Bringing a new horse home is often an exciting time, but introducing that horse to your herd can also be quite challenging and risky. Horses rely on the hierarchy of the herd for their security, social status, and safety. During the weeks following the introduction of a new horse, the herd must redefine their social rankings, leading to an increased risk of injury and stress for the newcomer as well as the established herd members. There are several steps you can take however, to help assure the transition is made safely and with minimum risk of injury.
- The first and perhaps the most important step to safely bringing a new horse into the fold is to know your herd’s dynamics. A clear understanding of which horses are the leaders and which are more submissive will help determine the steps that will lead to the safest outcome.
- Give your new horse a safe buddy before attempting a complete introduction to the herd. Consider housing them in side by side stalls for several days at first, allowing them to become acquainted with limited access.
- Removing hind shoes will lessen the risk of serious injury from possible aggressive behavior.
- Safeguard your paddocks to remove any potential dangers, including any tight spots where a horse can be blocked in by an aggressive pasture mate
- Next, place the new horse in a paddock with his buddy where they can see and perhaps smell the other horses, but without sharing a fence line. If a fence line must be shared, the use of a hot wire on the top rail may lessen the risk of injury.
- When sufficient introductions have been made from a distance, it’s time to place the new horse with his buddy into the pasture with the other horses. Scheduling the first few full introductions after feeding time will lessen the chance of aggression over food.
- Place widely separated hay piles (more than one per horse) to serve as a distraction during the first few days.
- Always assure the first paddock meetings occur during the day and don’t leave the horses unattended until you’re confident their relationships have been established.
Overall, being patient and implementing a series of small steps, while monitoring the horses closely, will help assure the best outcome for a safe and successful transition for your new horse.