I have always felt sorry for horses kept on their own. Horses are social animals, evolved to live in herds and so feel safer, more secure and gain comfort from each other. See my Horse Psychology blog.
Wild herds are mostly female, the stallion does his best to keep his 'harem' from being taken by other stallions and there are often sub- groups within the main herd. Once colts reach puberty they are driven away. These colts will often then live in temporary bachelor groups until they are mature. Once mature they will try to collect their own herd of females!
Unsuccessful young males will be left on their own as will older stallions that were unable to fight off younger, stronger stallions and thus lost their herd. In addition, some older mares will be left behind if they are unable to keep up with the herd. Left on their own in the wild these horses are extremely vulnerable and will not survive for long.
In the herd horses will groom each other, play, communicate and generally be more comfortable and relaxed. A lone horse will need extra attention to replace this. When you are in the field they are likely to follow you around, they will need extra grooming to scratch the itchy bits. Lone horses can become boisterous and difficult and may try to dominate their owners/carers.
When a lone horses does meet another horse they often react in an 'over the top' way - they whinny, pose, prance and show off. It can take the horse a long time to settle down. Lone horses can become strongly attached to another animal eg: a goat or a sheep but they will not give the same social support as another horse.
So, the herd instinct is natural, keeping a horse on his own is unnatural and is likely to cause stress and thus disturbed behaviour. They can become depressed and withdrawn - I am not sure that this is fair.
As you will know, I have 3 horses, simply because I don't want to keep one alone! Fidget often seems to be the least bothered about being with the others, he is often at the other end of the field! However, when I put him out in his special paddock (limited grass) last week he whinnied. He is still in the same field and can see the others but he has an electric fence separating him. I always feel a bit guilty separating him but his health means I have too. I love watching them play (although sometimes they are a bit rough) and groom each other - they just seem really content and happy.
On the other side of things, there is a horse up the road which is kept on its own. She looks well, good condition and everything but when I ride past she walks or trots up to the fence to say hello and I just feel so sad for her!
So I think that horses can get used to living alone, but are they really truly content and relaxed?
What are your experiences?
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