Separation anxiety is a relatively common condition among horses, and when it occurs, it can be problematic for owners and riders. At the very least, it’s a minor inconvenience. Occasionally, it causes a major threat to the health and well-being of horses and their handlers.
Separation anxiety is the apprehension that arises when bonded horses are unable to touch or see each other. While most horses enjoy the company of other equines, separation anxiety in horses is more about instinct and survival than a simple desire to mingle.
“Horses are herd animals that depend on social groups for companionship and for safety in certain situations,” explains Evelyn Hanggi, MS, PhD, president of the Equine Research Foundation in Aptos, Calif. “Safety from predators may not be an issue for most domestic horses, but that need is still deeply ingrained in this prey species.”
A Source of Suffering?
In virtually every horse’s life, some type of separation is necessary and unavoidable. Fortunately, it’s not always a source of significant suffering. “Whether horses are traumatized by separation depends if they have a chance to join a new group,” says Konstanze Krüger, PhD, of the Department of Evolution, Behavior, and Genetics at the University of Regensburg in Germany. She believes horses kept in isolation suffer because they are highly social animals.
Changing groups is a common scenario for young horses in nature. Wild horses tend to remain in relatively stable groups throughout their lives except for younger herdmates. Studies of American Mustangs, for example, revealed that up to 80% of these horses disperse from their natal groups between the ages of 3 to 5 years. Accordin