Horses are social animals, but sometimes, we find ourselves unable to provide our horse with a companion due to circumstances outside of our control. Is it possible for a horse to live alone?
There are various reasons why you might not be able to provide your horse with a companion.
While it is always preferable to keep your horse among other horses, there are ways to prevent your horse from becoming stressed if you need to keep them alone.
This article will cover tips for you to use to keep your horse healthy and happy, as well as signs of stress to watch out for to determine if your horse can adjust to solitude.
Why do horses need companions?
All horses, whether wild or domesticated, are herd animals. This means that they thrive best when kept among other horses for various reasons.
Your horse may be the perfect docile pet, but just as a house cat exhibits behaviors that mimic big cats in the wild, your horse has instincts stemming from pre-domestication.
Horses have always lived in groups, and your domesticated horse carries that same instinct with them, causing them to crave companionship.
Horses are prey animals and thus find safety in numbers. In the wild, horses may take turns sleeping or eating so they are never left unguarded while in a vulnerable state.
It’s unlikely you have wolves and bears staking out your farm, but to your horse, “better safe than dinner” will be their modus operandi.
Being among other horses provides your horse with peace of mind.
Just like humans, horses can get bored. Lack of stimulation can cause your horse to get stressed out or depressed, leading to self-destructive behaviors.
Having other horses around gives your horse the opportunity for play and social interaction to keep their spirits up.
Perhaps the most straightforward reason your horse needs a companion is it can get lonely without one.
Humans form friendships with other humans to keep from getting lonely; your horse forms bonds with other horses for the same reason.
Why living in a herd is not always possible?
That being said, there are barriers that prevent horses from living in a herd, the first reason being that your pet horse isn’t out running wild with a literal herd!
Whether you have your horse on your property or in a boarding facility, there will be limitations to how many—and what kind of—companions are available to keep your horse company.
Owning a horse can average out to be nearly $4,000 annually, and every additional horse you add will increase the cost.
This is without considering any unforeseen costs, such as emergency vet bills or property maintenance.
The amount of land space recommended for a single horse is two acres. Add another horse into the mix, and you add another acre along with it.
Depending on the size of your property, providing the proper amount of space for multiple horses may not be feasible.
If you’re providing all the care for your horse, the amount of time you’ll spend each week will be comparable to a part-time job.
If the care of one horse is already stretching your time thin, you may not be able to handle a companion horse.
4 tips to keep a lone horse happy
What do you do if you have a horse, but it isn’t possible to provide them with other horses to socialize with?
While the healthiest thing for your horse is to be around other horses, there are ways that you can keep your horse comfortable until you have the means to bring another horse into the fold.
Consider a different companion.
Horses get along best with other horses, but they can form bonds with other animals as well.
Cats, dogs, goats, sheep, and pigs are examples of animals that might provide your horse with the companionship they need.
Other Equus animals, such as ponies, miniature horses, donkeys, and mules, can also be substitutes for horse companions.
These animals share more similarities with horses but require fewer resources, making them a feasible purchase for you when a horse is not.
Spend extra time with your horse
There is one companion your horse always has on hand—you! If your horse is alone, consider allotting more quality time with them.
Don’t make your time in the pasture all about chores—consider your time with your horse as separate from providing fresh water and cleaning their stall.
Time with your horse doesn’t need to mean long trail rides. Even a few minutes of giving your horse some nose scratches, and words of affection can make a big difference in making your horse feel safe and loved.
Check our article “Do Horses Like to Be Hugged?” for more insight into human-horse interactions.
When together, horses will groom each other to bond, so get the brush out!
Grooming your horse regularly will give them a sense of belonging and comfort, and it will help build trust between the two of you as well.
Pay attention to your horse’s body language to get a sense of what areas they like brushed the most, and take the time to groom them a couple of times a day.
Your horse might even groom you back to let you know they consider you a part of their herd.
Provide them with stimulation
If your horse doesn’t have a companion to play with, find ways to stimulate them to ward off boredom.
Invest in toys, like ball feeders or treat rings, to give your horse something to focus on. Change up your training routines and riding routes. Make sure your horse has space to run around and play.
The more your horse has to keep them occupied, the less likely they will become stressed out from a lack of stimulation.
Signs that your horse needs a companion
Despite your best efforts, your horse may not be able to thrive alone. Keep an eye out for different behaviors that will let you know if your horse needs a companion.
When a horse is upset, it may display compulsive behaviors.
Your horse may pace around their enclosure or crib, which is when a horse bites onto solid objects—such as fences, stalls, or buckets—and produces grunting noises as they suck in air.
Your horse may also present a lack of appetite and resist feeding. These behaviors are signs of stress and should be taken seriously before they worsen.
If your horse previously had a companion and has been separated from them for whatever reason, you may hear them whinny loudly and frequently.
This is your horse attempting to locate their companion, and it also means that they are in distress over the loss.
An especially important thing to keep an eye out for is physical damage caused by stress and depression. Cribbing can cause damage to a horse’s teeth, for example, and excess pacing can hurt their joints.
Stress can also cause gastrointestinal distress in the form of ulcers. Some of the physical responses to stress can lead to expensive veterinarian bills or even irreparable harm to your horse.
Take these signs seriously, and consider the possibility that being alone is not something your horse can mentally handle.
Boarding as an alternative
If you’re concerned about your horse being alone, something you can consider is placing them in a boarding facility. Boarding facilities are often more cost-effective, both in terms of money and time.
With boarding, you aren’t responsible for all the daily tasks required to take care of your horse, such as feedings and mucking stalls.
Best of all, your horse can have companionship without you needing to take on more responsibility than you’re able.
If boarding your horse is something you want to pursue, do your research on facilities in your area.
Consider your requirements in terms of price, space for your horse to roam, and the type of care you want to be provided.
This can give you the freedom to have a relationship with your horse without worrying about whether or not they’re lonely.
Before you invest in any animal, it’s crucial to consider all aspects of care they’ll require.
By and large, companionship is a requirement for owning a horse and should be treated as important as the type of feed you use, or the type of enclosure you intend to have.
As discussed, there are ways to circumvent the need for a second horse, but these ways should be considered a last resort and, if possible, temporary.
Any horse living on their own should have extra attention paid to them, as their risk of stress and depression is higher than a horse in a social environment.
Remember, it’s up to you to ensure your horse is as happy and healthy as it can be, so consider your options and make smart choices for their well-being.