If your horse is coming off an injury, or can’t be turned out with other horses, he might be feeling a bit lonely. Take a look at some alternatives for equine companionship!

The best thing for most horses is to be turned out in a herd. But in some scenarios this may not be possible. If you have a small farm with limited space, a horse coming off an injury, or even an equine that lacks the social skills for getting along with other horses, you may find yourself seeking alternative companionship options for him.

Horses are herd animals, and do best in a herd with friends. For many, though, the “herd” extends beyond just horses. Let’s take a look at some other companionship options for your horse.

Miniature horses

These pint-sized packages of the horse world are adorable and feisty. It may seem a no-brainer to get a Miniature to help keep your horse company. And while this partnership typically goes well, there are a few things to take into consideration.

Some people mistakenly think that just because Miniatures are smaller, they are less expensive. While they will certainly eat less, in most other areas they cost just as much as a full-sized horse. They need their feet done on a regular schedule, and must have their teeth floated, necessary vaccines, and deworming. If you are boarding your Miniature, know that most barns do not give discounts for smaller horses.

In addition, due to their size and metabolism, this breed often requires special dietary considerations. Prone to founder and laminitis, a Miniature’s weight should be monitored and he should be kept away from lush pastures, or may require a grazing muzzle. Miniatures are also adept at escaping from enclosures that were not made with their smaller size in mind.

While they may be smaller than their full-sized counterparts, Miniatures like to run and play just as much as any other horse. Be watchful of how your horse interacts with his smaller friend – a well-placed kick or shove will do much more damage due to the size and strength difference.

Donkeys, mules and hinnies

Often forgotten as members of the equine family, donkeys, hinnies and mules can make excellent companionship for your horse. While they may require the same upkeep as a Miniature in terms of care, they tend to be a bit larger and sturdier, and more able to keep up with any antics or roughhousing.

Donkeys are also well-known for their protective instincts, keeping predators at bay.

If you are considering adding one of these animals to your herd, be sure to check out our story on the Donkey Sanctuary that appeared in EW V11I4. It is packed with plenty of information on caring for donkeys, hinnies and mules, as well how you can become a foster home to help out the Sanctuary.

Goats

We’ve all heard stories of racehorses that travel around with goat companions to keep them company. Popular around the racetrack, goats can be a good choice for helping to keep your equine company.

Goats also come with the bonus that they love to help out, and will eat many of the weeds in and around your pastures that your horses won’t touch, keeping unwanted plant growth at bay. They also typically do not share communicable diseases or parasites with equines.

The occasional downsides to having goats around usually become quickly obvious. These mischievous critters love to climb, jump, explore and play. They are known as escape artists, and you will either need an excellent goat-proof enclosure for them, or learn to accept that your goats are just going to be everywhere, and on everything. One must also taken into consideration the size difference between goats and horses – an overly playful horse could do considerable damage to a goat, given their strength and size difference.

Sheep

When I went to pick up my very first horse, he was being kept out with a large flock of sheep. Acting as their protector, he seemed to get along quite well with them, but I’m not sure the situation was overly fulfilling in terms of companionship. Sheep are typically not very social or playful. There is also the size difference to keep in mind, and sheep will require some upkeep when it comes to their wool.

Llamas and alpacas

A few years ago, I boarded at a facility that adopted an orphaned llama. While many farms do indeed keep llamas or alpacas in with their horses (and this can be very handy since they are guardian animals with good protective instincts), I’m a little biased on the subject. This particular llama terrified all the horses on the farm. The scent and appearance of llamas can be a bit off-putting for many horses, and I have heard countless reports of horses not wanting anything to do with their long-necked companions.

Llamas and alpacas will require some upkeep in terms of their wool, and will need their feet trimmed regularly, along with appropriate vaccines.

Cattle

It is easy to assume that horses would naturally get along with cattle – especially when you picture western ranges. However, cattle are typically not the best choice when it comes to companions for equines. Many horses have a tendency to bully these animals, and cattle and horses also require fairly different diets that can be difficult to safely maintain in a mixed herd environment.

At the end of the day, there are always exceptions in the animal kingdom – animals you never thought would get along do, while animals you were certain would make good friends may not! If you know your horse well and do your research, you should be able to come up with some good options for alternative company for your horse. Miniatures, donkeys, mules and goats will typically be your best options, but you just never know who your horse might get along with!

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