Horses are by nature social animals. They are herd animals with a need for companionship – and some horses suffer from anxiety or loneliness and very much need a friendly presence by their side.
However, that doesn’t always mean another horse just like them!
Horses have an innate ability to get along with a variety of other livestock and farm animals. Before you go busting out the big bucks – or look into getting a larger space – for a second horse to keep your first one company, consider these other excellent companion animal friends.
Donkey or Mule
Donkeys can make for fantastic friends for a lonely horse. They are an easy addition, too, as they eat the same foods (though in smaller quantities) and can graze happily in the same fields.
Donkeys can even share a place in the barn or cozy up in a smaller stall adjacent to your horses. Donkeys, in general, are lower maintenance to keep than horses, often surviving off solely or mostly grass when pastures are lush.
Keep in mind that some horses may be put off by donkeys and simply will not bond with them. Despite their similarities to horses, sometimes the differences are just too great in a horse’s mind.
As an added and unexpected bonus, though, some donkeys can serve as “guard animals” for a farm. Their presence and temperament and strength can scare off or chase away stray dogs and other wild animals, excepting larger or more determined predator animals.
Donkeys naturally have watchful instincts and dislike intruders. Opposite to a horse, the flight part of their fight or flight instincts are not nearly so pronounced and will generally acknowledge a threat by stomping the ground and braying loudly versus running away.
If a donkey doesn’t quite pique your interest, consider a mule. Mules are great companion animals, and bond to people very well. They can also make a great riding or pack animals.
One of the great things about both donkeys and mules is their longevity. Both are known to easily reach 30 years of age.
Pony or Miniature Horse
While a second full-size horse may cost a pretty penny, opting for a pony or a miniature horse may do the trick instead.
Though both require the same veterinary appointments and shots, as well as farrier work like a regular horse, ponies and minis eat far less and therefore need much less hay and grain.
Miniature horses are not for riding (except by the smallest of riders), so new equipment won’t be needed – and riding-related injuries or stresses won’t lead to extra vet bills.
If you have a less dominant or aggressive horse in the first place, ponies and minis generally are more confident animals, but not as threatening (or large) as another large horse.
For those shy larger horses, not only will they have the benefit of a friendship, but they’ll also have the security and comfort of having a strong yet not threatening leader.
Ponies especially may be small in size but they are large in intellect. They can even be a little too clever for their own good, so be prepared for the occasional escape artist or argumentative equine.
Miniature horses are very chilled out and friendly, and bond with horses of all sizes with ease.
Especially for horses who are getting older or who are on stall rest, a mini horse will keep them company and occupied enough to stay in good spirits. Minis though won’t encourage running around or strenuous exercise so your horse won’t hurt or overexert itself.
In a field, a miniature horse can happily graze with their larger friend for almost 100% of their meals. Mini horses are cheap to keep too, as the American Miniature Horse Association estimates the total approximate amount it costs to feed a miniature horse at only around $50 per month.
What’s one animal that is so popular it is a common sight at horse shows and racing stables? The cute and trusty goat!
By nature, they are cheaper overall than ponies, in terms of both purchasing price (usually under $500 – or sometimes even free) and upkeep costs, as they are fairly low maintenance animals.
Goats are friendly, and their sociable nature makes them very likely to bond with horses, happily staying by their side and sharing their hay. Goats travel well and are often content to stay in a stall or even on the trailer with no fuss while your horse participates in shows, so they can have a traveling buddy.
If you do opt for this farm animal friend, though, make sure to keep an eye on them. The stereotype about goats being voracious and all-inclusive eaters is pretty much true. They will not hesitate to move on from grazing in fields to grazing on shrubbery, garden plants and more.
Also, just because you are used to horses doesn’t mean you are automatically equipped to raise goats. You’ll need to do some research and prepare yourself for their different personalities.
Llamas make excellent companions for pasture-kept horses, mostly due to their larger size. They can graze in the same spaces and are generally friendly towards horses.
Don’t introduce more than two llamas into a horse’s life, though, as they will often than “herd up” by species and will leave the horse alone, back where they started. One llama is ideal, two is fine, but three or more should be avoided if the goal is companionship for a horse.
Llamas may have a reputation for spitting, but like any other animal, they can be trained – they can even be halter trained. That makes leading them, caring for them and transporting them with your horse that much easier.
The main difference with llamas is that you just can’t walk up to them in a pasture and halter them, but you need to establish a trusting and trained relationship first.
Llamas are also easy keepers and do not require much feed. In fact, most llamas subsist almost totally on grass in the summer and hay in the winter, with smaller quantities of grain or supplements added in.
Llamas are also easier to keep in terms of time, as they don’t require the same amount of grooming effort as horses. They don’t need daily brushing, they don’t need mane and tail detangling – and they have no hooves, so they won’t need a farrier for trimming or shoeing.
Llamas’ grooming needs are confined to once a year in the spring, when they need to be sheared.
Cows – especially smaller cows – are almost tailor-made for being buddies for horses. They easily share a pasture, meaning they can graze in peace and companionship. Cows also don’t require many separate foods and can often be seen by the same vets. (source)
Even more, grazing a cow with a horse can enable healthier environments for your pasture. Cattle and horses do not share the same parasites, so co-grazing cows and horses together can actually disrupt the parasitic life cycles. (source)
Just be careful with access to cattle specific feed. Some feeds designed for cattle can be toxic to horses. But, the good news is, horse feeds are generally safe for cattle.
A goose can be an unexpected and adorable addition. Not only will they be an entertaining friend for your horse, but they are also great pest reducers, as they munch up annoying bugs.
Geese are similar to donkeys in temperament, in that they are territorial and will alert you and deter intruders and unwanted animals. You may even get some free eggs out of the deal!
Keep in mind any type of poultry has dander, which can cause allergies for some people. They’ll also be a little more work, in the sense that they don’t share many living habits in common with horses.
You’ll need special feed and a separate stall or living area for your geese. Plus, be advised they do poop a lot, so you’ll see droppings throughout the yard.
While they do provide companionship, a goose is less likely to form a special bond with a horse. Their relationship will be more “on the surface” and casually entertaining than true deep friends.
Choosing a companion will depend partly on your horse. After all, if the newcomer is to be his buddy, he should have a say. You may have to try a couple of different animals to find just the right fit.
Providing a companion for your horse will most likely mean some extra costs for food and veterinary care, but will ultimately help keep your horse happy – and will cost you less than a second horse.