FOMO or fear of missing out may be a silly affliction, but there is hope for horses (and owners) who suffer!
There’s an affliction going around that creates stress-filled, negative thoughts and actions in humans and horses alike. Almost anything can trigger it, but people are especially susceptible to it when there are brandings, rodeos, shows and a multitude of fun and attractive things happening that can’t be attended. In the equine mind, something as small as another horse walking away while the other stays tied can trigger this sensitive and upsetting emotion.
Of course, I’m referring to FOMO, an acronym that stands for “fear of missing out.” Most of us have felt it at different times, though some have never been able to define it. No doubt we can empathize and understand why our horses go through it as well when they are separated from their friends.
For some folks, it can be a depressing state of mind. Friends or peers are out having a good time, or are somehow involved in an activity that appeals to us yet we can’t, haven’t or won’t be involved.
For others, FOMO can be seen as a good thing. It’s a driving force to motivate us to be more involved in certain activities. It gives us a feeling of discomfort we want to avoid the next time around, so we work harder to be involved in said activities when they come around again. And, because social media often highlights this feeling, it may lead to less time online and more time out doing things.
The great news is that FOMO can be fixed! In fact, I think we should look at FOMO in our horses especially as a good thing. First of all, it means they are normal, functioning creatures. See, horses are naturally herd animals. Their comfort and safety relies on the company and interaction with other horses. They are engineered to think, react and function based on what others are doing around them. When a horse is removed from a herd, whether it’s a group of colts it has grown up with, or merely a weekend travel buddy that belongs to a friend, often he will experience stress, concern and alternate behavior from the norm.
Some horses whinny, pace or dig holes. Some are more easily distracted than usual. Sometimes nerves will bubble over and the rider will experience a horse acting much differently than he does with a buddy by jigging, pacing, whinnying, pawing at the ground, or doing other completely distracted behavior.
The best way to get around this is to simply season a horse to it. Most of the horses I encounter in our business are colts: young, fresh and fairly untouched. We make it a part of the starting process. We’ve got tie rings hanging from shady trees and “blind” posts that don’t allow a horse to see anyone else while he’s tied there. Sometimes we do it in short intervals, and sometimes it’s a long day of standing, tied up. But often, just the experience of having to “self-soothe” can teach a horse patience, confidence and the desired skill to be comfortable with himself and not worry about what the other mares and geldings around him are up to.
When horseback, FOMO almost always surfaces when a group of horses leaves the one I’m riding. It’s completely counter-intuitive for my horse to ignore what the others are doing and stay with me, his rider, alone, as they leave him (or I leave them). My husband and I work on this at home when we can, moving horses while riding and finding places outside the arena to leave each other and ride alone.
Like humans, some horses are just more prone to FOMO than others. Some personalities are more sensitive than others, and the more we are all aware of it and work on it, the better off we all are. My personal goal moving forward is that if and whenever I feel just an inkling of that dreaded “fear of missing out” bubble up, I’m going to shake it off, roll forward, dig in and try harder to be more involved in the things I love. I will aspire towards and be more confident in my current state.
And as far as my horses go, I’ll keep trying to eliminate FOMO in their lives as well. I’ll try to help them learn maturity, patience and tranquility while they spend time alone. I’ll keep seasoning them to leaving their herd, being tied out safely for periods of time, and learning how to stay with me as a rider as their friends leave them.
And if all that fails, I’ll consider restricting their time on social media as well.