Can Horses Live Alone? (Signs of Loneliness in Your Horse)

Can horses live alone? As a fellow horse person like me, you probably know that horses are herd animals.

So, how can you keep a horse happy and healthy when they live alone without other horses? 

With a bit of effort and problem solving on your part, your solitary horse can be just as well adjusted as a horse living with 4-5 other horses.

READ MORE: List of Different Horse Breeds

Can Horses Live Alone and Without Other Horses?

Horses can actually live alone. Although horses are naturally inclined to live with other horses, this does not mean that it is not possible for them to live on their own. 

Not all horses have the same needs, and what may be enough socialization for one horse may not be enough for the next. 

It’s essential to know how to get your horse comfortable with being alone so they can be happy and healthy. It’s equally important to understand when your horse is trying to tell you they’re unhappy. 

brown horse with braided mane

Loneliness can cause a horse quite a bit of stress. A lonely horse is almost always a stressed horse. Stressed horses are not only unhappy, but they aren’t healthy horses either. 

Stress in horses due to loneliness can lead to physical medical issues, so it’s essential to address your horse’s loneliness if it becomes problematic for them. 

Loneliness and stress not only affect your horse’s health but may also cause them to fall into bad habits that can be difficult to break, including unwanted behavioral issues.

Also, some horses do better on their own than other horses would. It’s important to be aware of your particular horse’s personality and past. 

Horses that have lived alone or spent most of their time in stalls will handle the transition to a solitary life better than a horse that has been a part of a large herd.

If your horse is not doing well being alone, there are some solutions that don’t require them to be around other horses. 

How Do I Get My Horse Used to Being Alone?

Luckily, modern domestic horses do have different behavior patterns due to their domestication. Since the time horses have been used by people for transportation and farm work, they have been learning how to handle being alone.

Today, horses are typically separated from a herd environment. Horses are commonly kept in stalls and are only given time outside of stalls with other horses sometimes.

Due to this, most horses of modern times have evolved to be able to be alone easily, especially in environments where they can’t even see other horses. 

A great way to combat your horse’s loneliness is to have a circle of horse friends for them. If you have a way to meet up with another horse owner and go for a trail ride occasionally, your single horse will fare much better.

One of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to be a good leader. That’s right; you have to be in charge of your horse, even more so when they are the only horse around.

The most important thing to a horse is safety, and in a horse’s mind, it’s safe with the herd. When a horse is on its own, it will inevitably look to you as a leader. 

If you fail to meet that role, your horse won’t trust you or feel safe in their environment and will handle solitary life much worse. 

ALSO READ: How Do Horses Breed?

Do Horses Get Lonely?

horse standing on a muddy pasture

Horses can, in fact, get lonely. A horse is a social type of animal and requires social interaction. There are many ways to provide your horse with socialization without other horses.

Unfortunately, some horses do experience an unhealthy amount of loneliness when living without other horse company. 

It’s vital for any horse owner to know what loneliness looks like in horses. Untreated loneliness can lead to anxiety in horses. 

Signs of Loneliness in Your Horse

If you plan to have a single horse, you need to know the signs of loneliness in horses. When you recognize a horse that is lonely, you can work to make the situation better for them. 

Not recognizing the signs of loneliness can lead to worse conditions, even a depressed horse. 

It’s even been shown that horses who endure loneliness could have issues with pain memory. This means a horse may over or under-react to pain when they are in mental distress. 

Inaccurate pain response [1] can cause your horse to have underlying problems that go undiagnosed. 

This is why it’s so very important for you to recognize and react to signs of loneliness in your horse when they live alone.

Sign #1 –  Acting Withdrawn

Many lonely horses will behave very withdrawn. You’ll see this as a horse that doesn’t react to its surroundings or seem alert. It is like they are ‘switched off.’

Sign #2 –  Restlessness

One of the most common symptoms of a lonely horse is stress, typically seen as restless behavior. This is a very obvious sign of an anxious horse.

Restless horses will usually also form bad habits of pacing a fence line, stall walking, and not lying down to sleep. These horses are generally very vocal, especially when they can’t see or hear anyone nearby. 

Sign #3 – Cribbing

Another bad habit restless horses will have is cribbing. This is a stress response where horses will obsessively bite fences or rails. Another form of this is windsucking. Where the horse does the same thing without biting on to something.

Here’s a video explanation.

