This is my fence panel. I lost count of the other’s just like it, eight, I think. I find them this way, the top rail bent practically in half, edges collapsed. I hear no loud noises, there are no lumps or marks, I just come out to find one or two of the draft-cross geldings standing by them looking innocent. They think it’s all my fault for isolating them in this cruel way for a few hours overnight. They play all day, share hay, nap within inches of each other, and then I do the unthinkable. Separate them when they party like frat boys.
I’ve also lost count of the number of requests from readers for my thoughts about keeping a single horse, too. I think people ask because they have a neighbor or a friend who doesn’t understand or won’t listen. Maybe they drive by a sad singleton. Last year, a horse appeared in a pasture of weeds down the road from us. Skinny, tall, and black, he was there with a big bale of hay and a tub of water. He gained weight but never really looked any better. One day he was gone and I’m sorry to say I was relieved.
My research included an article written by a vet who said owning a single horse was “acceptable.” She’s right, it doesn’t kill them. The same search yielded a new article about prisons that claims, “Placing prisoners in solitary confinement is tantamount to torture and it needs to stop.” Humans have been studying the negative psychological and physiological effects of solitary confinement on inmates since the 1830s but we still do it, every state and each prison. We know the mental damage caused by isolation. We aren’t hoping for rehabilitation, we mean to punish prisoners as harshly as we can, even juveniles and people with mental illness.
In the horse world, we try to do our best. We love our horses and the excuses we have for keeping one in solitary confinement are mixed in with finances, convenience, and not understanding what it means. If their ribs don’t show and their hooves are trimmed, it’s easier to look past who horses were meant to be. After all, he isn’t being overtly abused or on a slaughter truck.
If horses are allowed to have their own lives, beyond the part they play in our lives a couple of hours a day, we must truly accept and value what it means to be a horse, rather than anthropomorphize their reality into something convenient to us. Loving horses takes no special skill. Respecting them as sentient beings is a whole other thing.
To know a horse is to profoundly understand they are prey animals. Domestication doesn’t change that.
A normal horse is never alone by choice. Horses naturally live in herds. There is safety, meaning the more sets of eyes watching for predators, giving more time to search for food, as well as time to lie down to rest, knowing others are on guard. They understand that individuals are more visible and vulnerable than a group. Prey animals crave safety in a chaotic world and work together for that goal.
Horses are also social animals, science has proven they are sentient with emotions. They form family bonds and mourn change and loss. Foals run races, adults mutually groom, and elders stand, head nearly touching another’s flank, passing hours in shared, peaceful company.
Humans need to be careful as we try to understand other species; we only have our own human perceptions to understand with, but that can’t be taken to mean other species define things the same way we do. That said, I think the concept of a herd for a horse is synonymous with home, or in the best sense, family, as we understand it. In other words, the foundation of everything.
But because it flatters us to be in partnership with horses, we can never think we are herd-mates, any more than putting on a flamingo t-shirt makes us a big pink bird.
It is their instinct to be with horses. They need each other more than they need us, even if we feed them. They need each other even more than we need them. Make all the excuses you want, love them more than anything, but they can tell we aren’t horses.
What does isolation do? Horses can become emotionally numb, experiencing anxiety and depression. Some will remain stoic because a prey animal that shows weakness will stand out to predators. So, they pose with dull eyes, bored into a stupor. Of course, they appear happy to see humans, but for all the wrong reasons.
Some horses stereotype; a stereotype is a dysfunctional behavior based on a natural behavior that’s become distorted by stress, to become a self-soothing action. It could be fence pacing or cribbing or weaving. Physical issues follow emotional issues, including chronic tension, lameness, and of course, ulcers.
How often do we look at a horse’s behavior and think training is needed rather than hearing their call for help? How often do we fight with a horse about separation anxiety, (their unwillingness to leave the herd,) because we think we deserve something for the hay we buy? Training methods will never replace a horse’s need for a herd. The best we can hope for is to create a confident horse willing to trust us for a while, but if there is no herd waiting in the background, it will crumble.
I know the challenge of what horses cost, the commitment needed to own even one. Is seeing that horse out the window worth the price he pays? Especially when the world is full of foster horses who need homes and affordable boarding facilities with the company your horse needs. Does seeing it from the horse’s side help or hurt?
We humans are imperfect, doing our best, and yet some parents keep hungry children in cages. Certainly, that must carry more importance. We need to show each other more compassion and less personal judgment, but so much is also told about us by how we treat animals. Just because we aren’t the very worst doesn’t mean we can’t do better, raise the standard, and in the process, lift humanity a bit as well.
