Last Updated on February 25, 2022 by Allison Price
It can be stressful to bring home a horse you have just purchased. Your new horse will feel the stress twice as much as you. He’s the one who has been removed from all his familiar companions and surroundings.
You’re likely to be aware of the difficulties involved in moving and settling into a new place if you have ever moved from one house to another.
Consider this. You probably made every move you did voluntarily. The new horse didn’t have that option. He chose to stay where he was comfortable and felt safe among his established herdmates.
This article will discuss how to help your horse make friends and settle into his new environment.
Before He Comes
There are several things to consider before you bring a horse home. Debra L. Forthman (certified applied animal behaviorist) of Animal Harmony LLC in Atlanta, Georgia, says: “Ensure that all horses have received vaccines and have passed the negative Coggins tests.”
Horses are more vulnerable to infection than people when they are stressed. You don’t want to introduce horses that could be carrying an infectious disease to your horse(s), but you also want to ensure that they are well-protected from any new infectious organisms. Make sure all horses have been placed on the appropriate internal parasite control programme.
Consider what your horse will eat. Talk to the previous owner to find out how much hay or pasture the horse was receiving each day. Find out which brands, types, as well as the amounts of feeds (e.g., sweet feed, grains, pellets) that your horse has been receiving.
Jennifer Williams, MS, PhD, cofounder and president, Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society in College Station, Texas, says, “Ensure that you have at least one bag of this feed available when your horse arrives.”
You might consider changing the feed of your horses to the same type as the horses on your farm. It’s okay to make the transition slowly. Research has shown that abrupt changes in feed can cause colic. If your horse has a preference for legume hays like alfalfa, you should purchase some bales to add to his new feed.
Water is another concern. Horses consume seven to eight gallons of their body weight each day. Horses can be fussy about not drinking enough water. However, they won’t become dehydrated which could lead to impaction and colic. However, you can help your horse settle in by making sure he has access to clean, fresh water. Monitor him for signs and symptoms of dehydration.
Your horse might not be used to an automatic watering system in your pasture or stall. In this case, you may need to water the horse with water from a bucket or tub until he is comfortable.
Setting Up In
You will need to decide where you want to keep your horse before you bring him home. When choosing materials or a location, make sure you consider safety.
Williams says that while a fence made of barbed wire is dangerous, any fence could be considered unsafe if it’s in poor condition or is not high enough.
Bonnie Beaver, BS (DVM), MS, DSc(hon), Dipl., adds that it is not uncommon for horses to jump or crawl under fences to escape. ACVB, ACAW, Professor of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Also in College Station.
Horses are more healthy when they are outdoors. The ideal environment would be an outdoor area where they can be kept apart from other horses but not in isolation. It is better to place the horse in a stall that allows him to view his neighbors.
Hand walking the horse around the fenceline is a great idea if the horse will be kept in a pasture or paddock. Also, familiarize the horse with his water source and feeding station. After he’s been introduced to the home and is comfortable, you can let him go to explore it on his own.
You don’t need to guide the horse around a fenceline if he is stalled. However, it’s important to help the horse adjust to his surroundings. If the horse is not comfortable being stalled, or is restless you can leave him alone in his stall while still watching him. This will help him to feel more at ease in his surroundings. Once the horse feels secure in his stall, he will be able to access water and feed.
Before you meet your neighbors
Although the horse may survive if it is kept away from other horses, social animals such as horses thrive in groups. Your horse doesn’t have to live with a large group of horses in order to be happy. Horses can do well with as few as two horses.
There are some things you can do before you introduce the horse to your future herdmates. Consider the size of your pasture. First, consider the pasture. Is it big enough for an additional horse? A large number of horses in small pastures and paddocks can cause discontent and lead to disputes over space and feed. A good rule of thumb is to give horses about 1 acre of pasture.
Also, ensure that the fence is well maintained, easily visible, and that corners are not too tight that horses could get trapped. Make sure that there are no obstacles (e.g., holes or parked equipment) that could injure anxious horses while they compete for herd positions. Removing the hind shoes from all horses in the herd (including the newcomer) can help to reduce the risk of serious injury.
Before you introduce a horse, make sure to understand and study the operation of your existing horses.
It’s easy if you have only one horse. The herd dynamics can get more confusing if the group grows to three or more horses.
Williams says, “You will have a dominant horse and a horse of two or three in the number two place, some horses in middle, and one or two horses at the end.” This hierarchy isn’t necessarily rigid. The alpha horse often reigns supreme over all others. Horse number three might be dominant over horse number 5, but he could be submissive towards horse number four who in turn is submissive toward horse number 5.
Although geldings can be pastured together, it is possible for mares and geldings to become unruly in a mixed herd. This is because most domestic mares are not bred but are constantly cycling into and out of estrus.
Castration might render the geldings in the herd neutral, but they may show an outward sexual preference for the mares. However, depending on their personalities, they may be more aggressive towards other geldings. This is especially true if the castrated geldings have reached sexual maturity.
The new horse should be placed in a paddock adjacent to the pasture for the first few days so that all horses can see one another, but they won’t feel threatened.
Forthman says that horses should be allowed to observe one another at a distance for several days before crossing a fence.
Consider putting your new horse with one or two horses instead of just throwing him around amongst the whole herd. It is a good idea to be familiar with the hierarchy of command in your current herd. This will allow you to decide which horse should go first. It is not true that those at the bottom of the pecking order are the most aggressive. They can actually be more aggressive than the middle-ranking members. They are likely trying to dominate new members and climb the social ladder.
Beaver says, “A bossy horse is more likely to show this tendency until their place is established in the social hierarchy, regardless of whether it is the new horse or an existing member of the herd.”
It’s best to get a middle-ranking, non-aggressive horse into the paddock before you do anything else.
Remove all horses from the pasture where your horse will be living, and then let the two horses bond together in the pasture. This will allow the horse to explore the pasture with his friend. He will be less likely than the other horses to get into trouble if he has to learn the pasture boundaries before they are turned out.
If possible, slowly reintroduce the original herd members to your field, adding one or two each day. This will help reduce the amount of anxiety and conflict that can arise when a herd is changed. The newcomer will likely be subject to hazing by the members of the existing herd. As long as the clashing of teeth and hooves doesn’t escalate into a brawl, this is perfectly normal.
Throughout the clash, and the following weeks, be on the lookout for injuries, lameness, and lethargic or sulking members of the herd.
Also, ensure that the first combining event is done early in the morning so that the newcomer has enough daylight to adjust to his new environment. He will also be able easily to see trouble coming.
Williams says that horses are more likely to become agitated or aggressive after being fed. Williams suggests waiting until the horses have had their meals before making introductions.
You should also make sure you have time to observe and to help if necessary.
Beaver adds, “Also separating horses at night for a few days can give the owner some peace-of-mind that nothing is occurring while you sleep.”
While it may seem that peace will never reign again among your horses with the right planning, eventually the group will settle into a routine of pasture life with the new member as an associate in their revised pecking system. Your new horse will feel at home.
I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!