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  • Writer's pictureLouise Stobbs

The 3 Fs - Friends

Horses need other horses. Horses have evolved for thousands of years to live in herds. There is safety in numbers, a lone horse is a dead horse, so keeping a horse isolated is going to cause stress even if outwardly the horse seems to be coping.

We now have studies showing that horses develop close, social bonds with others which are really important to them. The closer you can get to providing a stable “herd” for your horse the better. We often just shove horses together and they don’t really get a choice, this can cause all sorts of issues, especially if there isn’t enough space or food to go around. A lot of aggressive behaviours are actually resource guarding.

Individual turnout is unfortunately common practice but you are taking away a huge, enriching part of your horse’s life if you don’t allow them to socialise with other horses. While I appreciate horses are expensive and you worry about them getting hurt, it is not fair to keep a horse in isolation for human convenience. We already control every aspect of their lives, let them have their friends and down time without you. Having horses on the other side of the fence that they can’t touch isn’t the same.

There are a lot of worries about separation anxiety, but the answer isn’t to keep the horse isolated, what a miserable life. Horses that feel safe and settled in their environment are much more likely to be trainable. While attachments may feel inconvenient for us, actually giving your horse the opportunity to form those bonds can make a huge difference to their quality of life. 🐎

We have two very settled herds at our yard, when new horses come it can often be the first time they have lived in an environment like this and they can show some anxiety at coming in and leaving their new herd. We work through this by keeping sessions short, calm and positive for the horse, not shutting them away until they “give up”. The more they realise coming in can be a positive experience and they always get to go back to their friends afterwards, the calmer they become. 😴

There can be a temptation to work the horse into the ground until they’re quiet but if your horse just has a stressful experience with you every time he comes in, the separation anxiety is not going to improve.

If you are in a situation where you are having to keep your horse stabled for any length of time there are a few things you can do to try and meet their socialisation needs:

🐴 Make sure they can see other horses from their stable, if you can have friends next door and they can see each other through the bars even better

🐴 Turn your horse out in the arena with a friend so they can at least have that time to socialise together

🐴 Take your horse to see their friends so they can groom if they wish, when I had to stable mine I used to take them to groom over the door every day

🐴 Take your horse for hand walks with a friend

It is such a shame that so many horses are living lonely lives for fear of them being injured. While accidents can always happen, the great thing is that with new horses introduced slowly, in settled herds who are having their needs met, you rarely see that sort of aggressive behaviour. If you are having trouble you need to look at ways to improve the environment. Our horses play and have “discussions” all the time, hooves and teeth rarely make contact.

There is nothing I love more than watching our horses chill out and snooze together. 🥰 Let your horse have their friends, they’ll thank you for it.🐴

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