people with barrel horses and roping horses with anxiety issues and have 'heard' quite a few H/J and Dressage horse trainers use it. It is a long acting drug (actually 2 different ones) that last 3 to 4 weeks each. A lot of geldings 'fall in love' with a mare but only a few fall as badly as yours.

One is Resurpine and the other is Fluphenazine. [I believe they are anti-psychotic drugs in human use and are used in institutions to keep patients more 'calm'.] You can ask an equine Vet about them. I have not personally used them because if a horse does not have the disposition to train well, I just sell them. I do not sell horses on drugs (these kinds or pain killers) so I have not tried them. But, MANY professional trainers and quite a few amateurs that haul and show use them all of the time on hyper horses and horses with anxiety issues that they can't avoid. They are so long acting in the brain that they do not test if a horse has not had a dose real recently, so I suspect quite a few show horses show on them. Resurpine works better on some horses and fluphenazine works better on others. Horses do not act sedated on either. I believe they even give them to some race horses.

That would be the only thing I would know that might work or a horse as bad as yours. Like I said, I just sell them because there are too many without issues and we train them to sell.
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post #3 of 26 Old 01-21-2012, 09:17 AM Thread Starter
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Location: Brisbane, Australia
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I completely understand where you are coming from - I have given selling him a great deal of thought also. It seems like keeping him is a lot more trouble then it is worth, but away from her and before the attachment started he was truly an angel both under saddle and on the ground. It is the mare that we would love to sell, she is irritable at the best of times and plain nasty at the worst. We have started calling her 'incorrigible' because nothing seems to make a difference - the last person to ride her ended up in hospital thanks to her rearing habit that we have been unable to break, and she lost her balance and fell on the rider. We get horses off the track and try to give them a second chance as pleasure or competition horses, and most of the time they turn out great, but some of them, like this mare, are failures from the beginning and not worth the time or effort. She is also no good to us as a broodmare, as her bad temperament makes us nervous to try to put her to any stallion.
The problem is, how do you (in good conscience) sell a horse like that? I couldn't morally sell her to someone who wasn't aware of her vices, and anyone who was aware wouldn't buy her. All this considered, it seems silly to sell the horse who truly is coming along nicely (or was, anyway) and has a personality of gold, and keep the mare from hell. It is not in me to dog a horse, or to sell her to anyone I thought might do so, but it seems pointles to keep her.
I have considered chucking her out on another property and just leaving her there to live out her days - but as it is now day 4 and the gelding has yet to settle, I am worried he never will. I have never dealt with seperation anxiety this bad in a horse before so really I am at a loss.

I have considered drugging him. It would be the first and only time I have drugged a horse for non-medicinal purposes, but I feel that he is putting himself in enough danger to warrant it. The main problem I suppose with this is that most of the stuff I have heard of needs to be constantly re-injected/re-administered for it to have a prolonged effect, and it is **** expensive too.
Maybe I could get rid of the mare to pasture and give him something just for a week or so to help him settle?
Has anyone had experience with these kinds of drugs? I can't say I know much about it myself.
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post #4 of 26 Old 01-21-2012, 09:38 AM
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That is why I suggested Resurpine or Fluphenazine. They each last 3 to 4 weeks. You only have to give them about once a month.

If you remove the mare, make sure he is somewhere else when you do. Like, take him to some other place. Then move her off of the place and return him a little later.

If a horse like him sees the mare leave, he will frantically run the fence and whinny in the direction he saw her go. If she is just 'gone' when he is returned to his pen, he is like weaning a foal that did not see the mother leave.

