Horses are herd animals, and as we know, in the wild, they live in groups. Horses often are calmer and less prone to anxious behaviors with a companion; think of it as protection/safety in numbers.
Seabiscuit was difficult to train until he was united with his friend Pumpkin, another horse. Pumpkin accompanied Seabiscuit everywhere. American Pharoah had Smokey the horse as his calming companion. Goats seem to be popular at the racetrack barns as well.
Should you get a companion for your horse? Some options that have some popularity are dogs, cats, goats, ponies, donkeys, miniature horses, pigs, cows/steers, chickens, alpacas, llamas, retired horses, and horses rescued from the kill pen.
Before you start searching Facebook or Craigslist for a new critter, do some research! It might be helpful to answer these questions as you consider your options:
- What care does the companion need?
- What is the life expectancy of the new buddy?
- Are the buddy’s dietary needs compatible with your horse’s needs?
- Could food competition be an issue? A
- re the living conditions/shelter/environment suitable for the companion to thrive?
- Will the new chum attract other critters like foxes and coyotes (chickens and other small animals may attract prey critters as well)?
- What type of animal are you and your caretakers (think barn sitters, etc.) comfortable with?
- Is there a veterinarian in your area that is knowledgeable about the type of animal you are considering?
Companion animals can have their own habits/norms and may have behavioral issues, too. And a particular animal may have special needs. Also, certain types of animals have helpful qualities as well; for example, donkeys, burros, llamas, and alpacas are known to ward off coyotes.
I checked in with some horse people that have buddies for their horses, and this was the feedback I received:
Maria Caplan found that Nubian goats are great companions for her horses. They are a large breed of goat, so a horse is not likely to hurt them. They need very little care and live off grass. Their teeth do not need to be done but they do need their hoofs and horns clipped a few times a year.
Maria learned how to trim their feet and horns herself. She has found them to be very loving and friendly, making them great pets. Nubian goats very good with horses, and she has never had a goat hurt a horse or eat its’ tail (as some people think goats will do). The goat looks to the horse as a leader and leaves them alone/respects them as a protector.
There was a shortlist of cons of goats as companions that Maria shared, too. They will climb your fence, and it doesn’t matter if it’s electric or no climb wire. There is a joke that if you pour water over your fence and a drop gets through, your fence is not goat proof – they will get out!
It is important to keep the goats happy and busy in their enclosure as they will escape once they are bored. Also, Nubian goats are loud. Maria finds their noise kind of endearing/cute but warns that if you have close neighbors, they may not appreciate their “cute” noise.
Bringing in a companion animal requires some time for getting acquainted safely. Put your horse and his new friend in adjacent stalls or paddocks so they can start to get to know each other from a distance. You want the two animals close enough to see and smell each other, but not close enough that one would be able to injure the other.
Keep that arrangement, if it goes well, for a few days. Then progress to supervised sniffing with your horse on a lead line and in an area where everyone can be safe. When you feel the animals are ready to be in the same area together, provide ample room to get away from one another. Provide a place where the smaller creature can get completely away just in case your horse gets aggressive, but not too much space so the horse cannot run. Until everyone settles in, it is best to allow supervised visits and at unsupervised times, keep the animals near each other but not together.
Before committing to taking on a new animal, it might be good to see if there is a “return policy” if the arrangement does not work out (after an honest effort).
Do your research! Know the deficits that come with each animal. Read on for a few pointers.
Goats seem to be popular for racehorses as companions.
Did you know that the life expectancy of a donkey is 25 to 30 years?! That’s something to consider!
Chickens do eat bugs, even ticks, but their poo is a bit toxic. Chickens can transmit salmonella, fungal infections, candidiasis, botulism, and streptococcus, so it is best to keep them out of your horse’s hay and feed.
Or do you just get another horse? How about that horse that nobody wants because it is broken down? Sure, it may need some care, perhaps some veterinarian attention and medication but his/her living environment needs are like that of your horse’s, so it may be the simplest alternative.
Many animals need adoption/homes so it really should be easy to find the right companion for your horse without breaking the bank.
Oh, and be able to laugh at yourself because I am sure there will be some adventures ahead if you decide to get your horse a companion!