In an ideal world you would never see a solitary horse in a field, looking forlornly over a gate, no companion in sight. Horses, after all, are herd animals. But in the real world, due to space, time and economic constraints many horses are kept alone. In the majority of cases they receive plenty of care and attention from their human connections and seem perfectly content, but is this enough? Should every horse have another one with whom to graze, drink, sleep, roll, scratch and play fight?
It is true that some horses won’t live happily alone — they become fretful and stressed and can begin to display vices, such as crib biting and wind sucking. In a different scenario, two horses can become inseparable, so when you ride one the other may become distressed. A companion may be the solution in both cases, but before you start looking ask yourself the following:
• Can I afford a companion horse? He will need regular visits from the equine dentist as well as the farrier, even if he doesn’t wear shoes; he will add to your feed bills and, if he is an older horse, he may come with health issues that require veterinary attention.
• What sex should the companion be? If your gelding is only ever happy with a male friend, there is no point taking on a mare.
• What age should the companion be? If you have a youngster think long and hard before you get him an aged mate, or vice versa. The veteran may soon tire of the youngster’s antics.
• Is the companion happy to be left alone? If you ride your own horse, will the now solitary companion start to fret?
• Is your horse a poor doer that needs plenty of grazing/forage? If so a tubby native that requires restricted grazing isn’t going to make the best mate.
• Has the companion only ever lived out? If so he may not be suitable if your horse is stabled regularly and needs his new friend living next door.
• Do you have the time to devote to looking after two horses properly?
The companion will still need care, attention and regular handling and grooming. If you plan to give him scant regard, don’t get him in the first place.
If you still think that a companion is the right solution, there are numerous horses and ponies that deserve a home of their own. If you provide him with a loving, happy base you will be doing him a huge favour.
Not all horses love other horses, and companions do come in all shapes and sizes. These can range from donkeys, sheep, goats and cattle to the family cat or dog — provided they understand not to chase and bite.
If your horse does have to live alone and you can’t provide him with a friend, offset the loneliness by paying him regular visits and spending time grooming and interacting with him.
There are plenty of high profile charities that have a raft of companion horses and ponies seeking loving homes. Indeed, by rehoming one, you will be helping the charity make space for another needy welfare case. Organisations such as World Horse Welfare, Horses4homes and Blue Cross all have excellent websites that will advise you about rehoming a companion. You can also Google ‘rehoming a companion’ and plenty of others will pop up, some of them possibly local to you.
The benefit of taking on a horse from such a source is that your needs will be assessed by an expert and so it is far more likely that the companion you are given will be suitable for your situation. You also have the added security that should things not work out, the charity will provide plenty of support and probably a substitute horse if things go really haywire. Fees also tend to be quite low for companion horses.
If you don’t want to go down the charity route, but have seen the perfect horse advertised online, be very careful before you proceed. Privately advertised ‘companions’, could well come with a raft of health issues, not to mention behavioural problems, and if you choose wrongly you may not only find your horse being kicked and bullied, but you could be left ‘holding the baby’, with the previous owner not prepared to take their horse back.
Therefore give as much thought to taking on a companion as you would to buying a riding horse. Even if you are unable to hop on his back, the pitfalls can be remarkably similar.