Horses live in packs in the wild – this is usually not the case when they are kept in stables. Here, animals are often even kept individually.
So what is the ideal form of keeping for horses: Herd or single?
In this article we will tell you everything about the social behavior of horses and give you the most important husbandry tips.
Are horses pack animals?
Horses are extremely social herd animals that greatly appreciate the presence of conspecifics.
Since horses are flight animals despite their considerable size, it is a natural instinct to always stay close to their herd so as not to offer potential enemies a target.
In the wild, a horse would be doomed to die on its own, so it will do everything it can to stay with its herd.
Can horses be kept alone?
No, a horse may not be kept alone. Keeping horses alone is a violation of the Animal Welfare Act – but only if the horse has to live permanently isolated from its conspecifics.
For example, it is allowed to keep your horse alone in a box as long as it has daily contact with other horses in the pasture.
In addition, your horse’s stall should be adjacent to at least one other stall where there is also a horse with which your animal gets along well.
Avoid at all costs putting two horses next to each other that do not get along. Otherwise, the animals will be subjected to enormous stress because they are crammed into a small space and cannot avoid each other. In extreme cases, one of the horses may kick the walls of the stall to create distance from the other horse and be seriously injured.
Box, open stable or rather year-round pasture?
There are different ways to keep your horse. Not every horse is equally suited to every type of housing, and each type of housing has its advantages and disadvantages.
The box keeping
If you keep your horse in a box, its range of movement is severely restricted. Horses are running animals and therefore have the natural urge to wander for several hours a day.
For this reason, keeping your horse in a box is cruel to animals, unless this form of keeping is absolutely necessary at times for reasons of illness.
However, if you offer your horse daily grazing for several hours and only put him in his stall for the night, then keeping him in a stall actually has a few advantages.
Your horse can snooze and sleep in peace without being scared away by another horse.
In addition, you always have a good overview of whether your horse is eating its food or not.
If a horse does not touch its hay or other feed, this is a clear alarm signal that should be clarified by a veterinarian!
The open stable
In an open stable your horse can move around much more than in a box and ideally has 24/7 contact with other horses.
With this type of housing, you must make sure that only horses that get along with each other are in the herd.
If a horse eats poorly, this is usually only noticed later in this type of husbandry, as every horse can help itself to the hay and it therefore becomes steadily less, regardless of whether a horse nibbles on it more or less.
The year-round pasture keeping
Year-round grazing is the most natural way of keeping horses.
Nevertheless, it is not suitable for every horse.
Due to the fact that your animal has unlimited grass at its disposal, the risk of colic and deer is very high, especially in spring.
If it rains a lot, the pasture is quickly turned into a mud paradise. The wet ground favors hoof rot. Therefore, it makes sense to move the horses to other pastures every now and then, so that the soil can recover and the animals stay healthy.
In winter, hay must always be fed!
Individual keeping vs. group keeping
Everything has its advantages and disadvantages, so it is also with the single or with the group attitude.
Here you will find a list of the most relevant advantages and disadvantages of each type of housing:
The advantages of single housing
You always have an overview of what and how much your horse eats.
Your horse has its peace and is not chased around by other horses.
The risk of injury is significantly lower.
Especially in case of illnesses, temporary single keeping is optimal, so that the horse can rest and recover.
The disadvantages of keeping a horse alone
The horse gets bored quickly and may develop behavioral problems (colping, weaving, etc.).
Your horse is exposed to enormous stress, as it cannot satisfy its social needs.
Depending on the age range or the period for which your horse is left alone, he may later become incompatible and unable to fit into the herd.
Your horse may be more difficult to manage and very fearful or aggressive due to his unhappiness.
The advantages of keeping horses in groups
Your horse is more balanced and can fully satisfy his social needs.
The risk of behavioral problems is significantly lower.
Your horse is easier to handle, as it is also confronted with rules and limits in its herd.
Your horse is less likely to get sick because it experiences little to no stress.
The disadvantages of keeping horses in groups
If the herd is improperly composed, bullying and injuries can occur.
If several horses are eating the same hay ration, you will quickly lose track of whether each horse is eating.
The risk of injury increases as fronts are constantly being settled within a herd.
Your horse may not want to leave the herd and may break away from the herd, e.g. during a walk.
FAQ – Frequently asked questions about the social behavior of horses
- can horses be lonely?
Yes, since horses are herd animals, they can be lonely.
You can recognize loneliness in a horse by the fact that it behaves conspicuously quiet and apathetic.
It can also be that the horse neighs a lot and thus calls for its fellow species. Loneliness can also manifest itself in aggressive behavior.
How long can a horse stand alone?
Ideally, your horse or pony should always be with at least one other horse.
However, if your horse is used to being alone, it is not a problem to occasionally leave the horse alone for an hour or two to go for a ride with the other horse.
However, it is important that you gradually get your horse used to being left alone to avoid anxiety attacks and resulting injuries.
- Can horses be loners?
It can happen that a horse does not want to be around other horses. This can be due to a lack of socialization in foal and young horse age.
In addition, there are horses that are particularly low in rank or handicapped, which are chased around and bullied by others. For these horses, too, it is sometimes better if they are separated from others.
Whether a complete isolation makes sense or whether a spatial separation by a fence or a box wall is sufficient, must be decided in each individual case.
My name is Mark and the senior editor
I take great pride in being the best possible author and giving you the knowledge that i have on all different types of animals!
I have spent a lifetime learning about pets and animals, and have worked in the pet and vet industry for over 20 years now!
The website will draw have authors who are vets, pet owners, and local pet breeders. All who will contribute their fantastic knowledge which in turn will be able to help you i hope.
There is a lot of information on the internet so it may be hard to know where exactly is the best place to start learning. But we will write articles that get straight to the point, and give you all the information that you need with no fluff!
If you have any questions please leave a comment on the article, and i will reply to you!