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The Sheepish Horse - Or Lonely No More
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The Sheepish Horse - Or Lonely No More

There are many circumstances that prevent horse-owners from owning their own herd of horses. Yet, it is common knowledge that horses need companionship. Whether it be purely financial, a land management issue, or any number of other issues, sometimes well-meaning horse owners must think outside the horse-box to appease their horse's need for companionship. We have all heard the stories of race and show horses with various companion animals such as donkeys, chickens, goats, and various other animals. These high strung horses live a fast paced life with an ever changing variety of horse companions in the next stall. They also live primarily in stalls with little turnout during their active season. Even the species difference of these companion animals is not enough to negate the good they do for the horses that bond with them. Once bonded, horses can form strong attachments to their companion regardless of it's species. In fact, a common saying, "to get your goat" comes from the nefarious practice of stealing the competition's companion goat before a race in order to upset the horse.

An economical option is to befriend a local livestock farmer. In early spring, many farmers have one or more bummer lambs or goats, orphaned calves, etc they are willing to give away for free or cheap. There is some initial intensive care required, in the form of bottle feeding, but like horses, these grazing animals are born ready to browse. The Internet is rife with recipes and instructions on taking care of these poor little abandoned babies. Most feed stores also sell replacement milk products and even creep feeds to help your horse's companion grow big and strong. Later in the spring, many farmers also cull their herds and have adult or weanlings available for purchase. If you develop a good relationship with a local farmer, you could have a steady income of meat animals as companions. Another benefit, besides economic and possibly meat, is that often these other species don't share the same internal parasites as horses. Therefore grazing is evened in the pasture and worming schedules can be reduced.

Here is my experience... Our Curly horse is, of necessity, an only horse due to my daughter's strong allergy to horses. For a full year she did not have a companion and although she did not exhibit terrible signs of stress, there were some covert signs of her unhappiness. I stubbornly insisted that her transformation from a ride-able although green mare to an unpredictable bronco was just poor training and luck. After a serious accident though, I had to re-evaluate all aspects of our relationship. With consistent handling restarted from the ground-up, she improved, but still remained unpredictably skittish. At my wits end after trying calming supplements as well, I decided to sell her or find an economical companion for her.

Coincidentally, my husband was approached to care for a bummer lamb (rejected by its mother and weakened by malnourishment). Since both are herd animals and grazers, this seemed to be a perfect match. After a short, but intensive period of strengthening nourishment, our lamb and horse were gently introduced to one another with each on a lead. First introductions were made across the fence and gradually, smells were exchanged and companionship was established. A small fence was even temporarily put inside the large stall so the two could bond, but not harm one another in confinement. I spent many hours in the spring closely supervising the pair of them grazing on picket lines before releasing them together in the pasture. It was a match made in heaven, the horse readily accepted and even protected the lamb while the lamb willingly approached the horse for comfort and protection.

After a short while, I began noticing that the mare was truly calmer in the presence of her companion. However, that observation didn't strike fully until tragedy struck. During an intense early summer pop-up thunderstorm, the lamb died. Our first indication that something was amiss was the mare's pacing and frantic grazing. For a few days, the mare remained alone again. Her quirky bad habits returned with a vengeance: she was more difficult to handle; she constantly paced and searched the horizon; and even her behavior in her stall overnight showed her distress. Without her companion lamb she was lost.

We acquired another lamb, this time a healthy ewe ready to be weaned. Although she was skittish around us humans, she and the mare developed an instant rapport. Over time, the mare's easy acceptance of us has helped tame the ewe. The ewe for her part has tamed the skittish lonely spirit of the mare. They are inseparable - crying out for one another even if just momentarily held apart. Each has taught the other behaviors that are obvious to a frequent observer to have come from the other: the mare can now gambol and frolic like a lamb while the lamb has adapted her adoptive mother's distinctive laying posture as well as playful head toss. There is no doubt these two are truly happy together.

When turned loose in the pasture, they carelessly graze sometimes half an acre apart. Yet, when someone approaches, they quickly join forces to answer any challenge. Although very different, and not most favored, our mare is quite happy to have become a sheepish horse. So when thinking of a companion for your lonely horse, don't discount those that don't whinny, sometime a "baa" isn't so baaaad!

 

Image is my own. See more at Benedict Catholic Creation for your coloring pleasure...

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