Horses are herd animals yet many people only have one. When my parents were ready to buy me my first horse they said I could have one, not two or three. My first horse Copper absolutely loved me but every once in a while I got the feeling that he might be lonely.
Do horses need to be with other horses or have a non-horse companion is a common question many equestrians ask. It makes sense for everyone to have a friend but is it necessary for the well-being of my horse? After observing my own horses and researching the topic extensively, I have discovered the answer.
Horses are herd animals but a single horse in a healthy environment that is continually engaged with their owner can thrive by themselves. However, some horses train, ride and behave better when they are around other horses. Just like people, horses are social animals. It all depends on their personality and living situation.
Let’s dive into the pros and cons of owning one horse versus several to help you decide if your horse needs a friend or if they are content alone.
How to tell if your horse needs a companion
Some horses become frustrated, bored and lonely when kept alone. Boredom and loneliness happens because they have no one else to feed, play or socialize with.
If you cannot give your horse as much attention as you would like, consider getting them a companion. Before you run out and get another animal to feed and care for, decide if your horse is actually lonely.
A lonely horse may exhibit one or more of the following behaviors: calling, pacing, restlessness, lack of reaction (depression), cribbing, kicking, and not eating or drinking.
If your horse is exhibiting one or more of these symptoms and he doesn’t have a medical issue, a friend may be just the ticket to perk him back up.
Keep in mind, not all horses get along with each other or even other animals. Many do thrive in a herd setting but some horses are like shy people; they do better on their own and actively choose solitude.
If you don’t have the space, money or desire to own more than one horse and you want to provide your horse with a friend, smaller non-horse companions are a simple alternative.
What is the best companion for a horse
When a second horse is not an option, nonaggressive companion animals make great friends for a lonely horse. These include sheep, goats (without horns), ponies, dogs and pigs. Some horses will also tolerate smaller animals such as chickens and rabbits but should be monitored for a while to make sure they don’t hurt them.
One companion animal may be enough. You don’t need to provide your horse with an entire herd of sheep or goats. A single buddy may be all they need.
Here are a few reasons why each of the following animals make great horse companions.
Female goats are one of the most popular companion animals for horses. They are known for their calming nature. If goats are the animal of choice for calming high-strung race horses, then your backyard horse will definitely love them. Make sure horns are removed to prevent your horse from getting injured.
Goats won’t compete for the same forage feed as your horse either. While your horse munches on grass, the goats will work on the weeds and shrubbery. You also won’t have to buy special feed for a goat since they can eat the same quality hay as your horse.
Sheep are another companion option comparable to goats. They have similar grazing requirements and can eat the same hay as your horse. Sheep are smellier than goats and it may take you horse a little longer to get used to it. You should choose standard size sheep since they are bigger than babydoll sheep and are less prone to being stepped on or hurt by a horse.
On a side note, sheep require more maintenance than goats due to their wool coat. If you don’t want to deal with shearing sheep, stick with goats.
Ponies or other horses are an obvious choice as pasture buddies. You already know the care and feeding requirements of a horse so adding another one is easy. Ponies are smaller and require less room and feed than a full size horse and may be a good compromise when space and money is tight.
Friendly dog breeds are another option when it comes to choosing a friend for your horse. Larger dogs are less likely to be stepped on and are usually calmer than smaller breeds. Stay away from yappy breeds that will constantly annoy or startle your horse.
Chickens are a low maintenance animal and might be the only entertainment your horse needs. They love exploring the yard or pasture as a group and will feed right alongside horses. Make sure your horse is comfortable with such small companions before leaving them alone.
How to introduce your horse to a new companion
Introduce all new animals to your horse slowly. Do not throw a goat into their pasture and think they will automatically get along. One of them could get injured if your horse spooks from the intrusion.
Follow these simple steps when introducing any new pasture buddy.
- Keep the new addition in a neighboring stall or paddock for a few days. You may have to make a small, temporary pen along the outside of the fence if you only have one pasture. Place the other animal(s) close enough for your horse to see and hear but not close enough to touch.
- After a few days and noticing that all animals are relaxed around each other, bring the companion animal into your horse’s pasture so they can sniff each other. Place a halter and lead on your horse so you can control him in case he tries to bite or kick.
- If this close introduction goes well, turn both animals out into the pasture together. Make sure to monitor them in the event that your horse becomes mean or aggressive.
Most horses adapt to companion animals fast and easy. Occasionally, animals don’t get along with each other, just like people. Use your best judgement of the situation and don’t be afraid to swap out pasture friends if they aren’t getting along. This is much easier to do with inexpensive goats and chickens than it is with another horse.
Do horses get attached to other horses
Horses naturally get attached to other horses that they share a pasture or barn with. Again, they evolved with a strict herd dominance hierarchy. When there is more than one horse, one is always the boss and the others fall into place.
Sometimes attachment problems occur between two horses. They become so attached that behavioral issues arise when they are separated. For instance, if you want to take only one horse on a ride, one or both may start misbehaving until they are back together again.
This behavior may be minimized if you purposefully work with each horse individually on a continual basis. If they understand that leaving the herd is safe and they get to come back to their buddy, you can decrease separation anxiety. If they are together all year and suddenly one horse gets to leave the pasture, it interrupts their normal routine and they don’t know what’s going on.
Is it ok for a horse to live alone
Many people, including myself, have only one horse at a time. Space, money, time and desire all play a role in the number of horses you have. There is nothing wrong with having only one horse.
I can vouch from experience that each of my geldings was perfectly content on their own. Their fence bordered a neighbor’s pasture that occasionally had horses. A new face in the neighborhood is exciting for a few days but they never hung out exclusively by the other horses.
My guys were more content napping in the lower pasture or watching what my family was doing in the house or yard.
Each was the master of his own pasture. Neither horse had to compete with another equine or animal for food, water, shelter or my attention.
That being said, I give my horses a lot of attention and they never exhibited the lonely behaviors I described above.
How to keep a horse from getting bored
So you’ve determined that your single horse is more than okay without a companion. That’s great! Now let’s quickly discuss things you can do to keep them from getting bored.
Horse toys are a fun option that some horses enjoy. Plastic jugs or lick treats tied to a rope provide entertainment in a stall or shelter. Jolly balls are a popular choice since they cannot be popped and can be tied up or left loose in the pasture for a horse to move around. There are even rolling treat dispensers that work just like the ones for dogs. Fill the ball with bite sized treats and when they push it along the ground treats sporadically fall out one end.
To prevent boredom and stall kicking in horses kept inside, wood flooring may be the trick. Horses often kick the wall of their stalls if they are bored because they like the sound. Wood flooring makes noise from them standing and walking on it and might be engaging enough to keep them from kicking the walls.
Horses are grazing animals so there’s nothing better than eating. Providing access to a grassy pasture is best but if that’s not an option, increasing feed frequency or volume can help. Access to good quality hay and water is not only important for nutrition sake, munching also gives your horse something to do.
Spend time with your horse. That’s why you got one right?
Riding is not the only ways to spend quality time. Grooming sessions, pasture clean up, feeding, going on grass walks or simply visiting over the fence helps develop a good relationship with your horse.
There is nothing more magical than having your horse excitedly whinny when they see you coming.
If you’ve noticed that your single horse has been acting strange for the last few weeks and you’ve ruled out injury, illness, weather, or any other living situation that hasn’t changed, start thinking about if your horse is just plain lonely.
A companion animal doesn’t have to be another horse. It can be as simple as an inexpensive friend like a goat, sheep or even chickens. Experiment and find what perks up your horse the best.