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Do Horses Grieve when They Lose a Family Member or Companion?

“Grief can be a terrible weight for any creature to endure, and at the same time, it telegraphs to the world the power of a love once shared.” – Barbara J. King

If you’ve ever lost a horse to an illness or old age, you know what it’s like to say that final farewell and grieve the loss of your equine companion. During the grieving process you might feel a range of emotions, from sadness, to anger and loneliness. However, what happens when a horse loses a companion or someone they love? Do they feel they loss and if they do, how do they grieve?


Do Horses Know Their Companion Has Died?

One of the key questions people ask around horses and death is do horses know their companion has died? Unfortunately, the grieving processes of horses are very difficult to study as some exhibit signs of separation anxiety rather than, what we would consider to be, ‘loss’.

However, speaking from my own experience of working with horses for many years, I would say that horses do understand that something is wrong with their companion and something has changed. In fact, I would argue that horses understand a lot more than we think they do. I think horses do know when their companion has died, and they deal with that loss in particular ways.


You Must Let the Horse Process the Loss

If a horse’s companion has died, it is important to let the horse process that loss. Sometimes if the body of the horse is removed and never seen again, the remaining horse may show symptoms of separation anxiety and spend a lot of time searching for its companion – perhaps wondering where he/she has gone.

When a horse’s companion passes away, it is important to let the horse process the loss by allowing them to see the body. This gives the horse a chance to inspect their companion for themselves and take the time to realise that something is wrong.

Of course, this situation is very individualistic, and each horse will cope differently by being exposed to the body of their lost companion. Sometimes watching the grief of a horse can be upsetting for horse owners as they watch their horse come to terms with the loss, look fearful that their companion has passed away, and sometimes snort or become distressed. How you deal with this situation will depend on the characteristics of your horse and what you think would be most suitable for them.


How to Care for the Remaining Horse

Horses are herd animals and, as we’ve stated in 7 Ways to Keep a Horse Happy, they enjoy the company of other horses. When a horse’s companion has passed away it is worth carefully considering whether it’s fair to keep the remaining horse by itself or not. If you have other horses, it would definitely be beneficial for your horse to be introduced to them. You can find out all about introducing a horse to a new herd here.

If you do not own any other horses and it’s not possible for you to get another horse, then it is worth considering whether you have any other pets that could make good companions for your horse. It’s beneficial for horses to socialise, so if you can’t give your horse another horse companion, another animal such as donkeys, dogs, or cats, can be a good alternative.


Help Your Horse Regain Their Appetite

When a horse is grieving, they may go off their food for a while. This is not unusual. Just like humans lose their appetites while grieving, horses do to. However, it is important your horse eats to avoid becoming unwell.

Encourage your horse to eat and regain their appetite by spending time with him while he eats and encouraging him to eat by enticing him with treats. Your horse may just need a little encouragement to eat and keep himself nourished and healthy. If your horse is off food for longer than a few days and simply won’t eat anything, it is important you call your vet and request professional intervention.


Keep Your Horse Company

As I’ve mentioned previously, horses are herd animals and they love the company of other horses. However, when a horse’s companion dies he will be missing the company and companionship. So, be sure to spend as much time with your horse as you possibly can.

Take your horse out riding regularly, keep his mind active with daily challenges, and keep him busy with games in the pasture. If you cannot be with your horse for most of the day, you can hire someone you trust to keep him company and take him out on rides, or you can put the radio on in his stall. Horses love hearing human voices and, for those times you can’t be there with him, a radio will be a great support during the lonely moments in his day.


Groom Your Horse to Offer Comfort

A horse doesn’t just grieve the death of his companion, he also mourns the loss of physical touch and comfort that his companion provided. Support your horse and reduce his feelings of loneliness through grooming. Regularly grooming your horse is one of the best ways you can offer your horse comfort. Grooming your horse has numerous benefits and it will be greatly appreciated by your horse during his time of grieving.


Has Your Horse Lost a Companion?

Have you ever watched your horse grieve the loss of a companion? What was their grieving process like? Let us know in the comments below. Horse grief is sadly a rather unexplored subject and one that as horse owners, we should be very aware of.


Call Prime Stables Today

If you have any questions about horses and the grieving of a lost companion, call Prime Stables Ltd today. We would be more than happy to answer your questions.