Do Horses Get Lonely?

January 18, 2023
Do horses get lonely

Horses are glorious, but they are significantly different from keeping a cat. Both animals require care, but the food bill for the former puts fear in the eyes of even the most robust bank accounts. Never mind that horses need routine pedicures and can produce vet bills that are more terrifying than a Stephen King tale. Thus, it’s understandable to only want one horse, but will it get lonely?

lonely horse

Horses are herd animals that rarely do well on their own. In the wild, there is safety in numbers, and the instinct doesn’t vanish in a domestic setting. Thus, loneliness can negatively impact their health, including lowering their immune system, losing weight, and creating behavioral issues. 

Many horses will not cope living without other equine friends. However, horses have a range of personalities, and many will do fine with an attentive owner. There are also other tricks to employ to try to keep your equine from becoming lonely, stressed, or anxious. Nonetheless, knowing the signs of a horse ill-suited for independent living is essential.

6 Signs Your Horse Is Lonely, Stressed, Bored, Or All Three

Horses can’t speak to us using human language. Thus, it is up to us to understand how horses communicate their behavior. The following six symptoms are signs of a horse trying to convey that all is not well in their lives. All these could signal loneliness but could also be due to another issue, such as stress or boredom.

1. Lonely Or Bored Hoses Are Prone To Cribbing

Veterinarians still don’t know much about cribbing, this tendency for horses to bite objects like fence posts releases endorphins. However, there is evidence to suggest that it is a coping behavior, as demonstrated in this 2015 Swiss study. Once this coping behavior is discovered, they will likely use it for the rest of their lives.

Some horses only do it when bored. But if a horse is lonely, it might be doing it due to the anxiety they feel at constantly being at full alert.

2. Horses May Stop Eating When Lonely, Stressed, Or Depressed

Brown Horse in stressed

Horses losing their appetite can be a sign of illness, but they also stop eating for emotional reasons, such as loneliness. However, before you panic and buy three more new friends, consider if there have been other changes in the animal’s life.

For example, our friends own a riding school. They retired a senior horse because he was old, and they were worried about his health. He stopped eating. The day they let him do a walking class, his appetite returned.  They still don’t let him work much. But just saddling him up and letting him graze while his friends do lessons seems enough to keep him feeling useful and eating.

3. Pacing Or Restlessness Is A Sign of Loneliness Or Stress

A 2008 study on warmbloods found that the horses stabled in isolation exhibited many more stress-related behaviors than those stabled in pairs. Restless behaviors were higher in the isolated horses, such as pawing. In addition, a horse that is pacing and restless doesn’t eat as much and is burning more calories. Thus, it can negatively impact their weight and overall conditioning.

4. Releasing Neighs That Sound Like A Call To Arms

Horses make many noises, from a friendly nicker to a loud neigh that sounds like it is trying to wake an army from the dead. This call is a plea to any horses in the area to reply. It is looking to join a herd.

It is common for a horse to do this occasionally when being asked to work while all its friends are in the pasture. The calling ceases as soon as they are reunited with their herd. But in a lonely horse, this call is heartbreaking, as there is never a reply. It can be incredibly distressing.

5. Horses Kick Out When Lonely, Frustrated, Or Angry

Some horses have more personality than others and are prone to rearranging a barn or fence line just because it’s Tuesday. However, if your mild-temper gelding is starting to kick over buckets or try to add ventilation to his stall, you might have a lonely, frustrated, or angry horse on your hands.

Horse Kick

Maybe you’ve run out of alfalfa, and he doesn’t like the substitute. But it also happens if your horse was sharing a fence line with a neighbor and that horse has gone away. Yes, he used to be fine alone, but there was company of a sort. Thus, if your four-hoofed friend has lost some pals recently, it might need some more attention or making a plan B.

6. Loneliness In Horses Can cause Stress Sweat

Horses in pastures and the wild work together as a herd to keep themselves face. They share each other’s eyes and ears, even rotating, which is on watch during periods of rest.  But when a horse is alone, it can feel pressure to be in a heightened state of alert at all times. This leads to muscular tensions, creating visible symptoms such as stress sweat.

7 Ways To Try To Keep A Horse From Feeling Alone

Not everyone can afford to keep more than one full-sized horse. But some horses, especially mares, are so dependent on equine companionship they’ll choose it even over food. Being alone can be detrimental for these socially dependent horses, even impacting their immune system.

