Horses That Are Bonded

Horses That Are Bonded

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

Q. I have two horses in my stable yard. One is a 20-year-old retired ex-chaser gelding and the other is a 12-year-old Arab gelding. They have been together for seven years, six of which were spent living on a small yard with just the two of them and no other horses visible or visiting. Obviously they are very attached to one another, and as they are both retired from ridden work (the 12-year-old is chronically lame), there is never any need to separate them.

I'm worried about their dependency on one another and any future bereavement of the horse left behind. Should I consider bringing in a third horse sooner rather than later? Would it make any difference to the surviving horse if a new "friend" is introduced as early as possible?

I've read that uneven numbers aren't good due to pair bonding. Is this true? There isn't enough stabling/grazing for a fourth horse. Would a third horse be miserable without a pair bond?


A. Although there occasionally are behavior changes suggesting bereavement or separation difficulty in horses, most companion horses, even super buddies like yours, don't seem to grieve when one dies or leaves. If you're worried, you might test the waters by taking your 20-year-old for a ride some day. I predict that the 12-year-old will be fine from the git-go, or will settle down within a few hours. But if not, you can further evaluate and make preparations. If you decide you want to have a ready replacement companion, even a pony or donkey will do. You could wait until the time you need one, or you could introduce one now. In my experience, odd number groupings have not been overly problematic.

About the Author

Sue McDonnell, PhD, Certified AAB

Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, is a certified applied animal behaviorist and the founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the author of numerous books and articles about horse behavior and management.

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