By the way, that is how we wean foals and they whinny 2 or 3 times looking for their mothers and then they are quiet and happy. We 'sneak' the mothers off when the foal is eating and when they are done eating -- she just is not there.
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post #5 of 26 Old 01-21-2012, 09:41 AM
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As a race horse he has always been around other horses. I think he is scared to be on his own. In the wild the lead mare offers security to the others as she knows where good grazing is and water, etc. Altho not in the wild, the gelding felt more secure with the mare's presence. Horses need to be with other, to touch, to share, to get bossed around. Isolating them in a stall or paddock goes against the herd instinct. The herd, an important social group, is how they protect themselves from predators. In you gelding's mind he's afraid he will be dinner. Since the situation has caused so much stress, the weight loss could be due to ulcers. Can you not put the mare in with him during turnout? It will likely reduce his stress level and help him regain the lost weight. You can get him used to the mare leaving by leaving a little distance then returning, leaving a yo yo, extending the leaving a few steps farther each time. What this does to him is raise and lower his stress up and down, up and down until he has to relax. That's the way the brain works.
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post #6 of 26 Old 01-21-2012, 09:49 AM Thread Starter
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Sorry, I should have clarified - when I said we left him alone, I meant without the mare. There are still several other horses in the adjacent yards and paddocks, just without the mare which is his main attatchment.

Yes sorry Cherie I think I misread your post the first time - I havn't heard of these before, but I may ring my vet tomorrow and ask about them. If they last as long as you say it should definitely be worth a shot, hopefully I would only need it for the initial few days/weeks until he gets used to her not being around.
Yes if I were to do that I would move the mare straight from the neighbours place, I wouldn't bring her back first and let him see her again. The main thing I worry about is him getting hurt again, but I guess I really can't do much to prevent it. I will have a look into those drugs tomorrow.
Is there any possibilty of...I don't know, training or encouraging him out of the behaviour? It seems impossible to me, but there is plenty I do not know and have not heard of...I have had other people suggest rewarding him with food when she isn't around to make him associate that time as a positive experience, but he just doesn't eat without her! I guess the not eating is a big probem in itself, I can't let him out to pasture like this, he would surely go through a fence, and he is not eating anything in the stable or yard without her there. It's like a vicious circle in a way...
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post #7 of 26 Old 01-21-2012, 09:50 AM
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I wish I could help you but have no experience with this level of anxiety. Can he touch other horses or just see them? If he can just see then he is probably really lonely. Have you tried introducing the mare to him and observe their reaction. Of course the worries would be he would get injured from her and more easily since he is already and could get more attached but keeping them separate seems just the same. I keep all of my horses together. It is natural. I use to worry about my mare pulverizing my other horses because she is also aggressive but the other horses adjusted. They do kick and nip and chase each other but that is normal in a herd of horses. Think you could try to introduce them slowly to each other? You never know the mare may learn manners from him.

Last edited by Cintillate; 01-21-2012 at 09:52 AM.
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post #8 of 26 Old 01-21-2012, 09:56 AM Thread Starter
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Hi Cintillate,
Yes, he has contact with the other horses. I had to move the young gelding in the yard that was sharing his fence because Flash's behviour was setting him off, but I replaced the young one with the old retired boy who doesn't seem to notice his antics at all.
He also has the ponies on the other side of him, he can't touch these guys but they are only a few metres away.
Then the broodie is just across from him (maybe 3-4 metres in distance) next to where the mare was, and the other horses are all paddocked within sight.

Yes the two were paddocked together for a time, he is much much happier out in the paddock with her despite the nicks and bruises he comes in with, but she cannot be stabled in with him due to the confined space and her agressive nature seems to be a lot worse in the yards then in the paddocks.
Leaving him out with her permanantly is not really an option either, she cannot be left in a paddock after dark as for some reason she completely disregards the fences at night and has run through them a number of times.

I tell you, between the two of them!!

Last edited by Jessmaylilah; 01-21-2012 at 09:58 AM. Reason: Spelling mistakes
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post #9 of 26 Old 01-21-2012, 10:18 AM
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Haha yes, mixing horses is a challenge. A soap opera in the making...I'm lucky mine get along fairly well. I think the mare may be a bit territorial that could cause some of the problem. Have you stopped keeping them together? Have they been together in the yards? How did that go?

I have a video here that might help you...I hope. It is kind of long and the situation is a bit different but the similarities are that the gelding is really trying to get to the mare.
horseawareness's Channel - YouTube
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post #10 of 26 Old 01-22-2012, 02:43 PM
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This is blunt, and may offend some. I would give the mare away. Free horses always attract someone. Maybe she'll get a home breeding more incorrigable babies, but honestly, then she's someone else's problem. And she's off your feed bills and gives your gelding a chance to recover.

There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living. - Nelson Mandela
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anxiety , injury , seperation , thoroughbred

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