Horses are evolutionarily designed to live in herds. This gives them the best chance of surviving as long as possible in the wild.
Attentive herd animals warn and defend each other. Therefore, predators and attackers can only approach horses with difficulty and run the risk of sustaining injuries themselves.
Nevertheless, horses are often kept individually. The reason given for this is often that they are solitary animals. We will get to the bottom of the related questions, causes and effects for you.
In this article, you will learn why keeping horses in a herd is the more natural choice for them and what difficulties can arise when they are kept in stalls. We’ll also shed some light on why some horses are considered loners.
Are horses loners?
No, horses are not loners by nature. They feel comfortable and safer in a herd.
Moreover, there is no danger of loneliness, even if you only have a little time for your animal.
Species-appropriate communication and social behavior are only possible between horses.
What does the social behavior of horses look like?
The social behavior and communication between horses are strange and difficult to assess for many people at first.
Therefore, it is all the more important that you deal with it comprehensively.
Social behavior of horses in the wild
In the wild, horses live in herds. This gives them several advantages.
For one thing, they have communication partners. Very close friendships or relationships can develop between the animals, just as with humans.
They take care of each other, play together, cuddle and groom each other. In addition, they look out for each other.
In a herd that grazes together, several animals can pay attention to their surroundings. The faster they notice predators or other dangers.
The members of the herd warn each other, so that all can flee in time and thus escape the danger.
In a herd of horses there is a hierarchy. A leader is at the top and all other members have their own roles.
This hierarchy changes over time. Animals grow up or get older. Therefore, conflicts may arise at times to establish a new order.
However, this does not stop young stallions from joining together in “bachelor” herds. Stallions are usually the protectors of the herd.
Accordingly, they can become very aggressive toward perceived attackers or competitors.
Nevertheless, they also seek social contact.
Social behavior of horses kept by humans
When horses are kept by humans, there are usually no fixed herds.
As a protection against attackers or predators, this is not necessary for survival because of fences.
In addition, the majority of horses are kept in stalls, so direct contact is avoided for safety reasons.
If the animals already grow up in such a way that, apart from visual contact and the smell of other horses, they can only interact with conspecifics in a regulated way during rides, this is disadvantageous.
They are then like people who have never learned to speak the language or interpret social interactions correctly.
On the one hand, this can lead to them bullying other animals or being bullied themselves once they have the opportunity for direct contact with conspecifics.
They misinterpret communication and therefore become insecure. Imprinting, habituation and the type of herd play crucial roles.
What happens when you keep a horse alone?
That varies from individual to individual. For some horses, visual contact and interaction in the paddock or on a trail ride is perfectly sufficient.
They may even feel more comfortable being kept alone. However, these are absolute exceptions.
Others suffer immensely when they have no social contact with conspecifics. They are prone to stress, nervousness and behavioral problems.
If your horse prefers to be alone or is obviously stressed by conspecifics, there can be various causes behind this. Among them:
lack of imprinting and socialization
health problems such as pain
unfavorable composition of the group
not enough space for evasion
too little patience in getting used to each other
In the beginning, for example, it can make sense to put horses in separate paddocks. Here they have each other in view, but can avoid each other and be undisturbed by each other.
This is the best, safest and quickest way to find out whether the animals get along.
The same applies to neighbors in the box. The horses should get along well. Otherwise, the stay in the stable is for them prolonged stress, which is detrimental to health.
If your horse has lived very isolated for a long time, a lot of patience is required to get it used to conspecifics (again).
It needs distance, wide open spaces to escape to and the right company.
The latter is a question of character. For example, some old horses thrive when they are in a younger group. Others, however, are stressed by younger animals.
Some like the calmer nature of geldings very much, while others want to be more actively socialized.
Can horses be kept with other animals as an alternative?
Horses are social animals that can be socialized well with other species. Possible candidates are:
Llamas and alpacas
Donkeys in particular have a calming and relaxing effect on horses and are therefore primarily suitable for very nervous and skittish animals.
However, as with other horses, prior habituation is necessary in any case.
Social life of horses: Humans are no substitute
Even if you keep your horse busy very often and for a long time, spend a lot of time with him and create nice activities, you cannot replace the interaction with conspecifics.
Often it is the animals that prove to be most affectionate that suffer from loneliness and need help interacting with other horses.
If you feel overwhelmed by this, calling in an experienced and competent trainer makes sense.
My name is Mark and the senior editor
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