|Every animal species has particular environmental requirements that are essential for its welfare, and when these so-called “basic needs” are not fulfilled, the animals suffer. The basic needs of horses have been claimed to be social contact, social companionship, free movement and access to roughage. To assess whether horses suffer when one or more of the four proposed basic needs are restricted, we examined several studies (n = 38) that reported behavioural and physiological reactions to these restrictions. We assigned the studies according to the four types of responses investigated: (a) Stress, (b) Active, (c) Passive, and (d) Abnormal Behaviour. Furthermore, the number of studies indicating that horses reacted to the restrictions were compared with the number of studies reporting no reaction. The limited number of studies available on single management restrictions did not allow conclusions to be drawn on the effect of each restriction separately, especially in the case of social companionship. However, when combinations of social contact, free movement and access to roughage were restricted, many of the horses had developed responses consistent with suffering. Passive Responses, indicating acute suffering, and Abnormal Behaviour, indicating suffering currently or at some time in the past, were especially clearly demonstrated. This provides further evidence of the usefulness of assessing behavioural parameters in combination with physiological measurements when evaluating horse welfare. This meta-analysis of the literature confirms that it is justified to claim that social contact, free movement and access to roughage are basic needs in horses.