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Our new neighbor is considering buying his first horse and wondering if it’s ok only to have one, or does it need a companion? I’ve always had multiple horses, and wasn’t sure of the answer, so I decided to do some research.
Horses have much in common with humans. Both are social creatures that need the companionship of others. We’re alike in another way; while it might be ideal to have others of the same species, both can enjoy other species’ company. Donkeys, goats, and even Llamas make excellent horse companions.
Horses evolved as herd animals and may decline if shut-off from other animals. But their companion doesn’t have to be another equine; there are plenty of animals that make good companions.
Companions for horses
There are lots of cute videos of cats and dogs interacting with horses, but that may not be the norm. This is especially true of cats, which can be rather fickle when it comes to who or what they shower affection on. These eight animals, on the other hand, usually do well together.
Donkey or mule
Donkeys and mules are usually a good fit and bond relatively quickly. There is the occasional problem of a horse that just doesn’t like donkeys and/or mules, but it is relatively rare. Our horse liked the donkey that was stabled relatively near her.
One of the excellent parts of having one of these around is that they eat mostly grass and hay, just like horses. But because donkeys evolved in harsh regions, they are prone to get obese if fed too much grain.
In the winter, they could use a little grain, but then again… so do horses. They can live quite contentedly alongside a horse. These animals have an added benefit.
Donkeys are excellent watch animals. They don’t like intruders and will stand their ground and chase off stray dogs and other creatures that might make an unexpected visit. They are also powerful, not to mention strong-willed.
Pony or miniature horse
Not everyone wants to deal with a donkey or a mule because they can be stubborn. If space and funding are limited, ponies and mini horses are good options. They don’t cost as much, eat the same foods, and are likely to be compatible.
These animals can be ideal companions for shy horses. The pony or mini horse has the confidence of their own and being smaller; they don’t cause as much stress as another large horse might.
Mini horses also don’t need all of the expensive tack that a more massive horse requires, as they usually aren’t ridden unless it’s by a toddler.
Mini horses have a great deal to offer to older horses and those on stall rest. These small equines don’t take up a lot of space so they can be a companion, even in the same stall with the horse. They are very laid back and have a friendly disposition.
Seabiscuit famously had a companion pony named Pumpkin that traveled with him. Before Pumpkin arrived, Seabiscuit was unruly and hard to train.
There are drawbacks to having a pony, however. Being smart can lead them into trouble. They can be like Houdini in the escape arts, and they can be very opinionated. This is partially from my experience with a Shetland… who ruled over our field of Thoroughbreds.
Horses and goats tend to get along well together, also. Like the others, goats and horses have similar feeding habits. It would not be uncommon to see the two eating hay together or happily browsing on the pasture grass.
They can be quiet animals, and content to stay in the stall or a trailer. This is good for those who like to go to events, as it provides a compact companion animal that doesn’t have the extra needs of another equine.
Goats are commonly used to quiet racehorses. At many of the racing barns I’ve visited over the years, I’ve often seen goats in the stalls with horses.
There are two things to keep in mind about goats. The first is that you need to do some research before acquiring one. There are several differences between the species, including those if the goat happens to be pregnant.
The other is that a loose goat can damage a yard or garden in a very short space of time. They don’t just graze on grass. They like shrubbery, garden plants, and other things that you may not want to have eaten.
If you have room, the llama makes a gentle companion for horses. They tend to tolerate each other well and can graze in the same fields. Llamas may not be ideal for a horse who is often in a stable, as the llama might not care for it overmuch.
Llamas don’t require quite as much grooming as some other four-legged species. However, they do need to be sheared at least once a year. The good news is that the fleece is something most people who knit and crochet love to work with.
It is best to limit the number of llamas you keep, as if there are three or more, they will become a herd of their own and ignore the poor horse. One or two will work well, and they will keep each other happy.
Llamas are social animals as well. You may have heard about the llama’s spitting habit. While it’s true, the animals can be trained, and even halter broke.
The difference between a horse and a llama is that it may be more challenging to get them into the harness habit. Like horses, they need a trusting relationship before they will be interested.
That may be a surprise, but in some ways, cattle are ideal to be kept with horses. They eat mostly the same foods and can graze companionably together. If choosing a cow, make sure it is a smaller breed to ease things a bit.
One of the benefits of having a cow and a horse in the same field is that it vastly improves the field. The horse and the cow don’t carry the same parasites. When they are together, they can disrupt the parasite life cycle in the field; thus protecting both.
There is one problem to keep in mind. It isn’t a great idea to feed horses cattle feed. There is usually an ingredient in cattle feed that is poisonous to horses. However, cattle can very quickly (and happily) eat horse feed.
Geese are last on our list for several reasons. While they make an entertaining animal friend for the horse, they are unlikely to form a deep bond. They are best for horses that could use a little bit of social interaction but can mainly go it alone.
Geese have good points and bad points. On the good side, they are excellent bug munchers in a horse yard that can be important. They may (or may not) lay eggs, and they are at least as aggressive towards strangers (human or animal) as the donkey.
On the downside, they are indiscriminate poopers. If they run loose, expect it to be everywhere. If they’re in a stall, expect to clean it often. Goose manure is strong and should be handled with gloves… even on the other end of a pitchfork.
Geese can be mean, although once they get to know you, they may well be affectionate. If you raise a gosling from a chick, it is more likely to bond. In some states, they are sold at feed stores, although they can be mail ordered.
Geese and horses do not eat the same feed. That means you will have to buy special feed for the goose and need a small animal vet to handle its veterinary needs.
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