Preparing Horses for a Companion's Departure
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. Do you have any suggestions for how to do this as smoothly as possible?

Claudia, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania

A. How nice to be planning ahead when there’s time to carefully consider your options. It sounds like you have a great plan. In most instances, with horses that buddy up like that, as soon as one buddy leaves they tend to buddy up right away with another horse in the herd or that comes along. So it should work very well to have the new companion on-site or ready to arrive. Then, as soon as old buddy leaves, you can introduce the new companion.

The introduction of a new pasturemate usually seems to serve as just enough distraction (usually positive) from any apparent concern over the old buddy’s departure. In your case, having the new companion in a nearby pasture won’t likely upset your guys. Having the new companion on-site and ready to move in with your old guy in his pasture sounds even better.

Another comment that I like to share with folks preparing for one horse’s departure is that not all horses seem to be upset when a best buddy leaves. So if a new companion is not readily available, it’s not always as stressful for the remaining horses as we might think. And if they are upset, maybe we just don’t recognize it.