Can you keep a single horse? It’s legal. Solitary confinement doesn’t kill them. Not all at once.
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
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97 thoughts on “Horses in Solitary.”
Great writing Anna, as always. Sometime would love to hear a deeper dive into herd boundedness–your ideas on how to help a horse feel OK about getting taken away (briefly, for work or a farrier perhaps) or if that’s even possible.
Thanks, Kim and I’d be happy to talk more about separation anxiety. We have to start by understanding it as a natural instinct, not a fault.
A great article…really drives the point home…a huge thank you!
Well said Anna & thank you! I had 1 horse kept at a barn with about 70 horses, out 24/7. Before I brought her home I had added another, shortly after I added a 3rd. It’s still not the same for them, I sense it in them every day, some days more than others.
Thank you for listening, and doing your best. They have long memories, don’t they? Thanks, Robyn.
Interesting to hear your thoughts Robyn. I have had a mare for a year and a half and she came from her home farm where she was out 24/7 with a large group. I have had the feeling that she is not 100% comfortable with life with my herd of four but never put it to the size of the herd.
We adopted a mini gelding as a companion for our gelding. It soon became two. They are a content herd of three. Your eloquent expressions of their innate thoughts evoke a deeper understanding of their behaviours, and needs, thank you.
Minis are a good option, aren’t they? All horse but less hay. Thanks for your comment, Jan.
I would like to share some experiences we had last year to echo your post of “Horses in Solitary” that shows the essence of herd & family. We had a herd of 6 horses, a granddam ( truly the queen all of her life) and boss mare, her son, her grandson, PMU mare from North Dakota and two youngsters from the Teddy Rooseveldt National Park. It came the time for my then 4 going on 5 year old TRNP boy to go to a trainer for his saddle work. He didn’t thrive at the trainer’s place, had ulcers, wouldn’t eat at first and proved to be quite a challenge to learn the path to being a safe horse for me to ride. He was at trainer’s for a year. It broke my heart, but we needed to persevere. The trainer was slow,deliberate and kind to him. He made a few horse friends to pasture with at the trainer’s place.
Meanwhile, at home, my 31 year grandma mare was deteriorating in her mind and general frailty. Her son stayed by her side, if she was out of his sight he would call and call, until he could determine where she was. As she approached the time when I knew we must end her life so that she would not suffer, I agonized over bringing my youngster home. He was not finished, but grandma clearly needed relief. So I brought him home. It did not take more than 5 minutes from his exit from the trailer to rush to grandma, nuzzle her and mutually groom. I could see the equine joy they shared. Then he was reintroduced to everybody else and resumed his spot in the herd (he has always been on the low end of the hierarchy). Two days later, grandma was euthanized. I held her son close to her as she quietly slipped to the ground and her heart stopped. Son stayed next to her body for 1/2 hour continuing his quiet nickerings. Then he left on his own accord. After this, we led each horse to her body to recognize that she was gone. My youngster lingered almost as long as her son had. He became the stable and happy horse that he was before he went for his education. The bonds of horses to each other really reiterated my beliefs I have held all my life. Herd and family Is so important. Our herd of five now seemed incomplete for months to me, but none of the horses seemed to act odd by her lack of presence. Everyone knew she was gone and not coming back. The son no longer whinnied, the youngster was accepted. The herd was again complete.
Thank you, wonderful bittersweet comment, Heidi. Thanks for sharing it. And it’s a complicated world, young horses might need training, horses need to move, sometimes for their wellbeing. We need to always try out best, like you did.
As my gelding grew older we got a donkey to join he and my mare, hoping she could become the herd partner for my mare when the gelding passed. My mare was extremely rude to her at first and mourned terribly when we helped the gelding pass at 36. But now, a few months later the mare and donkey seem very bonded, spend the day grazing and resting, I have even seen them lying down together to nap in the sun. Neither is displaying any anxious behaviors. Do you feel a donkey can substitute for another horse? Do you think perhaps my mare has adjusted better to a donkey because she is a BLM Mustang who may have had exposure to donkeys in the wild? I want to do best for them.
I think with some animals there is a certain daily enrichment in not getting along, like a soap opera in a way… Well, a donkey rescue would tell you that you need other donkeys, to never have just one, just as horses need horses. That’s the line promoted. Your situation is kind of inherited in a sense and it sounds like they are good companions. I don’t know what you do with your mare, her age, if you haul her off property often, etc. Would either of them like another of their kind? Probably. Are they okay this way? Probably?? Would a rescue in your area love to hear from you? Sure. In the end, change is the big thing, isn’t it? Herd dynamics are always changing. Thanks, Marty.
