Kerry Asks: Dear Dr. Hamilton,
Can you offer any suggestions for working with a wild horse that is still attached to its mother at the age of 18 months? I have one that is very sensitive to touch and is so bonded to her mother that she will dangerously hurt herself if separated. The mother will also try the same. The filly does not know anything about halters, etc.
This a common problem with horses that wean and stay with their moms for a long time. In the wild, this would be their natural pattern to stay with their mothers until they either are of breeding age, if they are mares, or are kicked out by the herd stallion, if they are males. The males go off and join bachelor gangs.
The trick is to take your focus off the mare. Can you bring a couple of other mares in with the dam and the filly? Just let them settle in to bond as a herd for a while. Then put them in a pasture adjoined with a gate or divide their pasture in two. Leave the gate open!! Let the filly wander back and forth at will. Just let it become very natural for her to find herself at times on the opposite side of the fence from her mom.
Then once in a while, close the gate. Start off with just a few minutes. Then open the gate. Just start casually increasing the length of time the gate is closed. Gradually work your way up until they can tolerate being separated by the closed gate for hours at a time. Keep this up. Always reunite the dam and the filly at the end of an interval of separation.
Gradually work your way up separating them until you can put the filly in a pasture where she is willing to be apart from her dam but can still see her. The trick is to always remind the filly that she can be separated from her mother but always reunited. This gradually gets extended.
The trick is to remind the filly that this about being reunited with her mother, not separated. Sounds like it might take a long time. It usually takes only a week or two and then you can keep them out of sight. Also it’s a good idea to let them spend time at night in different stalls; start with 5 minutes, then gradually separate them in different stalls at night for longer periods of time. Initially start with stalls right next to each other, then an intervening stall, etc., etc. You get the idea.