Zelda and Curly have been best friends since Zelda came to live with me back in 2014. They groomed each other, they hung out in the same stall (in an open barn) and they generally enjoyed each other’s company. When I broke my ankle last September, I moved Zelda to a full-care barn as I knew I couldn’t do self-care over the winter and I wanted to have access to an indoor so I could start riding as I recovered without worrying about footing. Curly moved to a small barn in my town where she lived by herself.
While from my perspective, Zelda’s new barn felt like she was living at a spa (huge stalls, free choice hay, gorgeous indoor, great care), it was a big change for her. Going from 24/7 turnout to 6 hours a day was hard. She was anxious about the change in circumstances. It really tugged at my heartstrings that she was so glad to see me when I came out to visit.
As the winter waned, Zelda tried to tell me that she needed to go back and live with Curly. She can be food aggressive and it was hard for her to not get upset when new horses were put in the stall next to hers, or in the adjoining paddock. A 1400 pound horse having a tantrum is not a pretty sight. She would be good 99% of the time, but could be difficult to lead occasionally. I worried that she would either hurt someone or injure herself. It was time to go back to a quieter life where she could be out all the time with the same horse.
Two weeks ago, Zelda moved back in with Curly. They are living at a barn less than 10 minutes from my house (yay!) with a run in shed and two big fields. Not knowing how she would behave after being separated from Curly for five months, we re-introduced them over the fence. After some initial squealing the two settled down. It’s interesting to watch them because their reactions mirrored each other’s. We left them like this for the rest of the day, fed them separately and then put them out together. We had 10 tense seconds where some feet flew and then the settled down and started eating hay next to each other.
Horses very established hierarchies and Zelda has always been the bossy one; Curly is the accommodating one. When Zelda tells her to move, she moves. Then she inches her way back to see if Zelda is eating something more interesting. Two weeks in, Zelda has gotten better about sharing again. We still feed them grain on separate sides of the barn, but they share their hay without issues (well, maybe not the alfalfa) and are always together.
What makes me happy is that Zelda looks relaxed. He eye is soft and, while she always comes over to greet me when I arrive, she no longer looks anxious about my absence. I haven’t been able to ride since she moved, but spring is happening and the new barn is right on a trail system that I know well. I’m sure we’ll be out there soon.
How do your horses prefer to live? In a barn with stalls or out all the time. One thing I noticed at the full care barn is how many of the horses really liked their time inside. They were waiting by the gate wanting to come back in. I don’t know if it’s because the paddocks were small, so not as interesting, or because they liked their 12’x14′ home with free choice hay and an automatic waterer.