EquiSearch's Ask the Vet: Helping a Lonely Horse

A lonely horse can develop ulcers and become lame from the stress of pacing. Dr. Joyce Harman offers ways to combat loneliness in EquiSearch's Ask the Vet feature.
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A lonely horse can develop ulcers and become lame from the stress of pacing. Dr. Joyce Harman offers ways to combat loneliness in EquiSearch's Ask the Vet feature.
Lonely horses that seem stressed often benefit from a pasturemate. | Photo by Kate Lindon

Lonely horses that seem stressed often benefit from a pasturemate. | Photo by Kate Lindon

Question: My horse is alone right now and is walking along the fence line with the neighbors frequently, since there are two horses on their side. My neighbors are complaining that the area where she walks is getting to be just dirt, and when it rains it will wash away the fence. I highly doubt this will happen, but they are insisting I should do something about it. We are not ready to get another horse right now. Do you have any suggestions?

Answer: Your horse's behavior is common with a single horse and it tells me she is lonely. Horses are herd animals and most of them really appreciate company, even if it is not a horse (a goat, donkey or other small animal may work).

It is possible for the ground to wear down on your side of the fence as the rain washes down a narrow path. If the fence posts are set deeply into the ground, the fence will probably stay strong, however, if the posts are shallow, they can loosen. Depending on the fence laws in your state, and on who paid to put the fence up, your neighbor may have a legitimate reason to complain if the posts loosen.

In my mind, though, your horse's happiness is also important. Sometimes an herbal formula can help calm her. The homeopathic remedy Ignatia is very useful for separation anxiety, which is what your horse is experiencing since she misses the company of other horses. This can be given at a dose of 6-8 tablets once a day for 3 days, then periodically if she needs more.

Another treatment could be to add some Bach Flowers, which are gentle remedies that help with emotional states. They can be purchased at many health food stores, sometimes under different brand names, but if you ask for Bach Flowers, the people at the store will know what you mean. Books are available that explain about these remedies, such as Bach Flower Remedies for Animals by Helen Graham and Gregory Vlamis. Bach Flowers to consider here are Agrimony (restless and unsettled), Vervain (hyperactive and bored) or Wild Oat (bored, wants to do things). Add 10 drops to her water bucket or tub each time you fill it. Some horses are so lonely, though, that just giving remedies will not work.

Another issue to be concerned about here is the wear and tear on her legs. As she paces up and down the fence, turning a sharp corner at either end of the paddock, she is constantly twisting her joints. Over time this can cause lameness. Some of these types of lamenesses can be difficult to treat, especially if she continues to walk the fence. Ringbone could result from the strains placed on the ligaments as she turns. Ringbone comes from calcium laid down around joints that are chronically stressed.

And finally, horses under chronic stress and loneliness can develop ulcers. Common symptoms can be loss of appetite, poor hair coat, grumpy attitude and poor weight. Some horses with ulcers have few symptoms except perhaps the bad attitude or a reluctance to work.

It is important to take all aspects of the horse's environment into consideration when evaluating any problems you are having.

Dr. Joyce Harman is a veterinarian and respected saddle-fitting expert certified in veterinary acupuncture and veterinary chiropractic; she is also trained in homeopathy and herbal medicine. Her Harmany Equine Clinic is in northern Virginia.

Do you have a veterinary question for Dr. Harman? Send it to asktheexperts@equinetwork.com. Check back for her answers on EquiSearch.com.

Have you had a similar experience with your horse? Chat about how you handled it in the EquiSearch Forum.