Buying a new horse is one of the most fun and exciting processes for horse owners. We look forward to working with our new animal and getting to know them. Unfortunately our current horses won’t be as excited at the prospect of a new pasture mate. When it comes time to introduce the strangers you may be a little nervous or unsure of how to do it safely.
Any horse owner knows that our equines have a special gift of being able to get themselves hurt. If you’ve been around horses at all and have seen them interact with one another you know that there are squabbles. These arguments among herd members are generally nothing to worry about but they can look quite vicious and occasionally a horse will be injured.
Let’s take a look at some techniques you can use to safely introduce new horses to an established herd.
Like any other horse-related activity, safety is absolutely important for both you and the new horse. Introductions can get a little chaotic and if you get in between the horses you can get seriously injured. When an introduction isn’t done safely, it isn’t uncommon for people to get run over, kicked or bitten by usually placid horses. Always be aware of your surroundings and use common sense. You may want to wear a helmet and have someone around just in case.
As for the horses, you can really only do so much to protect them physically. It is rare that there won’t be some biting, kicking and chasing. You may want to put breakaway halters on all the horses in case something happens and you need to catch them quickly. You can also put protective boots on the new horse if you’re worried about leg strains or other injuries. If you’re very worried, you may even have the hind shoes taken off your horses prior to introductions.
Aside from you and the horses, make sure your pasture or turnout area is safe as well! The area should have firm footing and be free of obstacles. If possible, there should be no corners in the pasture to prevent a horse from getting pinned and unable to get away. You can use some boards to cut off corners, especially if it’s a small area. The area in which in you do the introduction should be fairly large. Always do introductions in the daytime for obvious reasons and make sure you can stay around for the day to watch the horses and intervene if needed.
Introducing the Horses
One of the safest ways to introduce new horses is to house them separately for a few days but within sight and smell of each other. With the horses unable to physically contact one another, there is no chance of injury and they can start getting used to each other without actually being there. This technique allows the horses to watch one another and the new horse see what the pecking order is. After a certain amount of time you can choose a horse from your current herd and introduce him/her to the new horse. Start by walking them (with the help of another person), riding together or otherwise working them together. After the initial “sniff and squeal” you can put them into a pasture. Once they are bonded you may introduce the pair into the herd.
If you don’t want to wait this long and you have fairly docile horses, you can first remove all horses from the pasture and put the new horse in first. Allow him to get to know the lay of the land and find out where the water is. Then, one by one, introduce the other horses. This technique is safer for you but also opens up the risk of injury more to the horse. Keep in mind that either way, horses will establish a pecking order. It may not happen in front of you but it will happen. Also, spoiled horses or those who haven’t been kept in a herd environment will have a harder time as they don’t understand proper behavior and manners.
Expect to see some bites and scrapes but be patient. Unless there is a serious injury there is no reason to worry. The first few days and weeks might be a little crazy but soon enough you should have a happy herd with a new member. Photo Credit: Hunter Desportes
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