Do horses mate for life? A great question that I’ve done a lot of research into, reading studies and speaking to experts.
Horses definitely like companionship for both socialization and protection.
This makes it easy to think that if given the choice, they would find and stay with a partner for life.
However, that’s not exactly the case, so let’s take a closer look.
Table of Contents
- Horses do not mate for life
- Both domestic horses and wild horses can form long-term relationships
- Wild horses live in family groups
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Do Horses Mate For Life?
Horses do not mate for life, like some other animal species, such as swans. However, they are not solitary animals either.
Horses seek companions and can bond more with a particular horse than another. This applies to both domesticated horses and feral horses.
You will come across pairs of horses that seem like they are best friends, which is pretty cool but can cause separation anxiety issues.
As you can already see, horse relationships aren’t always straightforward. This brings up another question – loyalty.
Also Check: How Long Do Horses Mate?
Are Horses Loyal To Their Mates?
Horses have some loyalty to their mates or companions but probably not in the way we humans think.
They will protect their families from danger, which to me is a sign of loyalty. Horses also form long-lasting relationships with each other.
Studies have found that “equid social relationships are long-lasting and, in some cases, lifelong,”  Not only do horses get attached to each other, but they also seek out new friendships.
These attachments are more likely to be seen amongst mares and geldings and would be rare between stallions who will fight for control of a group. However, it is possible for stallions to bond as well, as we’ll see next.
CHECK: How Do They Breed Horses?
Do Horses Live In Families?
Horses are herd animals which means they prefer to live in groups, whether in the wild or in a domestic environment. 
In domestic environments, horses are kept in a variety of group situations. Breeding studs will keep mares and foals together and then keep them by age when they are young after weaning.
Take a look at this wonderful group of sport horse mares and foals.
These young horse groups are often placed with a nanny horse, which is usually an older mare that will keep everyone in line and calm. However, geldings can also make great nannies.
Some people will keep mares and geldings in separate groups, and others will mix them. It will come down to the particular horses involved and how they all get along.
These types of family groups, while catering to natural behavior, are different from how wild horses form families.
Also Read: Can Horses Be Alone?
Feral horses or wild horses also live in family groups, but their behavior is much closer to the true way horses are designed to live. This is also known as a harem or band.
A harem consists of a group of mares which may consist of some younger colts that have yet to be pushed out. They are led by a single Alpha stallion.
Occasionally, according to the National Park Service, the group will also have a less dominant stallion, also called a beta stallion as well. 
The stallion will protect his family and fight other stallions that threaten his space or try to steal one of his mares. He will also select potential mates from within his harem, breeding multiple mares each breeding season.
The entire herd will have a hierarchy, with a more dominant mare.
The younger members of the herd will be at the bottom of the hierarchy. When colts are around the age of 3, they get booted from the herd. Young mares will also often leave the group to join another herd.
When colts get kicked out of their herd, they will usually form their own group known as a bachelor herd. Most of these horses are quite young, the teenager equivalent in the horse world.
These young male horses form groups for protection and friendship. They are non-breeding stallions. Eventually, some of these males, when they are more mature, will make a bid to steal mares from a herd.
Mares seek herd membership for breeding, friendship, and protection. While horses are not monogamous, they may only mate with one stallion over several years.
However, if a new stallion wins the harem or the beta stallion is allowed privileges, the mare will happily mate with them. So, no, is the answer to the question ‘do horses mate for life?’
Check out this beautiful wild horse family grazing.
Domestic vs Wild Horse Mates
As you can see, regardless of whether a horse lives in a domestic group or wild herd, they do not mate for life.
One big difference between how these horses mate is that breeding at studs is a much more controlled event. A specific stallion is paired with a certain mare, all chosen by the humans involved.
Wild horses mate with the Alpha stallion of their group. And will often mate with the same stallion more than once. All of this is down to the horses, and there is no human interview.
Horse Social Behavior
Horses are extremely social, so while, as you see, they don’t mate for life, they do form long-lasting bonds with a family group.
Group dynamics include mutual grooming, a lookout while others sleep, and playing. They alert each other to potential dangers and will often be bonded closure to specific members.
If a horse has a choice, it will almost always never choose to be alone.
Do wild horses stay together?
Yes, wild horses will stay together in their individual herds or harems. Sometimes there are shifts with mares moving to another group or young colts forming a bachelor herd.
Do stallions recognize their foals?
Yes, stallions can recognize their foals and are quite protective of them.
Do horses mate for life? No, but they can form long, even lifetime bonds with each other that don’t have to do with mating.
Horse social dynamics are pretty fascinating. They can communicate in many subtle ways that we humans often don’t see or misinterpret.
If you ever have the chance, just sit quietly and watch a group of horses interact. Not only does it give you a wonderful zen feeling, but it is also pretty interesting, and you can learn a lot.
Has anyone ever done this? How did you find the experience? I would love to hear about it.
Do horses mate for life? What do you think about it? Let us know in the comments!
- 1. Equine learning in a wider context-Opportunities for integrative pluralism [Internet]. Research Gate. Behavioural Processes; [cited 2022 Sep 30]. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/6412843_Equine_learning_in_a_wider_context-Opportunities_for_integrative_pluralism
- 2. Tips on housing horses | nidirect [Internet]. www.nidirect.gov.uk. 2015 [cited 2022 Sep 30]. Available from: http://nidirect.gov.uk/articles/tips-housing-horses#:~:text=Horses%20are%20herd%20animals%20and
- 3. Isl MA 131 CSH, Us N 28531 P 252 728-2250 C. Horse Behaviors – Cape Lookout National Seashore (U.S. National Park Service) [Internet]. www.nps.gov. [cited 2022 Sep 30]. Available from: https://www.nps.gov/calo/learn/nature/horse-behaviors.htm
- 4. Stallion – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics [Internet]. www.sciencedirect.com. [cited 2022 Sep 30]. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/stallion
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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