Hi, this is very interesting. I live in an equestrian community and most of the folks are retired. Many horses that are in our community live alone. I am sure they can smell and hear the horse next door or behind or across the street. I have a gelding that when I moved to this community the house we purchased came with a mini Jerusalem donkey jenny about the same age as my gelding horse. Much to my surprise they get along great. They eat together, sleep together, miss one another, call of one another if they don’t see each other, play together, lay down and roll together, and it’s amazing how sweet they are to one another. Maybe because they both are from the equine family, you can breed a donkey and a horse, they are pretty much from the same species, just one has one more chromosome than the other.
Yes, donkey friends are better than being alone, but each species thrives with their own kind. Many donkey rescues won’t adopt to a home without other donkeys, because of their specific needs. For instance, their diet is different. I’m a party-pooper. I won’t say it’s okay to isolate herd animals. Seeing other horses at a distance isn’t the same as sharing hay, mutual grooming, and watching over each other. I’m glad for your compromise, it’s better than alone but if you had a mare, it would be different as well. Thanks, Meme
To add to your story, I had a mare and her son – a gelding. One winter the mare coliced and had to be euthanized, her son was 9 at the time. He was there, aware she was gone but for three or four days he’d go from the spot she died to the gate where she had been hauled through to be buried on top of the hill. He would stand silently staring for minutes at a time. It about broke my heart. He was alone for a while until I got another horse, during that time he would stand by the fence wherever my pot belly pig was, he was that desperate for company.
Horses have a LIFE when they aren’t physically with us! Thats a concept many people just dont get. It applies to wild horses even more. What is being done in the Western states where they are fortunate enough to have herds of wild horses? Chasing them with helicopters, running them sometimes miles in all kinds of weather then pushing bands (stallion, mares & foals) of different horses into pens where stallions fight to keep their families together & protect them. Separating mares from their foals, stallions from their families? Removing the protection that their band had by staying together? But thats a entire different story.
So our domestic horses aren’t so different, are they?
Thanks, Maggie. I don’t think it’s a different story at all.
No it really isnt all that different to you & me – but its not an issue thats right out there in the public’s eye, is it? Which is too bad, when you remember that in 1971, the main reason the Wild Horse Act was passed was due to school kids & the public being involved & pushing it. With all the amendments etc to that Act – much of the protection given by it has been eroded.
It’s like a line that we still fight every day, never resolved for good. Very sad, the photos are haunting. I watched a NZ helicopter round up that was a work of art in comparison. Sigh.
And so I find myself in this situation where, my horses who live at home have slowly left me after 20 plus years of friendship. I lost my youngest 10 days ago at the age of 25. She leaves me,my 30 plus year old and their two goats, bereft . I’m at the end of my journey with horses. And after this remaining old lady was suffering the rigors of attention from younger more active herdmates, rehomed the last of my rescues months ago. I choose to keep her alone, with her goats for what will be her last spring and summer on this planet. She eats mush five times a day( find a boarding barn that will accommodate that schedule)I can bed her sleeping area as deep as I want, and I know my fields and barn are safe and secure. She has a peaceful routine that she has maintained for four plus years on this property and I intend to keep it that way. I didnt think she would be the last one standing honestly, loosing my younger horse was a shock. For me, I feel this last season alone is the best I can do for an old fragile girl.
That might be the kind thing, Beth. Sorry for your losses.
At this point – it seems to get even harder (if thats possible) to lose one of my “kids” – they have such a short time here compared to us. Sounds like your mare & her goats have the very best life they possibly can. What more is there?
I, too, have a senior who is newly alone. I worry whether keeping her where she’s been for the last 24 years is better for her than relocating her to a strange, new place filled with younger, stronger horses is best for her. I worry, because I read things that make me worry. Thank you for voicing the other option. I wish you and your Senior lady the best… ?
Thank you so much for this very important article. I am on several FB groups and it’s a question that come up often. I try and respond with information not judgement in the hopes someone listens. I will save it and share this instead.
I had a conversation last week about people attacking each other in an effort to “care” the most about horses. It’s kind of shooting ourselves in the foot. Thanks, Kathleen.
You regularly hold up a big ass mirror for us to take a good look in.
