One-Horse Property?

I am in the process of relocating from Indiana to Pennsylvania. I planned to move my retired 21-year-old Quarter Horse gelding as soon as I could find a property with enough space to keep him at home. I was shocked to hear my realtor in Pennsylvania say that keeping a single horse is considered inhumane, and that you should have at least two horses. I don't agree, but would go along and have two horses if that's how things are done out East. The agent also advised me that some of the townships require a minimum amount of land for each horse. This means I might not be able to find an affordable place.

My question is: Why is it inhumane to have just one horse? In Indiana, my horse was fine at my parents' place with no other horses. Before that, we had my cousin's Shetland pony with him from time-to-time in the winter. He seems healthy and contented with or without company. If anything, I think he is happier without that pushy little pony.-- Andy

Amazing coincidence. Just last year the same issue came up when we were selling our home in Pennsylvania. We had a two-acre lot with a pasture and one-horse run-in stall, which all met township ordinances. I considered this arrangement an attractive selling feature. With no hesitation, an agent advised me that the one-horse property is no longer a humane option. "Horses are social animals," she said, "and they go nuts if kept alone."

Of course it is true that horses are social animals. For sure, established groups of horses which get along well do appear to us to derive considerable benefit from the company of their herdmates. A large percentage of those horses show signs of discontent upon isolation from herdmates or from a particular companion. But, it simply is not true that all single-kept horses "go nuts" or appear socially deprived. By all objective measures of health and behavior, a large majority of horses can do very well as an "only horse." As you noticed with your horse, some appear to do better alone than with another particular horse or horses. In fact, the argument could be defended that many grouped horses face greater challenges as a result of continuous, indiscriminant grouping and regrouping practices.

So, in my opinion, your logic and conclusions about your horse are correct. You know that he does well alone, maybe better than with certain equine companions.

Your question prompted me to make a few phone calls to township planners and administrative offices in Chester County, as well as to the Pennsylvania state organizations and officials involved in township planning. I learned that many townships do have ordinances relating to the keeping of horses on small acreage. Each that I talked with have a minimum acreage requirement, varying among townships from two to five acres for the first horse, with additional acreage for each additional horse. No one I spoke to has heard of the lonely horse issue in the context of planning or ordinances. I also called a trusted manager at a large regional real estate firm. He said he had never heard of this concept. So, hopefully the myth soon will fade. If any of our readers hear more about this concept, I would be grateful if you pass it along.


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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