How to keep a Single Horse Happy

Horses are by nature herd animals and a single horse living by itself can become miserable and unhealthy. A horse, despite not being able to speak, is still able to feel. Horses can become depressed and even develop odd behaviours if they are deprived of some elements of natural equine life, like physical and emotional contact with other animals, especially horses. Aside from the psychological effects, horses can also literally walk off weight, pacing up and down the fenceline, looking or listening for another horse. Of course, horses are also expensive animals to keep, and one should not feel forced into getting a second horse just for the sake of keeping the first one company. There are other alternatives which do not mean you have to spread your (probably) already thin budget over two horses to keep one happy.

1. Stable mates

Instead of another horse to keep your horse company, why not consider a cat, chicken, sheep, pig or donkey. These animals are fairly low-maintenance. Chickens and cats can feed themselves from the local populace of pests, and if you feel guilty, you can keep a dry ration of pellets to offer each evening when you feed your horse. Pigs and sheep may need a little more looking after, but shouldn’t cost as much as a horse. Donkeys require very little in the way of maintenance, although they still need a good grooming every now and then. Being of the equine family, donkeys are also accepted as companions by most horses. 

2. Play dates

If you have a friend nearby with a horse who gets on with other horses, why not arrange play dates. If you decide to make it a daily arrangement, take it in turns to have the horses together; one week can be spent in one field, and one week in the other. This will also help to manage your grazing effectively, giving the grass a week off to recover during the dry months. Your horse will also be grateful for the company.

3. Lots of together time

It may help your horse to feel happier if you spend a lot of time with him, just allowing him to be around you in your daily chores. If you keep your horse at home, you could let him have access to your garden or back yard while you are weeding or hanging up washing, reading outside or doing other activities where you can be together without working. If you don’t want him ruining your pansies, then perhaps take a deck chair out to his field, or spend some extra time grooming him. Playing games on the ground is also a good way to keep your horse stimulated and happy.

4. Livery yard life

This is an expensive option, but one where your horse has the company of other horses without your having to pay for all of them. Life in a livery yard can be harder on your horse. There are often nasty, bad-tempered horses who are rescued from worse circumstances and need a little kindness and understanding to bring them right. In the meantime the horses around it may pick up bad habits. It depends on the yard, the manager and the grooms as to whether your horse will pick up a vice and if you are looking at a yard, don’t just go for the cheapest option. Take a look round the yard, speak to the manager and also to other owners from the area. Bad news travels fast, and if the yard you are considering has a bad reputation, you will hear about it soon enough. 

There are ways in which you can help your horse lead a happy life without buying more horses to keep him company. Sometimes a well-cared-for, miserable horse is not better than the alternative, but if you look around and adjust your own life a little, you can make a difference. Remember that the well-being of your horse should come first, since you chose him for your life and not the other way around. You will, however, notice the difference when your horse is feeling happy and satisfied with his lot in life, and that is a reward in itself.