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Love Horseback Riding, Issue #011- What Causes Herd Bound Behavior?
August 01, 2015
Dear Horsey Friends,


Summer is in full swing! I hope you are finding the time to ride while the weather is warm and the days are long. I am in full “getting to know you” mode with my new horse Gus who is pictured above. He is quite the curious boy, always wanting to check new things out. Right now, he’s not particularly bonded to me yet. He still prefers his buddies in the pasture. We’ll talk more about that in just a minute.

What's New

If you’ve been following my newsletters for awhile, you know that I am a big fan of natural horsemanship training. Visit this page to learn more about what is behind natural horse training. This is the type of training I follow with my own horses and the same type of training that I base the principles of's articles on.

Learning: Herd Bound & Buddy Sour Behavior

Both this and next issue we’ll be covering herd bound horses. As I mentioned above, my new horse Gus is great! But after having developed a very strong relationship with my last horse over the past seven years there are some things I am noticing are NOT there with Gus yet.

Right now he prefers his new herd mates to my company. That’s ok. He’s still working his way through the ins and outs of a large herd and trying to settle his place in the world. Over time we’ll start to form a relationship like my last horse and I had. The kind where he catches me (boy do I miss NOT having to walk out to the pasture to “catch” my horse as she came EVERY time I called for her even on 30+ acres.)

He also whinnies when he is out of sight of his new friends and at times becomes agitated and not wanting to listen to me. That is herd bound behavior because he doesn’t have a strong bond with me yet, and/or doesn’t think I am interesting enough to warrant his attention. I am aware of these concerns and actively working to gain his trust and prove to him that I can be a good friend and leader, too.

In addition, a reader named Tara has 2 rescue horses that absolutely hate being apart from each other. Tara writes “How do I get them to relax when they are away from each other?”

It’s a pretty involved answer, so this month we’ll focus on how and why horses become herd bound or buddy sour and next month some strategies to deal with the issue.

When unraveling why horses become herd bound you need to understand some horse behavior and herd dynamics. Horses are herd animals and are very social creatures. They live in groups and have a very specific hierarchy that they test every day.

The dominant (lead) horse eats first, drinks first, and in the wild has first breeding rights. The dominant horse causes the more submissive horses to move their feet.

This structure includes all horses all the way to the most submissive horse that eats/drinks last and everyone else in the group can move his feet. Changes to the members of the herd almost always result in changes within the structure of the hierarchy of the group.

Horses are also prey animals. That means that in the wild they fear being killed by a lion, wolf or other predator. This is really important to understand because it drives many behaviors in horses including being herd bound. This is true even though we as humans know our domestic horses are generally not going to wind up being eaten by a predator at the local stable or on our acreage.

Let’s take a look at horses in the wild that are trying to escape a potential predator attack. When danger is sensed the group runs away from the potential threat while keeping their bodies close together. The middle of that group is safest spot too. The way horses move when facing a potential threat makes it harder for a predator to single out just one animal.

For every horse their number one priority in life is SAFETY. The herd provides that safety.

So in essence, if your horse is herd bound, barn or buddy sour he’s essentially saying that he’d rather be with someone else (his buddy) or somewhere other than with you (at the barn or in his pasture.)

This behavior can become quite extreme. While in more minor cases a horse will whinny for his buddies, in more severe cases they can become quite dangerous to handle as they can become frantic to be reunited with the other horse or go back to their pasture.

Remember though, that the majority of the time a horse does shows herd bound behavior is because he feels safer with his buddies. There are cases when he just doesn’t see you as interesting enough to want to be with but the majority of herd bound horses’ behavior is FEAR based.

Let’s take going on a trail ride or to a show as an example. First you catch your horse, taking him away from his food, friends, and safety of the pasture to put him in a (sometimes) scary trailer. When he gets to the destination it’s a brand new place. From his perspective everything is new and a potential threat to sort out.

In Gus’s case, he’s lived on the same farm for the majority of his life before I bought him. So not only did I take him away from the only friends and farm he’s known, now he has to try and sort out a new human, new barn, and about 20 new horse friends when before he only had 3. Lucky for me I knew this and didn’t expect him to be perfect straight away.

Are you starting to see why horses are easily herd bound? When it comes to us humans, we need to become their new best friend and leader so they TRUST us.

We want our horse to WANT and CHOOSE to be with us and feel safe enough not to have to stay with their buddies.

Think of a mare and foal. They are so tightly bonded and weaning the foal can be traumatic on both mare and foal if not done gradually and properly. Think of you taking your horse out of the pasture as a “mini weaning.”

It’s a relationship problem between us and our horse. Even if a horse is bonded super strongly to another horse, when we take him away from that horse WE are seen as potentially taking away his safety and not aren’t as good enough of a substitute in his eyes. He doesn’t trust us enough to leave his horse friend.

I hope this helps shed some light on herd bound and buddy sour horses.

Next month we’ll talk about some strategies to help you deal with a herd bound horse.

In the meanwhile, visit on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter! Until then,

Happy Trails!


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