How to introduce a new horse to the herd

Whether you’re moving your horse or getting a new one, adding to an existing herd can disturb the group dynamics and cause anxieties amongst the animals involved. To make the transition as easy as possible, for you and your horse, here is all you need to know about introducing a new horse to a herd.

Understanding the hierarchy of a herd

Horses will often establish a sort of social order to help safeguard the herd, maintain family groups, and determine priority access to food, water, and shelter. There have been many studies conducted to try and figure out the science behind a herd’s hierarchy, with some arguing it’s associated with age or the ability to protect the group in challenging situations while others believe it’s based on things like height, weight, gender or time within the herd.

New horses can experience tense encounters with the established herd while the pecking order is being redefined to make place for the new addition. This disturbance in social rankings can be the perfect moment for an ambitious young horse to challenge the social order while the more docile equines will need to fight for the rank that could be stolen from them, and this creates a possible risk of injury and stress.

Methods of introducing a horse to the herd

There are a few different ways to introduce a horse to an existing group, but there are some steps you can take for it to be done as safely as possible.

a horse in a stable

Not within touching distance

Some owners prefer to keep the new horse in adjacent stalls or paddock to the herd it will be joining. This way, they are within view of each other but not within touching distance. They might still try to strike or bite each other, so always be sure to check on your herd and look for any signs of injury and ensure the fencing between them is secure.

Add a middleman

If you’re able to and you decide to keep your new horse and the herd separate for a few days, why not move a middle-ranking, nonaggressive horse in with the newcomer? This way, the two are able to bond before the mass introduction and it might not be so daunting.

Put them straight together

Many owners choose to put the new horse straight into the same paddock as the others so that they are able to naturally and freely interact. When this is done, the horses might be hostile until they are comfortable with their new order. This might include signs of threat, some chasing, biting and kicking.

If you decide to do this, make sure your horses have plenty of room to get out of the way and be ready to reevaluate the situation if they are not able to live together safely.

Ensuring a safe environment

Regardless of the type of introduction chosen, make sure that the paddock is safe and secure before allowing them to meet. Check for hazards that your horses might encounter as they run or fight. If the footing is very icy or muddy you might want to hold off until conditions improve.

A safe and sturdy fence can help minimise the chance of a leg getting entangled and a spacious but clear area will allow room for escape and prevent any accidents from happening.

Walking around the stables or pasture will help you locate any possible hazards, like holes in the ground or nails protruding from wood.

Minimise the competition

By dispersing your herd’s food over a good distance, providing plenty of space around the water source, and making sure the shelter is large enough to accommodate all your horses, you’ll help minimise the competition over resources.

This could result in less fights between the individuals within the herd and ensure everyone receives the essentials they need.

Introduce them during daytime

Introducing while the sun is out can help any panicked horses see where they are running while you’ll be able to clearly observe how everyone is behaving or if there is a need to intervene.

Whatever you might decide to do with your herd’s new addition and the introduction, keeping a close eye on the herd members for signs of bites, bruises, lamenesses, sniffles, dull coats, lethargy or any other indications of illness or injury can help ensure veterinary care is given as soon as it’s needed.

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