Probably because I’m a big ass when it comes to horses. Thanks, Deb.
you rock. again.
many of the children i work with, already struggling, are paced in solitary over all their breaks for some days/weeks. even though it is only part of the day, they still struggle.
I am so grateful I can manage to have a small herd and allow myself to be pretty superfluous to their most important requirements 😉
We are herd animals, too. Like you, I get a bit of peace from being superfluous here. Thanks, Chris, and hi to the herd.
“To know a horse is to profoundly understand they are prey animals. Domestication doesn’t change that.” I try to keep this in my mind every day. Thanks, Anna. #MeToo” re learning more about herbounded-ness!
P.S. We heard about Colorado getting nasty weather the past several days. My first thought when I saw today’s photo was it was the storm that did the damage to your gate(s). I, too, have the same disease with my gates/fencing. I finally bought three or four new ones a couple years ago. They succumbed to the same disease. Have to face it, we just can’t have nice things at our barn!
That’s what my boarders say, true in the house, too. I’ll settle for “nice things” on four feet. Thanks, Lynell. Yes, we are digging out and will be for a while.
Thanks for writing this. Maybe if enough people see it, there won’t be more “only lonelies”. My 2 guys genuinely love each other and spend their days grazing or hanging out next to each other. Granted, one is a mini about 1/3 the size of the other, but I don’t think it matters to them if one is bigger than the other. In fact, I think the mini is the boss in the herd of two even though the big guy readily defends his roommate to unfamiliar dogs or even to people he doesn’t recognize.
Another boss mini. This is why I refuse to call minis cute. They rule, as Bhim does here. Thanks, Susan.
Anna, when I contacted you about possibly rehoming Lance to CO because of his allergies, you pointed out that he could be allergic to things there that we didn’t test for. That settled any question of rehoming him, and since then, as I’ve come to realize the stress that changing circumstances places on horses, I can’t imagine ever ‘moving him along’ in any way (except that final ‘kindness’).
To be honest, he is such a nice horse, I had second thoughts on my end. I hope he is doing imperfectly well, as we all are. Thanks, Michelle.
Anna, you are a gifted writer and get your messages across in perfect clarity – getting into the heart and mind of the reader. I have saved several of your blogs over time and shared them with horse people as well as friends who are not necessarily horse people but definitely animal people. This one is on a subject that I have tried to explain to people but could not do it anywhere near as well as you just did. I am saving and sharing this blog. You make such a difference! Thank you!
Thank you, Jean. Horses have enriched our lives so much that we owe it back to them.
“To profoundly understand they are prey animals.” Sometimes I think it could read like a sci fi book. We are the predators who breed, trap and enslave them. There is no mistaking us for anything but predators by prey, even our smell tells them this (we smell like what we eat). We put the skin of another prey animal we’d previously killed onto their back and face and legs. Then we perch on them like a mountain lion would. Carry on, horse.
Of course horses don’t see saddles as their dead prey friends. But the reality is… well, they forgive us and deal with it.
I’ve had the science fiction drama too, but I don’t see a master/slave thing for most horses. I don’t see them worship us or hate us. I don’t believe we domesticated them, either. I think they might be trying to domesticate us, because they do seem to volunteer, even when we don’t deserve it. I think our good intention matters.
Thank you Anna. I feel compelled to confess that I was the owner of a solitary horse. I became obsessed with horses when I turned 40 (midlife crisis?), took lessons for a few months, and decided it was time to get a horse of my own. I didn’t even know the difference between grass and alfalfa when I brought my horse home, but I read a lot, asked a lot of questions, and learned by trial and error. The vet, farrier and an instructor all said he “seemed fine” and I “didn’t necessarily need to have another horse,” and it was easy to believe them. My horse (I named him Drishti) stoically tolerated me and his living situation with very minimal contact with other horses for 4 years (maybe 20 encounters). Then one day we were out riding in the mountains behind my house and came across another horse and rider. I had been dreading this eventual inevitability, but after some initial excitement we were able to ride away on our planned route with minimal resistance from Drishti. Just as I was congratulating myself on how far we’d come and what a solid relationship I had developed with him, Drishti had a complete meltdown. He tried everything he could to get me off his back and get back to the other horse. Somehow I managed to dismount intentionally, land on my feet, and lead him home, but my already fragile confidence was completely shattered. The worst part, though, was the look in Drishti’s eyes. He looked completely desperate and heartbroken. I know that might be anthropomorphizing, but those are the only words I can come up with to describe what I saw there. It took me several months to get it together and get another horse, but now he has a buddy and I have promised them, the Horse Gods, and myself that I will never do that to another horse again. Of course, now I feel guilty that I only have two 🙂 In hindsight, the sports car would have been so much easier.
