Horses are social animals, they need companionship. Not meeting their social needs can increase their stress levels, leading to a spooky or “naughty” horse. But just because your horse needs a friend, that doesn’t mean that any horse or animal is suitable. You might need to put some thought into who is the right companion for your horse.
When might your horse need a companion?
The most common situation where you might need to consider a companion for your horse is if you own or rent the land you keep your horse on. If you only have the one horse, or if you have two horses and regularly ride one or the other, they will likely need a companion so they aren’t left by themselves.
However, even on yards with multiple horses and owners, you might still need to think about a companion for your horse. A good example is on DIY yards where everyone has their own, slightly different routine. If you aren’t able to buddy up with someone else on the yard, it might be better for your horse to have their own companion. This should mean you can turn out and bring in whenever suits you without worrying about your horse being left alone.
Horse companion for your horse
Most of the time, the best companion for your horse is another horse. While horses can find comfort in the company of other animals, it’s hard to beat another horse, they speak the same language. While horses can learn to comunicate and socialise with other animals, it won’t come as naturally as socialising with other horses.
However, just because you have two horses, that doesn’t make them automatically good companions for each other. All horses have different needs and personalities. Putting two very different horses together can cause problems both for the horses and for your management of them. There are a few things you need to consider when choosing another horse as a companion for your horse.
Mares and geldings don’t always get on, especially over the summer when mares are coming into season. While mares and geldings can get on perfectly well together, you might be safer picking a companion the same gender as your horse.
People love to put their youngsters out with older horses. They can be great mentors to younger horses. But young and older horses also have very different needs. Younger horses want to run around and play more than older horses. Older horses might also need more down time than younger horses.
However, even in adult horses, you have some who just want to get on and graze. While others want to run around and play. Ideally you want your horses companion to have a similar activity level to them. This will help meet both their needs.
Lots of people keep their old childhood pony to be a companion to their bigger horses. But ponies and sports horses often have very different dietary needs. Your companion pony might need to have limited grazing, especially during the summer. Whereas your horse might need a lot more grass and forage. This makes giving both horses the proper care can be quite complicated.
When choosing a compaion for your horse, you should try and find one who has similar needs to yours. It’s easier to manage horses with the same dietary needs together.
Different horses benefit from different routines and management. Your horse’s companion needs to be able to cope with your horse’s routine. A great example of this is, if your horse is only turned out for a few hours a day and spends the rest of the time stabled, a very young or a very old companion probably isn’t suitable. Young horses want and need to be able to run around and be outside, it important to their education. Older horses often benefit from being out for longer periods due to age related conditions such as arthritis.
Another animal companion for your horse
If for whatever reason, a horse companion isn’t possible, or if you are at a small yard where the other horse(s) might be off the yard competing, you might need to look at alternative animals as a companion for your horse. Some common animals used to keep horses company are:
Donkeys are perhaps the most similar companion to our horses. They have the same natural grazing and herd behaviours, including a very similar fight or flight response. Although they can be a bit more fight, taking on a protective role in their new herd.
However, donkeys do have some management problems too. Unlike horses, they don’t have a waterproof coat, so they will need access to shelter all year round. They can also be carriers for lungworm, so you would need to have a good worming programme in place that takes this into consideration.
Cows can be great companions for horses due to similarities in their behaviour. They are grazing animals with similar herd & prey instincts to horses. They also often eat different areas of pasture to the horses.
However, they often need stronger fencing and their feed can be dangerous to horses. Which can make them difficult to manage alongside your horse.
Sheep also have similar grazing and herd behaviours to horses. But being smaller they are often cheaper to feed. They often eat the plants the horses won’t eat, helping with pasture management.
However, they have extra needs such as shearing. You also need to think carefully about what breed you want. They come in different sizes and with or without horns. You probably don’t want horns around your horse.
Very similar to sheep, goats are a bit like their over active cousins. They can be very good companions for your horse for all the same reasons sheep are.
However, they are great escape artists and can be a bit too active and adventerous for horses. Not only will you likely need to upgrade your fencing, you will need to think about how your horse would cope with an animal climbing over anything in their field.