We all know that horses like the company of other horses but that doesn’t mean to say they won’t get on with other animals and in some cases possibly more so than other horses. This is a question that many owners have often wondered so I decided to take to Facebook and ask people there what animals they keep with their horses. While the obvious suspects were there, there was at least one very strange surprise.
What makes a good companion for a horse? While there’s no denying that another horse is the ideal companion this isn’t always possible. With this in mind animals such as donkeys, cows, sheep, and even chickens can make great companions for horses, especially while at pasture. Likewise, goats, cats, and dogs can make excellent stall mates for horses.
Do horses really need a companion?
You might think that your horse looks happy enough on his own but they’re social animals that need the company of others. Not only are they happier when they have company but they’re also far more relaxed and less stressed when they do have the company of others. Having a companion of any sort is not only beneficial for your horse’s emotional wellbeing and mental health, but it’s also good for their physical health as well as their social interaction.
What do horses need in a companion?
In an ideal world, horses need other equine friends (whether they’re horses or ponies doesn’t matter) but in the real world, this isn’t always possible. This leads to the question though of what should you be looking for in an ideal friend for your horse.
If you want your horse’s new companion to be with him all of the time then you should ideally look for a grazing animal such as a donkey, cow, sheep, or even a goat. The reason for this is because, like your horse, they’ll spend a lot of time grazing so will therefore be with him most of the time. If, for whatever reason, you’re not able to get another grazer then ‘peckers’ such as chickens or geese can make good alternatives.
If, however, your horse has enough field mates but travels a lot then you might want to think about something like a dog. Likewise, if your horse is lonely when he’s stabled then a cat may be a good solution as they don’t tend to leave the yard too much.
What should you consider when looking for a companion for your horse?
The most important thing to consider when looking for a suitable companion for your horse is why? Does your horse travel a lot, is he kept alone or do you want him to have a stablemate? You’ll also need to take into account your horse’s personality, after all, if he’s a quieter, nervous horse he won’t be happy with a yappy dog constantly jumping up at him. Likewise, if he’s playful and has lots of energy something like a donkey may not be ideal.
Once you’ve decided which animal to get you’ll need to budget for extra feed and veterinary care, some animals will also need strong fencing possibly with smaller gaps.
What animals make good companions for horses?
If you don’t have the time or money to look after another horse, or don’t have the space to offer boarding to somebody else’s horse then why not consider one of the following animals:
If the first animal that popped into your head when you read the title of this article was a donkey then you’re not alone, when I asked on Facebook recently which animals, excluding horses, people kept with their horse donkey was by far the most popular choice.
While donkeys don’t have the same herd instincts as horses they can still develop very strong bonds. Donkeys generally seem to have a calming influence on horses and have often been used to de-stress and relax them, especially when traveling to a new place.
Donkeys are extremely intelligent animals (far more so than horses) and can often come across as stubborn but they are also extremely defensive. This is one of the reasons why they’re often used to deter thieves, although this defensiveness can sometimes make them difficult around dogs. While not all donkeys will see dogs as a threat some will, so make sure they’re okay with your dogs before you let them loose in the yard.
Despite evolving from the same family, horses and donkeys are separate species that need different care. Donkeys are extremely easy keepers that are prone to weight gain but are also very good at hiding any illnesses or ailments they make have so you will need to have a certain amount of knowledge of their care in order to look after them properly.
Sheep can make very good companions for your horse, they’re permanent grazers (just like horses) and generally won’t boss your horse around at all. That said though some horses will boss the sheep around though and have been known to chase the sheep out of the field.
While sheep can be great for your horse they do also have a lot of ‘human’ benefits too. Of course, there’s the obvious one of producing wool (which you can easily sell) but they also help to maintain good grazing. They’ll eat a lot of the weeds that horses won’t but will also eat just as many worm eggs as your horse will (if not more), the advantage of that though is that the eggs won’t survive. You could therefore call sheep nature’s natural dewormer!
If you do choose to have sheep though it’s important to have at least two, they have a far stricter herd mentality than horses so can, and do, become very de-stressed if they don’t have at least one other sheep with them.
While horses and cows generally get on very well smaller cow breeds such as the Lowline Angus and Dexter are by far the most popular choice. The reason for this is their small size means that they’re not at all intimidating the horses but also don’t need anywhere near as much pasture as full-sized cows do.
Cows can be great for most horses but some breeds, such as the Quarter Horse, have such good cow sense that they end up rounding them up instead. While this may be great fun for the horse it isn’t necessarily such a pleasurable experience for the cows.
If you have to find a non-horsey companion for your horse then a goat is probably the most obvious choice but with good reason. They have very similar body language to horses so are therefore on the same wavelength and can easily understand your horse’s mood. They’re also very good at relaxing horses and, as such, are employed by many racetracks to keep horses company while they’re away from home.