We say it all the time here, when we know better we do better. I don’t hold it against you, I kinda do the pros who gave you marginal advice. It’s the difference between surviving and thriving. Glad you survived that big lesson, glad you’re here. Thanks, Kate.
Kudos Kate for not being able to ignore what you saw in his eyes and knew in your heart!
Years ago I remember seeing people who treated horses no differently than a vehicle – something to be “trained” to do whatever they wanted “it” to do – win a ribbon etc. looking for the right bit, headstall, martingale, tie-down, draw-rein, whatever equipment they could try – rather than THINK. I stopped going to local horse shows because of the head down shuffle that was the in thing. Went a couple times to Devon (PA dressage) beautiful horses – some really really nice horses – but then watching the warm-up ring some horses there not treated all that great either. Sad that no matter what discipline involves animals – there are always people for whom the rewards – ribbons, prizes, whatever – matter more than the animal who is responsible for it.
Its comforting to come here & hear from people who feel the same as I do.
I agree completely. We have a big rescue gelding who loves his “herd”. He is one of three at an agistment facility. We have just purchased a farm ourselves and we only own the one beautiful boy. I havent bought him home (as i ache to do) because we have yet to source a suitable companion!!!! He stays where he is – happy – while i do the miles and hassle of looking after him from a distance. Why…. cause i love him…. properly….. and its about him not me.
Yup. I do think that’s what love means, thanks for commenting, Kerrieann. Give that good boy a scratch from me.
Today I seperated my herd of 5. The 2 ‘mean girls’ in one pasture, the 3 others across the driveway. Yesterday the mean girls wouldn’t let the ‘nice girls’ through the fence gap to come up for supper. At night the large run in is split into 3 areas by electric fence so no one gets pushed out with no hay. The head mean girl turns 21 Monday. Nice enough to work with and ride. Lots of patience required due to her ‘you can’t make me’/pushy/ herd bound ? attitude. Put that all together and finding her a ‘good home’ would be iffy. The 3 amigos were much calmer tonight. What to do? Each day elvolves differently due to weather and what else is on my schedule. The mean girls were not real happy having only themselves to boss around. Really just thinking out loud. Kind of laughing because it would be SO MUCH EASIER to put the head mean girl in solitary! Reading ALOT of what you write Anna has helped lower my frustration. Everyone on the farm Thanks you. Palmer (little brown dog) especially because your Corgi stories enabled him to come live here when his people didn’t ‘get’ him. Hoping for a quicker warm up for you all! ? TAZ
Well, yes. Mean girls. Isn’t that always the question. I’ve had some here over the years. Both times, chronic pain was a part of the puzzle. With my current horses, I have three groups: the draft-cross geldings who play too hard, two elderly geldings who are a bit fragile, and (wait for it) my “mean girl” who only tolerates the donkey and sometimes her brother. I change things up in turnout for interest, do all I can think of, and live in this imperfect world. I think the day to day management of complicated herds, especially if you don’t have a huge amount of land, is the most challenging part of horses… Good luck with the head mean girl, Tricia. I’m nodding knowingly from my farm…
Thanks, Anna. I am in pain here with this. I am merely an aged caretaker tenant on an old family farm. They use horses for cattle work, intermittently, and the stock horses are kept separately in (large) yards and fed hay. No shelter, no rugs, no farrier or shoeing, no real communion. When the old mare (heritage, the line has been here for 100 yrs) was bred and we got a filly to carry on the line, she came here to foal and I’m charged with the raising of the foal. She’s lovely. Mum is only audibly/visibly available over the road, next door horses only audible and visible, this filly has no herd. She does not know any horse law, thus lacks common respect. She is and has always been an only horse except for her dam. I know this is terribly wrong, while the property owner/boss is convinced they should always be kept separate. No two horses in the same place together. None of them have a social life. Then they wonder why there is separation axiety when they go out to work? I simply do the best I can.
It’s all any of us can do. My farm isn’t perfect, my horses aren’t perfect, and me, least of all. We can do our best with what we have. We can hold ourselves to that promise.
