Sunday, November 7, 2010

Working on Buddy-Bound

I had suspected that Pie might have an issue with riding out alone, as his prior owner had done very little of that with him.  So far, that hasn't really been much of a problem - he leaves the barn pretty willingly and other than speeding up his walk a bit on the way home doesn't really behave differently when heading towards home.

The issue Pie does have is that he's somewhat buddy-bound, particularly to Scout, who seems to be a friend in the gelding herd.  Today we went on an over two hour trail ride with Scout and a friend who trailered in with his mare.  The ride was very nice - the weather is beautiful - and we went a fair ways.  Pie was glad to provide a lead whenever scary objects bothered our friend's horse, and led willingly through the concrete underpass that leads from our trails to more trails on the other side of a 4-lane highway - although it was clear from his facial expression that he hadn't been through a tunnel before.

When Scout and our friend started to trot towards home, Pie was wanting to really go, so we walked instead (I felt sorry for my friends for having their ride limited by Pie's and my needs, but I suppose that's what good trail riders do for their friends).  Then when we got closer to home, I tried an experiment - I turned Pie down another trail that would take us back to the barn by a different route, as Scout and our friend continued on.  No dice.  He was clearly becoming pretty upset, so I had them hold up and rejoined them, doing tight serpentines to give Pie something to think about besides rejoining them at speed.  Even when he had his fit, he didn't do anything dreadful - no rearing or bucking.  I really didn't see any point in forcing the issue at this point.

On the way back the barn, I would turn back the other way for a few steps, but not farther than he could stand, and then turn back to rejoin them.  I repeated this all the way back to the barn, and then kept riding as our friend loaded up his horse and left and Scout went off on another ride with Sugar.  We kept leaving the barn and making a short loop around by the barn, doing serpentines whenever he started to become agitated.  We had one big spook, requiring turning in tight circles until his mind rejoined his body, when a bicycle rode by on the adjacent roadway at high speed through fallen leaves.  We just kept working.

Scout came back and was put away.  Sugar left on another short trail ride with Fritz.  We rode past them as they left and kept working.  Things were better by the time I stopped riding, about 30 minutes after we'd returned to the barn - I was able to take him up the hill by the farm and back down, and then around a circuit by the pond without too much trouble.  Then I got off a ways from the barn and led him around the same circuit in hand.  He leads really well and I thought that would reassure him and it seemed to.  He startled at one point and I was pleased to see that he didn't come anywhere near to running into me.

My conclusion is that I asked him for a bit more than he was able to do mentally, and his anxiety level stayed high for quite a while until we had worked through it in a way he could handle.  This will remain an issue for a while, I suspect, but we can nibble away at it as we build our relationship further.

I may have to borrow Jill and Scout for a leave/return buddy separation training session one day next week, if they're available.  The goal will be to take him just as far as he can go before his anxiety level gets too high, and then bring him right back, and the same thing with Scout going away from him.  He just needs to learn that he doesn't have to become anxious in these situations.

I think buddy-bound issues like this are pretty common when a horse joins a new herd, since the new horse is looking for security in a new situation and the buddy provides that.  We'll just keep working on it, and things will improve over time.


  1. You're right, you'll just have to keep working on this and it will improve with time. He's young and he will gradually come to figure the whole thing out. Glad you were able to ride again today.

  2. It certainly takes time to train them out of but it's possible. That's good that you have a willing buddy for the trails.

  3. I think you have the right of it , as he connects better with you over time ,he will turn to you for security rather than another horse

  4. Sounds like in time he will learn to trust you. You're the perfect person to help him deal with his anxiety and buddy issues :)


  5. My mare Lilly is quite buddy bound too, but she buddies up with everyone on the trail ride (even if they've never met) and has a fit when any of them leave. She's still not 'good' about it, but we've worked out a system and even though she's not happy, she knows what she can and can't do.

    It takes a lot of work but eventually he'll figure out that he's not being left forever, just for a little while and he'll get better. :) It is really helpful when you have friends willing to help you work on it.

  6. I think you are right about him figuring it out after a few rides and stopping before he gets too agitated. He will get better I think, Razz was like that for a while and she now knows we will see the others again soon and seems to trust me and look to me more as her leader, it just took time riding.

  7. Kate I'm sure you and Pie will be just fine with more outings doing what you plan to do. I think the most valuable tool we have is good riding companions. Your friends are there to help you out on the trail by the sound of it. Time invested in slower rides now will mean safer rides in the future. All the best

  8. Pie will learn to trust you in situations and you are very early days yet, he will get there you just need to be patient and great if you have good company to ride out with and know that they are willing to help you out for a while...

  9. Let me make sure I have this: Pie LED the other horses through a concrete tunnel under a freeway, something he's never done before? WOW. You got yourself one great horse there!

    I've ridden Hudson for years, so we have some history and trust, and he still judges some situations; I can feel him weighing the options: can my judgement be trusted over his? I think it takes steady saddle time and lots of bonding on the ground, but he'll turn to you as his buddy once he's settled in. You are tuned into him and don't push him past anxiety and into fear (you came back off the separate trail when it was too much!).

  10. Jane - actually, he didn't lead through the tunnel - he followed - I figured that was the easiest for him the first time. Although I think he would have led through even though, or if he were by himself. He did lead the other horses several other times past things they didn't like - road crossings and flapping plastic, for example. He is a great horse, and the more miles we do the better he'll be. I'm confident the buddy-bound stuff can be overcome slowly but surely.

  11. Sounds like quite a good ride--he had issues, but you were willing to work through them. You guys are a great pair.

  12. Kate, Buckshot had buddy-bound issues when he first came to his current barn as well. He did work out of them just fine, with time. But at first I accommodated it a bit as it wasn't a really bad problem. Also, I agree with you that good trail buddies should assist with the horse and rider needing assistance; any issues that arise should be the first priority of all the riders. Glad your friends were helpful. Sounds like you and Pie are on a good learning journey together!


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