A reader asks: We are moving to a new hobby farm and have room for several horses. I know it's better if horses have a companion, but we can only afford to buy one horse. We'd like our horse to have a buddy. What should we do?
You're right that horses need companions. They are herd animals and feel safer if they have there own kind to live with. In the wild, horses live in small herds or bands. There are leaders and followers and each horse has a place on the social ladder within the herd.
Horses that are kept with other horses are less bored and less likely to indulge in destructive habits like stall walking, wood chewing and other things that are regarded as undesirable behaviors. It's better physically and emotionally for your horse if he can be part of a herd, even if your horse spends part of its time in a stable. Owning other horses can be costly if you’ve really on budgeted for one. Just owning two horses means twice the hay, vaccination and farrier expenses, equipment and it can take a bit more time to care for two or more horses than one. But when you can't afford to buy another horse, want other animals and perhaps won’t have space for them all, or just don’t want another horse, what can you do? Here are a few ideas:
If you have the space and time to take care of another horse, you can offer some sort of board. That way your pasture might make a little money to support your own horse while providing a buddy.
Boarding can be time consuming too, not because looking after horses will take extra time, but because you also have to deal with the people that come with them. Not all human boarders are ‘good’ boarders. And, not all horses get along with other horses. Choose carefully if you are just boarding to provide your horse with companionship.
Have boarders sign clean contracts and make sure everyone knows what the expectations are.
Look For a Free Companion Horse
Companion horses aren’t hard to come by. Contact a horse rescue, search online horse classifieds, or ask around for a free companion horse. Many people are glad to find good homes for unsound or older horses or horse that can't be used for some reason. This will solve two problems; give your horse company, and provide a loving home for a horse that may be running out of options. Be aware that you may be getting a horse that needs extra care, so be sure you're able to look after a horse with special needs. Just because the initial price of a horse is low or zero doesn’t mean its upkeep will be free or cheap.
Try to Find a Non-equine Friend
A companion for your horse doesn’t necessarily have to be another horse. A goat, donkey, calf or some other four legged creature (not a dog) could be a buddy for your horse. Be aware that if you get a calf, they have been known to chew horse's tails off, and some horses really don't like cattle.
Goats and sheep can be tail chewers too. And, some horses don’t like cattle or other farm animals. If your goal is to raise a beef steer for the freezer, and use it as a companion for your horse, you might end up with chewy steaks if your horse hates it and constantly puts the run on it. Some horses are perfectly happy living with other livestock. Others can be a menace.