Preparing Horses for a Companion’s Departure

A reader seeks advice for introducing a new companion to her horse after his pasturemate’s death.
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Preparing Horses for a Companion
A new companion horse can make the departure of an older pasture buddy less stressful. | Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Tsungam
Q. We have two geldings that have been retired together in the same pasture for 12 years and are very tightly bonded. The older one is in his mid-30s, but looks and acts like a much younger horse. The other one is only 22, but was retired for various injuries, and he’s been gradually failing. Winters have been hard on him, and this year he didn’t really pick up condition over the summer. In fact, he’s continued going downhill. We’ve decided it’s time to make a plan for putting him down before winter.

We’re thinking the old guy will be pretty stressed when his forever buddy leaves, so we have arranged to borrow a late teens gelding to be his companion. When and how would be best to introduce the new companion—before or after the 22-year-old departs?

We have two pastures with a laneway between them. The loaner could come now and stay across the laneway where they all could see each other. As soon as they seem to be getting along, the loaner could be moved over with the others, or we could wait until after our younger guy departs

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Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, is a certified applied animal behaviorist and the founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the author of numerous books and articles about horse behavior and management.

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