Goats are also amongst the cheapest of all livestock to keep and will eat practically everything, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to pasture management. Goats will eat everything your horse doesn’t, from poison ivy to Christmas tree and even pieces of bark.
Unlike cows though, you’re better off getting a full-sized goat rather than a pygmy goat. While there’s no denying they are extremely adorable they are a little too small for some horses.
In recent years the choice of alpacas (or even llamas or that matter) as horse companions has grown rapidly but there is a reason for this. While they may not spring to mind straight away when thinking of horse companions they do share a lot of similarities that make them a great choice. Both are herd animals that spend a large amount of time grazing.
While alpacas may, generally, be smaller than horses they are far more territorial and as such are sometimes used as security guards. They will instinctively protect their field mates, regardless of whether or not they’re the same species.
I know this may sound like a really strange choice of companion and I’d have to say I would originally agree but while researching this article I asked on social media what companions other horse owners had. Of course, I got the standard donkey, sheep, etc but a few people also said they kept camels with their horses. Now I’d have to admit I was probably just as surprised as you but apparently they make very good companions. They don’t require any more care than horses and generally get on extremely well with them, as you can see from the photo.
As with all other animals, some horses will welcome them straight away while others will run in the other direction at first but generally accept them pretty quickly.
While chickens may not seem like they’d make good companions they can be far more suitable than you might think. I’m suggesting that horses and chickens will ever have a deep and meaningful friendship (although I’m sure there are plenty of cases of this happening) they can have a great symbiotic one. Horses will offer the chicken a certain amount of protection (especially if it’s raining) while horses will often find chickens humorous and entertaining to watch. Chickens also help to keep worms at bay too as they’ll break the manure apart and eat any eggs or worms they find.
As an added bonus, chickens aren’t the quietest of animals and will happily squark around flapping their wings. I know this might not sound like much of a bonus but it can really help to desensitize a nervous horse to strange sounds and unpredictable behavior.
If your horse suffers from an allergy though chickens may not be a wise choice, the reason being is that their dander (like that of all poultry) can cause allergic reactions in some horses.
If you don’t like the thought of having chickens or aren’t able to then geese (and I do mean geese rather than a single goose) can make a good alternative, they make far less noise (and mess) than chickens. Like alpacas, geese are also great for protecting your horse and the yard while you’re not there.
I’m not suggesting a dog will ever make a good field mate for your horse but they can be unlikely companions around the yard as well as while traveling. While a dog isn’t going to want to spend the best part of his day wandering around a field he will be more than happy to keep your horse company while he’s in his stall. I once had a dog that preferred to sleep in the stall with his favorite horse than in the house with us!
It’s important to keep both the horse’s as well as the dog’s personalities in mind when selecting the ideal partnership as a young lively puppy around a nervous horse is never going to be a recipe for a successful pairing.
Just like dogs, cats are never going to be happy ‘living’ in a field with your horse but they’ve been known to establish strong bonds with horses and seem to understand that they need to keep their claws in while sitting (or lying) on a horse’s back.
While the horse will clearly benefit from fewer rats and mice (along with other rodents) it’s unclear what cats get from this partnership but they do seem to be happy with it.
How should you introduce your horse to a new companion?
When introducing your horse to any new animal (regardless of the species) it’s important to do it slowly. Horses are flight animals that will often be scared or at least wary of anything new so don’t shove a new companion into your horse’s field and expect them to get along immediately.
If you’re planning on introducing an unusual animal to your horse (such as a camel) then finding somebody who can bring one over for your horse to see and be a good way to start. This will allow your horse to check them out first without feeling as if they’re muscling in on them. Some sellers will also allow you to have an animal on a trial basis initially, this can also be a good idea because you can easily give them back if your horse is unhappy.
- Why do horses follow people?
- Keeping a horse in your backyard
- How horses find their own way home
- Keeping a horse on a budget
- How to calm an anxious horse
- The world’s friendliest breeds
- How much space do horses need?
- The best way to prevent horse theft
- How to care for your new horse
- Buying a horse? What you need to know
- Why grazing with cows can help horses
- Why alpacas are good for horses?
I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.
Over the years I have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.
- Horse Knots by Reference Ready – If you’re like me and enjoy pocket reference guides then you’ll love this knot tying guide. These handy cards can easily fit in your pocket or attach to the saddle for quick reference. They’re waterproof, durable and are color coded to make them easy to follow.
- Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them from getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
- TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
- Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
- Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
- Rectal thermometer – I know this isn’t glamourous at all but it’s vital for your horse’s well-being to be able to check their temperature and a rectal thermometer is the easiest way of doing this which is why I’ve added it to the list.
I’ve also put together a few shopping lists of essential items that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve broken the lists down into different categories rather than put everything in one massive list 😉