Originally published on EquusMagazine.com
While some horses are fine being an "only child," others may benefit by having a friend in the field.
Some horses are perfectly content living alone in a backyard paddock. Others, however, can become nervous wrecks without the security of a herd. Anxious horses may pace and fret, and even if they remain outwardly calm, the tension may increase their risk of gastric ulcers and other stress-related health disorders. If your horse would be happier with a companion, you have several options, including:
Retired horses can make excellent pasturemates.
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Retirees. Rescue organizations have plenty of older and/or injured horses who cannot be ridden but would be ideal pasture companions. Make sure you're prepared to take on the responsibility for any special veterinary or farriery care your retiree might need. If you don't want to spread your feed budget that far, a smaller pony or Miniature Horse might be a more economical choice that would still fulfill your horse's need for a herdmate.
Donkeys. These close cousins in the equine family are relatively easy keepers, and they usually get along well with horses. Most thrive on pasture and grass hay and need little more than basic care such as deworming, hoof trimming, dental care and vaccinations. Donkeys also come in all sizes, from Mammoths to Miniatures.
Goats. Not all horses bond well with goats, and vice versa, but sometimes these two species form fast friendships. Care for a goat is generally similar to how you keep a horse--with access to fresh water, pasture and a run-in shelter, as well as fly control, vaccination and hoof trimming. But before you commit to getting a goat, make sure you research specifics of feed supplements he may need and the types of illnesses he is vulnerable to. Also, make sure you will have access to a veterinarian experienced with ruminants. If your horse's regular veterinarian does not handle goats, she may be able to refer you to someone who does.
Whatever choice you make, consider bringing the new companion home on a trial basis and make the introduction slowly, to make sure everyone will get along. If all goes well, the company will help to keep your once-lonely horse happier and healthier for years to come.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #425.