There’s always a few horses at barns big or small that start whinnying for friends as soon as they are out of sight. In my experience prior to my current position, I had the occasional slightly panicked horse who would watch all other horses leave the ring and maybe nicker once or twice. It really wasn’t until I started riding for a family friend that I understood the true meaning of buddy sour.
I have been riding these horses for several months now, and this past week is probably the first week I felt no tension or anxiousness between all the rides. These horses originally hadn’t been ridden in several years, (they were very well taken care of it wasn’t even CLOSE to any case of neglect, they were just pasture boys), and you could definitely tell they only knew about staying with their brothers. The first day we took them out, they were very confused. Understandably, considering horses are creatures of habit.
The first few rides were the worst, where I was constantly basically making a wall with my leg and light half-halts to turn where I wanted to turn and not where he wanted to turn. These horses would throw fits, I couldn’t even take them to certain parts of the large field the farm owned and every ride was a race to do what I wanted them to so they could get back.
I didn’t let it show, but I was nervous that they would always be like this. I began searching for solutions- ways to train out this buddy sour. I watched several professional rider videos explain how to split up the bond. However, I noticed two things. One, that all of the solutions seemed temporary….like I wanted a solution where if I left for two weeks and came back they would still remember it. Two, that all of these methods were used with MULTIPLE people. While there was always someone at the farm in case of emergency, I was always riding alone and had no one to work with. So any exercise that required more than one person, was out of the question.
How did I wean these horses off of each other? I didn’t. These horses have been herd animals and that’s not going to change anytime soon. What I did do though, was not make riding such a chore for them and get them to trust me a bit more. This came with several months of working with them, and actually funny enough, when I wasn’t able to ride for a month because of flooding issues, the week I came back they were even better than before.
Remember that math teacher that would always say, “knowledge is like tea, you have to let it steep”. No? Well, okay, maybe I’m old for bringing that up. But the saying is true nonetheless for every creature, not just humans trying to pass Geometry class. I believe that simply getting into a routine with buddy sour horses and letting them go to be nervous all they want is probably honestly the best way to handle the situation.
Do I let them run to their brothers? No, but I also highly praise them if I have them halting, standing away from them, and facing something scary.
Do I feel their nervousness under saddle? Yes, as an equestrian you should be able to feel and mediate the anxiousness of your mount, or else you shouldn’t be on them in the first place.
Is respect important in working the buddy sour out of a horse? EXTREMELY. And I’m not just talking about, “Hey, horse, you stand still while I’m climbing onto your back” respect, I’m talking about the MUTUAL respect. Nothing should be forced until it is ABSOLUTELY the last resort. For example, when the horses would first come in alone they’d freak out on the cross ties or tied up. Did I freak out with them? No. At that point, the freaking out is something you kind of ignore unless someone is going to get hurt. My usual tack up routine includes talking to them about my day (even though I may seem crazy to people) and giving them a wealth of time to absorb the fact that they are working now and once they are done working they will go back.
It is important to remember, nothing should ever be rushed and these bonds being reworked do take time and patience. But, once the horse gets comfortable around you and sees you’re just this calm creature that sometimes makes them work but overall is not scary, they are more willing to be ridden further away.
The two horses being ridden by me currently are very different in personalities. One I believe loves people, and simply just wants to be with people AND his brothers at the same time. He was whinnying the most in the beginning and still does the occasional buck if I strongly tell him he isn’t allowed to run to his field yet. But he has definitely made the most progress. He used to whinny and pace anxiously on the way back from the field and on the cross ties and be jumpy the entire time being ridden. Now, he may whinny once or twice and while he looks for his field mates sometimes the difference is there is no anxiousness on the lead or under saddle. The second horse is one that does not like being caught, for whatever reason, but is amazingly perfect once you catch him. He has the best ground manners and manners under saddle….he just sometimes forgot that I was on his back and wanted to go back to his friends. Now however, he stays quiet, knows what the routine of exercises is, and actually lets me know when he is feeling uncomfortable so I know to change the way I am riding him. Again, it is a mutual respect and while you should still be at the top of the totem pole, nothing should be forced. Forcing an animal into anything will make them resent it more and more each time.