So absolutely true. Therefore my two wee ones will never be separated. I’m on the short side of life now with many aching body parts and this winter literally kicked my butt! I well know there are no more ponies in my future. My welsh pony gelding is 15 and my mini mare is 28. Very rough winter for her as well. If either one ever has to be euthanized due to illness…so goes the other. Same if I can no longer care for them. They go together. No rehoming. There is never a good enough guarantee they would be forever safe. Their wishes to me in a dream…they would like to be under the weeping willow tree and ‘touching’ shoulder to shoulder as they leave their earthly bodies My awesome vet is agreeable to my wishes. When the time comes, she has promised a very soft and peaceful passing. <3 =-)
Hardest thing of having animals as a part of your life & family. I worried as my horse & I got older – did think about making sure my kids knew that if something happened to me first, he would be put down rather than take a chance that he would be safe without me. Fortunate for me, anyway – I guess – the day came when there was no other option & he had to be put down – at the farm where he lived & is now buried. Now its my dog & cat I’m concerned about – one 12 and one 13. Hard as this is, how could any of us imagine being without them – or doing without all the love & companionship they give?
Yes, excellent. Thank you.
Thanks for reading, Gina.
This was exactly my own thought process. It’s no big stretch, nor is it illogical, to compare horse behavior to human behavior. They are herd animals. Humans are herd animals. (So say the psychologists and anthropologists). We come to understand ourselves (as humans) better by studying behavior of horses. Perhaps it’s why some of us like being around them. Searching for every opportunity to understand ourselves better.
Both species have autonomic nervous systems and trauma is just that. Thanks Betsey.
I found myself able, at very late in life, to realize a dream to “own” a horse (funny concept to me now, two years later, since we all know that if anybody owns anybody, it’s they who own us). The horse who came into my life had just had a foal, so it was a two-fer. As I went to the stable where she lived with a herd of four other mares, outside 24/7, I fussed over her and baby and talked about how great life was going to be. Suddenly, I noticed that the four mares were standing around us in a semi-circle, just looking at us. Even without much horse experience, I knew what they were saying: what about us? The owner of the herd had passed away and they were being given minimal care by her husband, who just wanted to move on. After some quick mental calculations that took about ten seconds, I said, “Ok, you guys can come too”. I describe it as being hijacked by their heart energy. Oh, yes, then I found out there were two yearling colts who also belonged to this herd who had been put in another paddock for weaning (and birth control). So now I have eight. Thank you for championing the radical notion that the animals’ wellbeing is as important as our own!
Welcome, Susan. And wow. What were you thinking?? (Hear this in your mother’s voice, 🙂 ) You have your work cut out for you and I applaud your enthusiasm!
Wow is right, Susan! Best wishes to you and your new herd!
I have learned so much and found some wonderful horse people to help me. I really have too many to spend the kind of time I want with each one, but if I ever let any of them go it’s going to be an open adoption with the most in-depth background check ever imagined! They will never be abandoned again.
So glad you have help, best wishes in this endeavor.
Excellent article, Anna! I have three horses – one a small pony, one a Kaimanawa mare, and her son, an 8 yr old gelding. When I feed hay, I feed it in piles, on the ground, in a circle, because the mare tries to claim it all, especially the pony’s pile. They play musical hay piles for a while before they settle down to eat seriously. The pony is bottom of the peck order, he old and he doesn’t eat quickly. I often take him into an adjacent paddock with much better feed. He can still see the others, and he settles down to graze – close to the fence, as close as he can get to the rest of his herd. If the other two wander off out of sight, he stops grazing and paces the fence. There is no question in my mind that for him, equine companionship is a higher priority than food – even when his companions are bullies. He still needs their company.
PS Remind me about how to donate towards your hay fund.
I know those musical hay piles mean something else to a herd, I’ve watched that for years. I think it has less to do with inclusion or exclusion, and more to do with pecking order, but being low is a choice, too, and not the worst thing. Love this comment, and it is about the herd, his safe place. Kinda had to fall in love with the old guy reading this. (I don’t have a hay fund, but that would be nice. I think you might mean the rescue I work with?? http://www.coloradohorserescuenetwork.com/donate.html AND THANK YOU!)
Owner of one horse who can come and go as he pleases. Returns morning and evening for his feed. Bangs loudly to let me know he has arrived. Hangs out with me while I feed the other animals. (Rabbits. chickens and birds) Sometimes he will gently make physical contact with me by nudging. Or blow on me. He then goes into the veld (bush) to go and graze. If we want to ride I hoot and he comes home – furtherest point 1.9kms. No force – his choice. Sometimes he is happy to hang out near the dogs and us as we barbeque . The area is raised so he can not access it but will come and put his head on my legs that are hanging over the edge and stand there. I presume he like the contact. He does not demand anything or rub. Merely places his head on my legs. We previously had other horses we were looking after. He liked the company until it came to feed time. That is the only time I have seen him get territorial. We could not ride while the other horses where there as the behaviour was too unpredictable. 1 Gelding and 4 mares.
