Horses are beautiful animals that provide incredible emotional support to humans, but how can you tell if your horse needs company? And, why is companionship important for horses?
Like humans, horses like to be social and surrounded by other animals, which helps them feel more settled and content in their environment. If your horse is experiencing frustration and is exhibiting behaviors such as running around frequently or whining, they might need a companion.
This article will tell you everything you need to know about horse companionship.
Why Horses Need Companionship
Horses are social creatures and are herd animals. Both domestic and wild equines like to be in the company of other animals. This is because they prefer being in groups for safety and participating in social behaviors like mutual grooming.
Being in a herd is an instinct to ensure survival, and having company reassures the horse as they feel protected and increases their chance of survival.
They’re usually found together in groups of mares, offspring, and at least one male horse in the wild. Typically, mares will always stick together even if the male horse leaves.
In the wild, horses are rarely seen alone.
After two horses form a bond together, it usually lasts forever. They’re incredibly loyal animals, and they’re often seen grooming each other as a sign of affection. This is a critical sign that horses have a strong bond and helps them build a good social life and lower stress levels.
It’s essential that you provide horses with companionship with you want them to be healthy and have a long, happy life.
Signs Your Horse is Lonely
As horses have been domesticated, we have placed them in unnatural environments, which sometimes limit their social time with other animals. This means living alone or in a stall for a large part of the day.
This can be challenging for a horse as it goes against its natural need for companionship.
If horses are isolated for too long, it could lead to behavioral and social problems in the future. Some issues that can arise from isolation are:
- Wind sucking
- Box walking
These are common signs that a horse is suffering, but you might see other symptoms of loneliness. Watch for running along the fenceline, especially if the horse can see but not reach other horses. They may also call out and whinny.
Why Keeping Multiple Horses Is Best
Of course, one of the easiest ways to provide companionship is to group horses in the barn or pasture. Horses are happier when other horses surround them, and this is how they’ve evolved to survive, and when they can see other horses, even if they can’t touch them, they’re much more content.
This is especially important for young horses. Juvenile horses who are socialized from a young age with other horses are less likely to be aggressive and will most likely develop better social skills later on in life.
Of course, you might not notice these aggressive behaviors until the horse grows up, but to prevent the risk of aggression issues from developing, keep them together so they can develop healthy social behaviors. It’s easier to train them if they have been around other horses in their youth, as well.
If you plan on training your horses as riding horses, then this is even more important. You don’t want your horse to become reactive to riders or upset about being in an unfamiliar setting and potentially hurting people.
All these factors are crucial to raising happy horses, but the interaction with others is fantastic for their physical health. The movement improves digestion issues and keeps their motor skills functioning correctly.
Other Animal Companions
That said, some people worry about injury if their horses get violent with each other. Others can’t afford to have multiple horses because of money, time, or space restrictions.
If you can’t or don’t want to house multiple horses, there are other animals out there that will keep your equine companion from feeling isolated.
Donkeys or Mules
A donkey or a mule is a great alternative to another horse as a companion. Both animals get on well with each other, though you should always introduce them carefully at first. Just as some horses don’t get along with each other, some horses don’t like mules or donkeys.
The other benefit is that both species eat hay and grass, so you don’t need to worry about providing different food.
Another wonderful companion animal for a horse is a goat (or two or three). They are both quiet animals and have the same habits. For instance, both graze the grass and are content walking around the fields. While they aren’t as good as another horse, a goat makes your equine friend feel like they have some companionship.
Llamas and Alpacas
You might not immediately think of llamas or alpacas when you’re choosing an animal to accompany your horse, but they’re brilliant for keeping your horse company. They’re both pretty low maintenance, though they require sheering once a year.
Cows and horses are commonly kept together, and they can both be content grazing out in the field together. However, remember that some horses are afraid of cows and vice versa. Don’t go buying a cow for your horse until you know they’ll get along.
Some horses love dogs, and some are indifferent to them, and some even hate them. The other problem with dogs is that they don’t usually stay outdoors with the horse 24-7, though some farm breeds might. Still, a dog might be an excellent way to help your horse feel less alone, and they might even form an intense bond.
Miniature or Draft Horses
You might not have the money or space for a second full-sized horse, but perhaps you can squeeze in a miniature breed. They cost less to keep than a full-sized horse, and they take up a lot less room, all while providing excellent companionship.
Draft horses, on the other hand, cost more to keep and take more room than average-sized horses, but they usually have a more even temperament that can be calming to high-strung (hot), lonely horses.
Some people keep kangaroos, zebras, camels, emus, ostriches, and other unusual animals as companions for their horses. Don’t be afraid to experiment and see what appeals to your pal. You can set up meetings with a neighbor or someone who owns one of these species to see how things go before committing.
Make the Introduction Seamless
If you do decide to get a companion animal, whether it’s another horse or a different species entirely, you need to introduce them carefully. You might keep them in separate adjacent pastures at first before letting them be together for an hour or two with supervision.
If they get along, you might give them more and more time before allowing them to be together 24-7. Once they are allowed to be together full-time, keep a close eye on them to watch for signs of bullying or other negative behaviors.
The Right Friendship Is Important
Even though horses and their owners can form beautiful bonds, a human cannot be with a horse 24/7, and humans aren’t don’t exactly speak their language. Animals can provide companionship to each other all day and night. And imagine trying to live with people that you couldn’t communicate with.
On top of that, humans can’t do the things that another horse can, like mutual grooming and standing watch at night. In herds, horses take turns staying awake and watching out for danger.
Horses need friends in the same way we do, so providing your horse with a companion will improve their lives and make it more enjoyable to look after them. After all, you do not want your horse feeling lonely.