A few months back, we split up the Gig Harbor horses around the property — integrating them into herds, or otherwise facilitating a change of scenery from the paddock they’d been quarantining and living in up until that point. Mother and daughter, Ciara and Inula, were both involved in this separation, and at the time we had prepared ourselves to deal with the fallout of separating a pair who had likely never been apart. However, Ciara’s reaction told us she really didn’t mind the idea of being an empty nester, and Inula, who was integrated into one of our larger mare herds, hardly batted an eye. Like a kid going off to college and meeting their cool new roommates, Inula found fast comfort in a new home without her mom to cramp her style.

It was a definite relief that the days following their separation were not marked by frantic cross-property calling, as we have experienced before. It seemed Inula was not the type to keep Ciara’s number on speed dial. She was adjusting well to her new herd, and finding herself comfortable enough for her sprawled out nap times amongst her new friends.

However, while we had tested whether or not Inula could be away from Ciara, we had not yet seen Inula on her own.

Here’s the thing about Inula — she is a sweet, kind horse, the type of horse you introduce to someone who is afraid of horses. Despite not having had much handling before arriving at SAFE, she was a quick study, lacking many trouble spots that so many horses who come through our program possess. Apart from the little quirks that come naturally to a young horse, she treated seeing the vet and the farrier like she was a seasoned (albeit lightly) pro, met the hose for a bath without issue, allowed for a rainsheet to be tossed on her as though she’d worn one all her life, and generally speaking kept a tremendously level head throughout mostly all new experiences. But the one thing that Inula had difficulty with, her Achilles heelbulb, was being alone.

With a friend around, all the above things were true. Inula was a wunderkind, cute and sweet and wise beyond her years. On her own, however, it became clear how much trouble Inula had finding comfort in anything but another horse. Horses are herd animals, not meant to be solitary. But there are times in life that call for moments of separation. If a horse does not learn how to find some manner of peace in being alone for periods of time, things become risky. Herdbound horses run themselves through fences, or work themselves up into such a state that they colic. These are worst-case scenarios, but it does not make them any less possible.

In Inula’s case, we’ve spent hours over the last few weeks helping her learn to be okay away from her friends. We pull her out of her paddock or her stall and bring her to hang out in the arena for a little while, speedrunning the same separation we achieve by splitting horses into paddocks, but still allowing Inula turnout with her buddies. It was also a great opportunity to teach her how to stand tied. A real win-win.

Inula did not think the same at first. She put up quite an ear-splitting fuss at having to spend time away from her buddies, and whenever a horse who was previously unknown to her would enter or leave the arena, she would hoot and holler like her life depended on it. While she was learning to tie, we would flag her back and forth along the wall to show her what her range of motion was and encourage her to move laterally versus pulling pack, and when she grew especially agitated at the absence of a horse she felt was supporting her, we would change her mind to thoughts of other things by moving her along the wall. But for the most part, we just hung out alongside her, showing her that apart from some mild frustration, nothing bad would happen to her were she to be left alone.

When she was quiet and calm, we would pay her lots of attention, brushing her coat or giving her a scratch. Those very first days, the quiet moments were few and far between, and so as soon as one of them lasted longer than a few moments, we took the opportunity to take her back to her buddies, rewarding her for her patience.

Over the days, these periods of peace got longer and longer, until Inula could stand for an hour or two in (mostly) quiet, napping with her head against the wall of the arena. It is actually what she is doing right now, as I write this article. Tremendous changes!