However, there are some equine hacks you can try to keep loneliness at bay or help a horse struggling to cope without a herd.

1. Be The Alpha So Your Horse Feels Safe And Secure

Like humans, some horses are born leaders, and others are adorable cowards. You can’t train a horse to be a brave warrior. However, you can take on the leadership role for your horse and provide an environment where they feel assured you are in charge and will keep them safe. In short, you become your coward’s courage, which is a lot more responsibility than being your horse’s pal.

Unfortunately, taking on this role is more than simply providing your horse with love, devotion, and physical needs. It takes research into horse behavior, providing clear and consistent rules that will be enforced. There needs to be discipline and dominance.

However, this isn’t about hitting a horse or raising your voice. It can be as basic as insisting on certain behavior to earn your notice and attention. There are many theories on the best methods, and you’ll have to research what works best for you and your horse. But whichever you choose, have patience, consistency, and routine because you are making a promise to be the leader of the herd.

2. Some Horses Make Friends With Goats

Goats are many people’s affordable solution to providing their horse with a pal. It is even a trick used by people who board their horses with other equines.

However, some horses are so needy for companionship; they must have a small friend with them at all times, no matter where they go. So even when these horses compete, you’ll find their goat on the sidelines, in his friend’s line of sight.

Thus, goats can make terrific companions. However, some studies have suggested that while goats might help, they still don’t provide the same comfort as being in a herd.

3. Donkeys Can Ease A Horse’s Loneliness

Getting a donkey friend for your horse is much more affordable than buying a second (or three) horses. For starters, they are cheaper to feed.

That said, donkeys are not maintenance-free. While they are significantly less work than a horse, they still have needs, including regular care for their hooves and teeth. Also, you need to follow your vet’s advice to ensure they don’t give each other the wrong diseases. Lastly, try to have an introduction period. Just like some horses hate each other, not all donkeys and horses will get along.

Minatare Horses

4. Minatare Horses Can Be An Economical Herd Mate

Minatare horses can be brilliant friends, especially for a retired senior horse that is too fragile to hang out in a herd. Minatare horses also don’t cost as much to maintain as full-grown horses.

That said, some horses are terrified of miniatures. Some friends of ours brought a few to their barn. One of their horses acted as if the apocalypse had arrived. But the second one was all, “Hey, nice grass you’ve got there,” and just started grazing alongside.

However, minis do have a reputation for having large personalities. They have been sold with a free bottle of tequila, evaded police, and even made mayor, only to end up banned from the local pub.

5. Mirrors Reduce Some Horses Feeling of loneliness

A vet at Lincoln University discovered that horses would relax and feel less lonely if you give them an (equine safe) mirror. While these mirrors are not the cheapest item ever to be invented, they are less expensive than adding a donkey or miniature to your barn.

6. Share A Fence Line With A Neighbor’s Horse

If there is another horse in your area, see if you can share a fence line so the animals can at least boop their noses. Another idea is to team up with your neighbor and share grazing; rotating the pastures will also allow the grass to recover, making for better grazing.

7. Provide Inexpensive Boarding To A Retired Horse

Boarding horses is expensive. Many people struggle to find a nice place for their retired senior horse. They just want a casual place for their beloved equine to graze and be happy. So rather than shelling out for a donkey, goat, or miniature, consider taking in a retired horse or two for minimal fees, so your horse will have some much-needed companionship.

Conclusion

It would be wonderful if horses were always happy on their own. But unfortunately, these expensive animals often prefer to hang out in groups of three or more. So should your horse be living in without equine friends, keep an eye out for signs of loneliness. Also, look at ways to keep your friend happy, whether buying a mirror or taking on a mini.

Resources

https://www.helpfulhorsehints.com/signs-of-loneliness-in-horses/

https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/does-my-horse-need-a-companion/

https://equusmagazine.com/horse-world/the-solitary-horse-8640/

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2002/oct/14/highereducation.uk1

https://www.zmescience.com/ecology/animals-ecology/horses-too-can-suffer-from-loneliness-heres-how-to-keep-them-healthy/

https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-03756945/document

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0272445

https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/12/17/2271

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I'm Bo, the owner of Smarter Horse. Helping horses be smarter by educating their people.  To find out more about me, click here



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