Mirror KB Appaloosa Horse Ranch & Photography Logo, professional equine photography and online gifts for the equestrian

Mirror KB Articles
about horses & horse care

by Kim and Kari Baker

Introducing a horse to his new home

Mirror KB Equine Article Series

Bringing Home a New Horse

Kim and Kari Baker

Bringing home a newly purchased horse can be a stressful event for both you and the horse, particularly for the horse.  While you may feel a certain amount of stress, your new horse will be experiencing it two-fold.  After all, he’s the one that has been uprooted from all familiar surroundings and companions.

If you’ve ever relocated from one home to another, be it due to a new job, furthering your schooling, or simply chasing your dreams, you’re probably very much aware of how taxing it is to move and get settled into a new home.

But consider this.  Any move that you may have made, you probably did so voluntarily. Your new horse did not have this option.  Had it been up to him, odds are he would have chosen to stay right where he was.  A place he was accustomed to, and where he already felt secure among established herd mates.

Prior to bringing the new horse home

Before bringing a new horse home with you there are several things you must consider. “Be sure that all horses are up to date on vaccinations and are current with negative Coggins test,” says certified applied animal behaviorist, Debra L. Forthman Ph.D., President of Animal Behavior Consulting Services, Inc., of Douglasville, GA.

Like people, horses are much more susceptible to infectious disease when under stress.  While you don’t want to introduce a new horse that may be harboring an infectious disease to the horse(s) you already have, you likewise want to make sure that the newcomer is well protected against any infectious organisms that his new environment may contain. Also be sure that all horses involved have been exposed to a well-rounded and regular internal parasite program.

Another thing to consider before bringing your new horse home is what are you going to feed it? Talk to the previous owner and find out how much feed, hay and/or pasture turnout the horse has been getting on a daily basis.

While speaking of feed, learn what brands and types of feeds, e.g. pellets, grains or sweet feed, the horse has been eating. “Make sure to have a bag or two of this feed on hand when your new horse arrives,” says Jennifer Williams Ph.D., President of Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society in Alvin, TX.

If your existing horse(s) is on a completely different type of feed you may want to eventually change your new horse over to what they’re eating, but switch over gradually. Sudden changes in feed may lead to problems such as colic.

Like wise, if the horse is used to eating legume hays like Alfalfa, rather than the Timothy grass hay that you may already have on hand be sure to purchase a few bales of Alfalfa.

Further more, water is also a real concern.  While the horse must consume two percent of its body weight in foodstuffs per day, he’ll actually require a bit more than that in fresh water.  In fact, the average horse will need to drink at least seven gallons, or five percent of its body weight in water.

Horses are often fussy about drinking unfamiliar water, but as a rule they won’t go to the point of becoming dehydrated.  Nonetheless it may help your new horse settle in more comfortably if the water source you provide is kept fresh. If your stall is equipped with an automatic water system that the horse is unaccustomed to, it may be necessary to provide water in a clean bucket or plastic gardener’s basket until the horse has effectively settled.

Settling in

When bringing home a new horse one of the first concerns you’ll need to face is where to put the horse.  The most important factor in answering this question is where will the horse be the safest.

“While a barbed wire fence is obviously dangerous, any fence can be unsafe if it is in poor repair or not of adequate height,” says Williams.

“It’s also not unusual for new horses to try to escape by jumping or crawling under fences,” adds Bonnie Beaver, BS, DVM, MS, DACVB, of Texas A&M University.

Due to the fact that horses are healthier, both physically and mentally, when kept outdoors, the ideal situation would be a pasture or other outdoor enclosure where the newcomer can be housed safely apart from other horses yet where he is not entirely kept in solitary confinement. 

However, if you must put the horse in a stall, one that will allow him to see his neighbors is preferable to a stall that is completely closed up with solid walls and doors.

No matter which location you choose to house your new horse, getting him settled into his new digs with as little anxiety on his part as possible is your main objective.

If the horse is going to be kept in an outside paddock or pasture it’s a good idea to hand walk the horse around the fence line as well as familiarize him to his feeding station and source of water. Once he has been introduced to his home and he is relatively relaxed, you can turn him loose to allow him to get to know it better on his own.