As you choose, thank you for commenting.
I have a family member who keeps one elderly horse. For a while the horse kept escaping , and I know why this is happening . Tried to explain a lot of times but, they feel pressured just keeping the one, and feel they have done her a huge favor as she is safe from slaughter or uncertainty. I tried to convince them to get at least, a mini, or a couple sheep, any other grazer. They state that since the horse is healthy and well it’s OK. I understand their side of it, but I wish they’d read this article . It’s a very touchy subject. I feel a bit worried even posting about this for fear they’ll see.
I think there was a time most folks agreed with your family member. We can only do what we can. I worked hard to be kind in this piece but so much of my job is telling people they’re wrong. NO, NOT LOUD AND MEAN, but I work have to not offend, knowing that horses are, as you say, a very touchy subject. Good luck, Baker, thanks for commenting.
Great article thank you for this important information. I just adopted a mini horse she is pregnant and due in a couple months. I have been looking for another but everyone keeps saying well she is going to have a baby soon. Now that I have read this I am thinking she will be even more nervous once the baby comes by herself? Am I looking at that correctly? Thinking she needs a friend but would keep them separated with a fence not sure how friendly she would be since she is pregnant…lots to consider thanks for any thoughts.
There is no way to guess what’s going to happen with certainty, and I don’t know you or your horse. If she’s alone, I know that isn’t natural, foal or not. Many times a rescue wouldn’t adopt out singletons but maybe they have a mini friend who could come? I’d be more worried about before the baby. Changing homes is really hard on horses. Good luck to both of you!
I confess I have a only horse…I’ve now had him (a draft cross) for half his life…he is 15. he had a companion when I got him, but being a single person I simply can’t afford a companion for him. a few years ago I had a nephew wanting to get his daughter a horse so I happily said they could keep him at my place!!! win…win…right??? Not…my horse would run, bit and kick the other horse badly…give it time right??? Wrong again…after 9 plus monthe’s broken fences, and knock down the front of on of there stalls they had no choice but to move their horse to another location… 🙁 So then…I have a girlfriend that kept him for 2 weeks in the summer. My horse has heaves so she thought he might do better in a pasture, as I only have a dry lot. She has 4 horses also… So putting my horse with her’s we thought we’d see how that works out…after a couple days my horse started again be too aggressive…so again he was separated out alone with the other horses across the yard…she was ready for me to take him home… I don’t understand why when I know he’d love the companionship of another horse….he can’t stop being the big bully…
Poor boy, he’s lost his social skills, and to be truthful, it takes more than a couple of weeks. Change is hard, when I bring a new horse here, I spend months getting them settled. I know this is hard, and he seems to hate everyone, but is there a chance that’s a call for help rather than a preference? Good luck going forward, Sharon. His anxiety is a challenge, I know…
Thank you Anna. This is a topic I stew over, some. My mare communicated in no uncertain terms that living alone was not an option. So, I got her a horse. Caring for two strains the budget some, but it was part of ‘the plan’ when I brought my mare home, so no complaints. But still I wonder is two even herd enough?
Right? Depending on so many things… We joke about the addiction and bringing home extras, always wanting more, etc, and it’s all about us. If you truly watch, it’s a really good question. A while back I went to a really great (if that’s possible) zoo where one of my clients worked. I talked with a docent who went into all of the enrichment things they do there for the animals. I don’t think we talk about that enough… Thanks, Kelly. REALLY good question.
Fascinating article & so relevant. My new forest pony was being deliberately isolated from other 3 at yard just because he was assertive at feed time!! Rather than tape off a little area for feeding, so he couldn’t steal the others’ buckets, yard owners shoved him in separate paddock. Now he’s been a herd pony all his 19 years & his happy personality changed, he became sad, depressed , & starting napping.& not wanting to go anywhere. Yard owner defiantly tried to tell me he only wanted food, not bothered about company….I was furious. Luckily i managed to move him to new field 2 months ago with a friend’s elderly mare. He has reverted back to his happy self & has found his joie de vrie again . I have owned him 7 years & I know his personality….the change in him back to his normal cheeky happy self because he has company 24/7 is unquestionable.