Sign #4 – Loss of Appetite

If your horse is lonely enough to lose its appetite, it’s important to work on solutions as fast as you can. Many horses who are too lonely for too long will lose appetite and refuse to eat.

Loss of appetite is a very bad sign and needs to be taken seriously.

Do Horses Need a Companion?

Not all horses need a companion, and many horses do just fine with their human companion alone. However, not all human companions have enough time to be their horse’s full-time best friend. 

group of wild horses

If your horse is displaying any signs of loneliness, it may be a good idea to look for another companion animal or multiple animals to introduce to them. 

Horses can be just as socially satisfied from a companion outside their species that enjoys horses. 

READ MORE: Horse Pregnancy Symptoms

Animals That Can Be Good Companions for Horses 

There are many animals besides horses that are excellent companions for horses. So to answer your question, can horses live alone, yes many can but not all.

Here are some animals that, in my experience, I have found to make great friends with horses. However, you will need to know your horse well as some horses will not like certain animals and even attack them.

Animal behaviorist, Robin Foster, has this to say: “In both young and older horses, introducing an equine companion can immediately eliminate the behavioral and physiological effects of social isolation distress.” [3]

Equines

mare and a filly

Some of the best are other equine species or a small companion horse that does not cost lots to keep. These include mini horses, ponies, miniature donkeys. Most equines are social animals and will pair well with horses. 

Keep in mind that another equine, such as a mini donkey, have some different needs than horses. Donkeys bond extremely strongly to one friend and have dietary needs that are different.

Prey Animals

Other prey animals such as livestock do well interacting with horses. A cow can make a great pasture companion for a horse. 

Some horses also get along well with sheep, though keep in mind horses may also attack sheep. You will have to test your horse to find out.

Goats

Goats are also a great barn buddy for horses. Some goats can be a bit rambunxious, and you’ll have to make sure they aren’t stressing your horse out more than helping them. 

I find that goats are one of the best companions for horses. I have even seen show horses that spend a lot of time on the road travel with their own personal goat buddy.

Check this funny video!

Cats

Horses are also known for befriending cats. Your horse’s loneliness could be solved by simply adding a barn cat to your family.

Cats are typically very calm animals that horses tolerate well. I’ve seen several horses develop a bond with barn cats.

Check out this incredible story!

Dogs 

Dogs can be great companions [2] for your horse, especially if they can hang out with your horse when you aren’t around. Dogs are also great to take along for a trail ride if they are adequately trained and behaved.

Here’s another cute video!

FAQs

How will I know if my horse is stressed from being lonely?

You will know if your horse is stressed from being lonely if it acts restless, neighs a lot, losses its appetite and shows signs of depression.

What should I look for when buying a horse to keep alone?

Things you should look for when buying a horse to keep alone include a horse that is experienced and happy in that situation. You can also ask the current owner if the horse is known to separate from the herd easily in a pasture. 

Final Thoughts

So can horses live alone? The answer is a big yes! Many horses can live alone happily. There are many ways to get your horse used to being alone if that’s new for them. 

Horses can get lonely sometimes, and it’s important to understand the signs of loneliness in a horse.

Some horses require a companion, but that doesn’t always have to be another horse. Some who have enough time can be their own horse’s companion. 

There are also certain animals that can be companions for horses. 

white horse in a black and white background

Can horses live alone? Please share your opinion below!

References

  1. “Is Your Horse Lonely? The Negative Effects of Social Isolation.” The Horse, 3 June 2021, thehorse.com/1100336/is-your-horse-lonely-the-negative-effects-of-social-isolation/. Accessed 12 Mar. 2022.
  2. “The Top 5 Non-Human Companions for Your Horse | Equimed – Horse Health Matters.” EquiMed, 2017, equimed.com/health-centers/healthy-barn/articles/the-top-5-non-human-companions-for-your-horse. Accessed 8 Jan. 2020.
  3. Shoesmith E, Shahab L, Kale D, Mills DS, Reeve C, Toner P, et al. The Influence of Human–Animal Interactions on Mental and Physical Health during the First COVID-19 Lockdown Phase in the U.K.: A Qualitative Exploration. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2021;18:976.
Siun L
Siun L

Siun is an all-around animal lover, with a passion for horses. She grew up in the United States, competing in the hunters, equitation, and jumpers. Now living in Ireland, she competes with her own showjumping horses. She is experienced in the care and training of horses, as well as teaching riding lessons. She loves to combine her love for horses with her work. When not working, Siun will be found at the stables, rain or shine.
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