Tips on housing horses

Horses should always be treated as individuals even when kept in large groups.

Socialisation and horses

Horses are herd animals and prefer to live in social groups. Ideally they should be socialised with members of their own species but, where this is not possible, other animals may be used to provide company. They also enjoy human company so, if kept on their own, they require more frequent human contact and supervision.

Donkeys have particular socialisation needs and can become ill if separated from a companion.

Horses should be treated as individuals

Horses should always be treated as individuals even when kept in large groups. When forming new groups care should be taken to minimise fighting and stress, particularly when horses are to be mixed together for the first time.

This risk can be reduced by increasing the space allowance or by penning the new animal close to the existing group for a short period and/or removing back shoes of all animals during the introduction period. The group should be closely monitored after a new animal has been introduced.

Horses living in groups

When living in groups, horses will develop a pecking order. It is important to be aware of bullying and care needs to be taken to make sure that all the horses are getting the feed and water they require.

Individuals in larger groups are likely to come across more competition for food, water, shelter and social position. Measures should be taken to identify individuals that are not coping well and to provide for those with higher maintenance needs.

Aggression and horses

Aggressive individuals may not be suitable for mixing in fields or communal barns. Incompatible individuals should be separated. These may include entire males (colts, stallions) and “rigs” (a stallion with un-descended testicles or a horse which has been incompletely castrated).

Mares heavily in foal or with foal at foot may need to be separated from other horses. Care should be taken to make sure the needs of these mares are adequately met.

As a general rule the more horses that are kept, the more time, effort and resources are needed to safeguard their welfare. Stallions have special requirements and may not be suitable for turnout with other horses. It is important that stallions receive adequate exercise and environmental stimulation.

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