How to Introduce New Horses to Each Other
While getting a new horse and bringing it home can be fun and exciting, the reality is it can be quite stressful for the horse. Not only are they leaving their home but they’re also being integrated into a new herd and having to figure out the social dynamics. Establishing the hierarchy also usually comes with squealing, pawing, biting, kicking, and chasing, which can become dangerous.
How do you safely introduce a horse into a new herd? The best way I’ve found to introduce a horse into a new herd is to first put the new horse in a neighboring pasture. The horses can interact over the fence but will stay separated to reduce stress. You can also try putting a single well-mannered horse in with the new horse so that they have a friend once they are turned out with the herd. When it’s time to integrate the herd, turn the horse out and then leave the pasture so that you stay safe. Stay around and monitor to make sure things settle down before you leave.
It will take some time for the horses to work out the new social dynamics, so don’t be surprised if you see more bickering than usual or if it seems like the new horse gets picked on more than the other horses. In this article, I’m going to share all I know about making this as smooth a transition as possible. Keep reading!
Let Your New Horse See the Other Horses From a Distance
Moving to a new home can be stressful for a horse, so I like to let the new horse get comfortable before introducing them to the herd and building upon their anxiety. I treat the move as if I’m just taking the horse to a new stable to go look around. Once they step off the trailer, I’ll take the horse around the property and let them see the barn, the arena, the yard, and their future herd mates in the distance.
Once the new horse shows signs of relaxing, I’ll then turn the horse out in a paddock. You’ll need to determine whether you just want to turn the horse out in a paddock right next to the herd, or if you want to give the horse time to acclimate by themselves in an isolated paddock. This may also be determined by whether you want to quarantine your horse.
If a horse has traveled far, they can sometimes become sick. Quarantining your horse for up to a week after a long journey can ensure that your horse isn’t sick or contagious to others. Also, if your horse is coming from an auction yard or a sale barn, you don’t know where they have been or what they have been around. Quarantining for 30 days in this situation could potentially keep your other horses from catching an illness or disease.
If your horse is coming from 3 hours away or further, check out my article Horse Travel Made Easy: 20 Essential Travel Tips.
Introduce Your New Horse to a Buddy
Once your horse has settled in, another thing you can do to make the transition for them more gradual and easy to handle is to turn them out with one other companion horse from the larger herd. Ideally, this would be an easy-going horse that can get along fairly well with anyone. This will also give them a buddy once it’s time to turn out with the big herd.
You’ll get an opportunity to see how the new horse acts toward the other horse and whether the new horse will be a more dominant horse in the herd or not. This can let you know what to expect once you turn them out with the big herd.
Put Your New Horse in the Pasture Next to the Herd
Whether you’re planning to turn your horse out with another singular horse or with the whole herd, it’s always best to introduce the horses with a fence between them. Horses are funny animals that like to try and intimidate each other when first meeting. This will include a whole bunch of striking with the front paws, nipping, biting, and squealing.
Keeping a fence between the horses can decrease the chance of injury to horses on either side. It also lets the new horse walk away and take a break if they want to.
If it were me, I would start by introducing the new horse to a single horse over the fence that they will later be turned out with. From there, I would turn the two horses out next to the larger herd so the new horse could start assimilating.
How to Turn Your New Horse Out With the Herd
Turning your new horse out with other horses for the first time can be nerve-wracking. What’s going to happen? How will they respond? Will the other horses be nice? What if they get hurt? At this point, if you have introduced your horse over the fence and given them another buddy who is already assimilated into the herd, You’ve done what you can to minimize risk and to prepare your new horse. Here are some things to note for this big moment!
It’s important to be able to notice signs of stress and anxiety in your horse. Check out my article Signs a Horse is Anxious, Nervous, or Stressed.
Do Not Stay in the Pasture
At some point, the horses will just have to sort out their problems on their own. When first putting a new horse out with a herd, as soon as you have turned the horse loose, it’s best to exit the pasture. Horses can get pretty crazy, and if they’re chasing each other around, you don’t want to get caught in the middle of it. It’s best to stay at a safe distance and observe to make sure things don’t get too crazy.
Different Horses Will Respond Differently
Every horse is different. If you have a laid-back herd of horses, nothing may escalate past a few squeals and a few strikes. If you have a rowdy bunch, there may be chasing, herding, and kicking going on.
The new horse may be different as well. I had a horse that as soon as she was turned out with a new herd, she ran. It didn’t help when the other horses wanted to chase. That situation was much more stressful compared to the first time I turned my gelding POA pony out with a herd. He stood his ground and would not budge. If another horse tried to push him or chase him, he would end it with a kick. The other horses quickly lost interest in him.
Knowing your new horse, take time to mentally prepare yourself for how the situation may play out.
Designate a Good Amount of Time to Introduce the Horses
If you have the idea that you’ll turn your new horse out with the herd and give them 30 minutes to get to know each other, then you’ll go for a ride, unfortunately, you’re sadly mistaken. If you take your horse right out after just introducing them, and then turn them back out later, you’ll have the same thing all over again. Let the horses get to know each other and work out their quirks.
Give Things Time to Settle
Don’t be surprised if your new horse doesn’t seem like themselves for the next few weeks being turned out with the herd. Stress can cause horses to act differently. Even if all the horses seem to be getting along, the new horse may still be stressed about their new surroundings, routines, and herd. I’ve found that after a few weeks, horses tend to go back to their normal selves once they’ve settled in.
If your new horse is getting picked on more than usual, just know that this is part of the process. It will take some time for the new horse to get fully integrated into the herd, and until then, the horses will work to establish their pecking order.
If your horse is being run off of their hay or food, take the new horse out to feed them, just until they find their place in the herd.
Why is My New Horse Acting Differently?
It is common for people to buy a quiet well-behaved horse and then not know why the horse suddenly develops into a high-strung stressed-out horse once they bring it home. I touched on this in my previous point, but the main reason I see this happen is that the person doesn’t realize that the horse is going through so many different changes upon arriving at their new home.
Horses are prey animals; this means they like routine and they like staying in the same place in the same situation because they can know what to expect. When you take a horse away from its home and herd and add them to a new home or herd, it’s in its nature to be worried and stressed out, as they don’t know what to expect.
Upon your new horse arriving at the farm, give them at least a week to acclimate and learn the routines before trying to pull them out for work. Also, give them an adjustment period where you understand that negative and unwanted behavior may be stemming from stress and anxiety. That doesn’t mean to excuse the bad behavior, but at least understand where it’s coming from.
Have you just purchased your first horse? For some helpful tips, check out my article 50 Tips for New Horse Owners: Everything You Need to Know.