Acclimating A New Horse Into Your Herd

New horse in the pasture

So you’ve finally got that third, fourth or even fifth horse that you’ve wanted to complete your backyard herd.  Now what do you do to get your new gelding or mare acclimated into his or her new companions – how do you keep everybody safe and happy and make the transition as smooth as possible?

There are certain steps you should take before just throwing the “newbie” in with your herd –

Step 1 – Let the new horse become accustomed to his surroundings for a few days. Walk him around the barn and the pasture where he will be staying and let your other horses see him.  They will most likely come to the fence or stall door to get a better look, and if they want to sniff noses (and you feel safe), let them do so.  This is typical “getting to know you” horse behavior and will help in the transition.  Then lead your new horse into his stall or a well-fenced pen by himself, feed and water him, and let him relax into his new home.

 

Step 2 – Within the next two to three days, let the “newbie” go to turnout in his private pen or pasture (again making sure the fencing is strong and complete), and bring a horse from your herd to keep him company in an adjoining area.  Try to match your new mare or gelding with a mare or gelding of similar temperament. Let them sniff each other’s rumps, noses and private areas over the fence. They will often snort and blow and vocalize, and geldings tend to want to play through the fence by biting and mock fighting, but again this is normal behavior. You can do this for the next week or so, until you feel the two horses have bonded.

Step 3 – Your next step is to move the new horse by himself into a well-fenced pen or paddock next to the entire herd. What will happen is that often his new “friend” will introduce him into the herd hierarchy by showing the other horses that the new horse is okay to play with over the fence.  Horses are very gregarious creatures and curiosity will lead them to seek out the new horse to get to know him. Let this introductory phase continue for the next five to seven days until you think your new horse is ready to find his place in the herd.

Step 4 – Now comes the tricky part. When you are ready to put your “newbie” in with the herd, you might want to wait until everyone is quietly resting or munching on grass and let him into the pasture with the least amount of fanfare.It is imperative that you do not leave – if anything really bad is going to happen, it will happen now. Sometimes a particularly aggressive alpha mare or gelding will attack at this time.While extreme aggression doesn’t happen often, horses have been seriously injured and even killed trying to find their place in the herd. You will most likely witness some biting, minor kicking, and mock fighting while everyone jostles positions and establishes boundaries – again, all normal behavior.  Watch until everyone has settled down and then stay within hearing distance for the next few hours.By continuing observation of your herd, you will be able to tell when your “newbie” has found his place and you can then leave him on his own.

Sex Counts

You may have noticed that we talked about mares and geldings, not stallions or foals.

Stallions are usually kept out of a mare herd unless they are to be bred, and should never be in with a group of geldings. Their testosterone-driven natures make them extremely aggressive to other males.

Mares and geldings can often be kept together – they tend to find their own favored companions. The alpha mare usually leads the herd much as she does in the wild, and she will make sure everyone stays in their own place in the hierarchy.

Foals of either sex in a herd of mares or geldings learn the basics of horse etiquette – if they don’t follow the good manners of the other horses, the older horses will strongly admonish them.  Foals can be introduced to the herd much the same way as older horses – just be prepared for an older mare to become protective of a new foal much the same as she would a foal of her own.