Horse Care Tips

Meet Your Horse’s New Bestie (Companion Animals 101)

Horse and donkey
Written by Natalie Gasper

The Best Buddies for Your Lonely Equine

Horses are herd animals who love being around other horses. But what if your horse budget is a one-man-band situation? Not to worry. There are lots of non-horsey alternatives that make great friends.

While horses need companionship to be happy, you don’t necessarily need a second horse. Many animals, from donkeys and cows to goats and llamas, make great friends. If you have limited space or a small budget, a goat is a great choice. Take into account your horse’s personality, as one who is nervous may benefit from a calm animal like a cow. Finally, some companion animals, such as llamas and donkeys, offer secondary benefits like strong protective instincts.

Equine Behavior Basics

Horses live in herds for companionship and protection.

They need socialization to be happy and to have a chance to relax.

Horse Predators

Some common horse predators include bears, wolves, and cougars. In some areas, coyotes can also be a problem. Predators are one reason horses live in herds.

While some horses rest, others stay awake to keep watch.

Herd Mentality

There is a pecking order in every herd, starting with the stallion and lead mare and working down to the lowest-ranking member. Horses can change positions by challenging each other or asserting their dominance.

When colts are kicked out of the herd, positions open up that others can fight for. Being higher-ranked means access to better grazing locations and being the first to get water.

Horse Companions

While another horse is the most obvious choice, there are lots of other animals that work as companions. The most important thing is that your horse gets along with whichever animal you choose.

Do horses need companion animals?

Absolutely! Horses are very social beings that don’t do well when alone or isolated. If another horse isn’t feasible, find another animal (like a donkey or cow) to be your horse’s friend.

Can a horse be happy alone?

For short periods, like on a trail ride or at a horse show, yes. But horses need to have companionship with other animals to be truly happy and healthy.

Their herd instincts are strong and should be honored.

Horses and Other Equines

Most horses do great with other horses and are their preferred choice of companion.

Using another horse (or mini horse) as a companion can mean a second riding horse for you, or it can be a great opportunity to give a home to an older or unsound rescue horse.

How do you find a good companion for your horse?

If possible, try to do a week-long trial to see if the two get along. Also, consider their personalities. A young, fiery horse may do better with an older, calmer friend.

Are donkeys good companions for horses?

They sure are! Donkeys have been used as horse companions for hundreds of years.

They are gentle, calm, and can act as watch animals.

horse donkey

Source: Canva

Horses and Goats

If you’re limited on space, a smaller option like a goat can be a great choice.

Be aware that most goats are escape artists, so you may need to reinforce your fencing if you go this route.

Does a goat make a good companion for a horse?

They can. A goat is less expensive than a second horse and is good for pasture maintenance (goats love eating weeds).

Horses and goats have similar body language cues, so they can easily learn to get along.

What is the best breed of goat for a horse companion?

In general, any full-sized breed is better than a pygmy (unless you’re needing a companion for a mini).

Nubian goats are a good choice. They don’t require much maintenance and can live off grass.

Horse and goat

Source: Canva

Horses and Cows

Horses and cows as companions should come as no surprise, given that horses have been used to herd and rope cows for centuries.

Can you put horses and cows together?

Absolutely! Some horses may be afraid of cows at first, so take some time to desensitize and introduce them. Both are grazing herd animals, so they can form close bonds.

Is a cow a good companion for a horse?

Cows make fantastic companions for horses because of their calm, motherly natures. They’re great for nervous or easily frightened horses.

Bonus: They have different parasites, so you may find the health of your field improves once you add a cow or two.

Horses and cows

Source: Canva

Horses and Llamas or Alpacas

Llamas and alpacas might seem like an unusual choice, but they can work quite well with horses as they are gentle, playful, and curious creatures.

Llamas actually have strong protective instincts and will be placed with other livestock as guardian animals.

Is an alpaca a good horse companion?

Alpacas and horses can make great companions. They both love to graze!

Horse and alpaca

Source: Canva

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is a good companion for a donkey?

The best companion for a donkey is another donkey!

Donkeys are often used as companions for horses, however, as they are relatively similar (they are the same species—equine) and are generally less expensive than adding another horse to your herd.

Want to learn more? Check out this article!

Q: What is the strangest animal that has been a horse companion?

For us, it’s a camel–this animal definitely takes the cake for the strangest horse companion we’ve heard of.

Q: What kind of animals are used as companions for racehorses?

Goats are some of the most common animals found at the racetrack. They’re small enough to hang out in stalls and have a calming effect on horses.

Q: Do chickens spread diseases to horses?

Chickens can spread diseases to horses. The issue is usually chicken droppings, which can spread infections like botulism, Salmonella, and streptococcus. The transmission is rarely direct.

West Nile, for example, transfers if a mosquito feeds on an infected bird and then feeds from a horse. It’s best to keep poultry separate from your equines!

Parting Thoughts

Horses need companionship, but that can come in many forms. There are many options to choose from when finding the perfect companion animal for your horse.

Giving your horse a friend, whether it’s a cow, donkey, or goat, will bring a smile not only to him, but to you.

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About the author


Nancy loves retraining off the track Thoroughbreds and working with her dogs!