Ask the Trainer: Introducing a new horse into the herd

Ask the Trainer: Introducing A New Horse
Location: New Jersey

What is the best way to introduce a gelding into the herd (3 other horses)? My horse was the alpha horse until he was injured and had to be separated for 6 mo. He has recuperated and now needs to go back with the other geldings. He still thinks he is the alpha horse. There was one new addition, added a couple of months ago, which my horse has never been with. When we turned them out it was not good. My horse is not mean but wants it known he is the alpha horse. The newcomer also thinks he should be the alpha horse. I can give you other additional info because I have had someone send me a trainer's advice I did not like.

I personally think the more socializing horses do, the happier and healthier they are mentally, physically, and emotionally. But at the same time if a "new" (in your case returning) horse is creating a stress or is stressed, being with the herd can cause a continual stress and anxiety.

Whenever introducing one horse into the herd I like to take the lead horse away from the herd and let the new horse and one of the "low man on the totem pole" horses from the herd get to know each other without the distraction or overconfidence from the rest of the herd. Once the first two horses get to know each other then I would add another "low man" from herd. I would keep doing this until eventually you have introduced all horses with the lead or dominant horse last. This way, if the lead horse challenges the "new" horse, the "new" horse has a few buddies already in the herd and will be able (if space if not an issue) find a balance to "hang out" without confrontation from the lead horse.

Below are some other things to keep in mind before re-introducing your horse.

Separating the sexes:
I typically keep my mares and geldings separate so that we don't have any "ego" issues with the geldings when the mares are cycling (which they tend to do at the same time).

Young and older horses:Generally the older the horse the more confident they are. The young horses are going to be like "little brothers" that are constantly testing the boundaries of where they fit into the herd. Do not be surprised if you see them physically reprimanding the youngsters for a few days until they sort out the pecking order.

Pasture size:
The size of the pasture should be plenty adequate for the number of horses you are planning on having turned out... There will always be one or two horses that typically prefer spending time away from the herd, and you would want to make sure there is plenty of room in their pasture that they can do so without being bothered by the rest of the group.

Depending on the quality and safety of your fencing and how much the horses respect it I would rather not have new horses messing around over the fence trying to meet their new neighbors...

More accidents and injuries have happened with horses kicking or trying to climb over fences when introduced to new horses... Although there are also plenty of horses that show up somewhere new and could care less about their neighbors... Arabians usually are very curious about life and wind up "inspecting" everything and anything new... Remember that even if your horses have been "okay" with mediocre or not horse friendly (such as barbed wire) fencing does not mean that the new horses will be just as okay or safe in it.

Feeding time:
Make sure if you are feeding in the pasture that you space out the piles of feed and always add one more extra pile than the number of horses eating. You don't want to have "warfare" at feeding time because the more confident horses are worried about getting enough feed and are constantly chasing off the less confident or "low man" horses. Battles at feeding time can cause numerous long term issues both physically and emotionally to the insecure horse being chased away.

Change in diet:
Also be sensitive to any sudden changes in diet with the new herd. If they have been kept in stalls all of their life and you suddenly change them to grazing 24/7 if their bodies are sensitive you could have health issues. You mentioned a few of the horses were older, I'd check every body's teeth to make sure they do not need any dental care so that when they transition from their old lifestyle to the new one they at least do not have any physical concerns.
The list can go on and on of things to keep in mind but above were a few basics.
Good Luck,
Samantha Harvey

1 comment:

  1. Great summary, Sam!

    Petra Christensen
    Parelli 2Star Junior Trainee Instructor
    Parelli Central


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