Great comment, Debbie. Hard to hear that a barn owner doesn’t understand this fundamental need.
Thank you for saying out loud what so many don’t want to hear. There is nothing much sadder than a solitary horse. For those who can only afford one or imagine themselves too old to take on ownership of an animal likely to outlive you, please look around because there are rescues that compensate you &/or pay the costs to foster a horse. I know because I belong to an amazing one, “Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society”. I’ve fostered horses along with my own two and we all experience the “excitement” of new herd members as well as the bittersweet sorrow of every departure. We have space to share and there is no greater joy in my life than doing just that. I would rather sit on the porch and watch horses than ride or watch tv – thanks Anna, you’ve made it okay for me to say that out loud!
Thanks for taking in rescues. I’m a board member of a rescue here, always have an elder in my barn as a way to thank a good horse who I owe a debt to. Preach it, it’s a good match for them and for us.
thank you for the well written article. I waited until I could have horses at home to have them. I’m 47 and wanted them my whole life, but I didn’t get just one. I knew they have to have ‘family’ so I waited until I could have two. We are thinking of adding more, but just want the two for now as we are learning the whole bailing hay and straw thing. Our two have known each other for many years before coming to our farm and my whole goal is to make sure they are happy. Both are non-ridden for now. One will not be ridden at all (ex-race horse) cause he’s flighty, but he’s great in every other way. They will both spend their lives in easy bliss.
Thank you for putting horses first. It’s my best compliment, Shelley. Thanks for commenting.
I have 4 horses age 9, 14, 17 and 19. The youngest is too small to be ridden by me. The others are draft cross. They live together with the 9/14 and 17/19 in adjoining pens and explore, run together as a herd when I open the back gate around our 13 acres of trails. My question is if I rehome the 9-year-old how might it impact the dynamics? I would take the divider out of the run in shelter so the 3 are together and take the gates off so the 3 can mix. The 3 ( 14 17 19) eat the same amount the 9 is TB Appaloosa eats more, has more energy picks on the older drafts. The 3 that would be left are more alike in personality and metabolism feed needs than the one that would go.
Without seeing them, there is no way to guess. To tell the truth, if I lived with them, I’d be guessing. There are things that go on with horses we are no where near understanding, the only thing I know for sure is that it will impact all of them. Sorry to not be more help… thanks, Kathy.
Maybe if we realize that horses are herd animals we can 7nderstand them better
Agreed, we have to start there. Thanks, Claudia.
I would agree. I’ve never kept just one horse before. Unfortunately, just this week I lost my older gelding and now my mare is alone. I’m actually surprised how well she is taking it. She seems quite content, but it’s only been a few days. I don’t want to rush out to replace him, but I am watching her closely for signs of stress.
Sorry for your loss. Most horses are stoic, is she content or shut down? Best wishes, again sorry, Jennifer.
Happy to write that a fre years ago Sweden passed a law that said that horses must have living conditions ”according to their nature” which means never being alone. However, it is open for interpretation and even though horses have the right to scratch their fellow horse and the law meant them having a right to always have a friend in the field, reality is that many horses live a life one in each side of the fence. That escpecially goes for competition horses. BUT many riding schools who are not allowed to keep horses tied up at night are now opting for free range feeding systems such as ”ActiveStable” where the horses live in a hets with feeding systems that portion food on an individual scheme… so best bet for a horse in Sweden is to be not so gifted of a breed considered to adapt easily to cold weather (in my view mist horses) ?
It’s a start, it’s heading in the right direction! Thanks, Lena.
Sorry about odd spelling. Meant most horses.
Thanks for sharing this helpful information about Horses in Solitary. Actually, I got a lot’s of information from your blog which can more understanding in Horses.
You’re welcome, Lisa. I think this is an important one…
This hit home to me when I rescued a 19 year old stallion who had lived alone most of his life without horse or human contact. It’s been 2 years, he is gelded now. We are still on ground work, but my gut tells me he will not be a safe saddle horse and I’m O.K. with that. Since he was taken out of his box and came to our farm, everything that happens around him happens exponentially to a higher degree than the the herd. I’m taking my time.
He had a double isolation… Glad for his soft landing, Maria. Thanks.
Kudos and thank you Maria, for your kindness, generosity and patience. Perhaps down the road, you will get to watch him become his true self. Who he was meant to be before humans took their selfish toll. I hope you both reap rewards that you never imagined!
To me that is the highest level of rescue – when there’s really nothing for the human to “get” from the horse in return. Thank you!