If the horse is to be housed in a stall you won’t have to lead him around a fence line, but all the same, you’ll still want to ease the newcomer into his new surroundings.

This can be accomplished by putting the horse in the stall for a brief period of time then taking him out to walk him around before returning him again to the stall. Leave him alone a few minutes to snatch a few mouthfuls of hay and move around in the stall then once more take him out of the stall and lead him around, after which he is placed back in the stall.  By repeating this several times he’ll become less and less restless.  Each time he is put back into the stall he’ll feel a familiarity with it, realizing that he’s been there before.  In fact, in just a matter of a few repetitions, that of leaving then returning to the stall, the horse will begin to make a connection with the stall as a place of security, where feed and water is readily available to him.

Preparing for Introductions

While the new horse will survive if kept apart from other horses, as social animals, horses do their best in herd situations. Therefore, if reasonably feasible, you might want to consider acquainting him to other horses once he has comfortably settled into his new home.

However, this doesn’t mean that your horse will need to run with a large herd of horses to be happy. On the contrary, horses manage quite well within herds as small as two.

Before introducing the new horse to future herd mates, there are a few things you can do to plan for the event.  First of all, consider the pasture. Is it large enough to accommodate an additional horse? Too many horses kept in too small a pasture or paddock will breed discontent, and is likely to fuel vicious battles over available space and feed.  Therefore, a good rule of thumb is to provide about one acre of pasture per horse.

Next be sure that the fence is in good repair, is easily seen, and that corners are not so tight that a horse could become trapped. Furthermore, be sure there is no obstacle, i.e. holes or parked farm equipment, which could cause injury to anxious horses as they vie for herd positions. You can also lessen the chance of serious injury as a result of horrific kicking matches, by removing the hind shoes of every horse in the herd, including the newcomer.

Finally, you should study and understand the workings of the existing herd you plan to introduce the new horse to.

If you only have one other horse then it’s quite simple, but as soon as the herd swells to three or more, the dynamics of the herd becomes increasingly confusing, and it can be very difficult to figure out who’s above who due to the complexity of hierarchy in larger herds.

“You’ll have a dominant horse, a horse or two in the number two position, some horses in the middle, and a horse or two at the end of the scale.  However, this hierarchy isn’t strict. Often the alpha horse is alpha over everyone. But, while horse number three may be dominate over horse number five, he may be submissive to horse number four who is in turn submissive to horse number five,” explains Williams.

While geldings and mares might be successfully pastured together, there is often an elevated risk of unrest within the ranks of a mixed herd.  This stems from the fact that throughout a good part of the year most domestic mares are kept open, thus regularly cycling in and out of estrus.

The geldings within the herd, while rendered neutral by castration, may not show outward sexual behavior toward the mares, but depending on their particular personalities they may exhibit a predilection to become aggressive with other geldings. This is particularly true if the geldings were castrated some time after sexual maturity.

On the other hand, some aggression usually will exist in single gender herds, but as a rule the skirmishes will be short-lived and generally insignificant in nature.

Initiating the Introductions

For the first few days the newcomer should be turned into a paddock that is adjacent to the pasture, where all of the horses can see each other, but where they will not feel challenged by one another. “Horses should have a period of several days to observe each other at a distance, then across a safe fence,” say Forthman.

Once the horses have become complacent, one horse can be placed into the paddock with the new horse.  This is where being very familiar with the chain of command of your existing herd will be of benefit, hence it will help you determine which horse should be introduced to the new guy first.

Know your horses well.  In other words, don’t assume that herd members who are on the bottom of the existing pecking order will be the least aggressive.  On the contrary, they are often times more aggressive than middle ranking members. This is probably due to their desire to dominate the new member, thus effectively climb the social ladder.

“A bossy horse, whether it’s the new horse or a member of the existing herd, is more apt to show that tendency until their place in the social order is established,” explains Beaver.

For this reason it’s probably a better idea to move a non-aggressive middle ranking horse into the paddock first.  This will allow the two horses to become acquainted with one another and hopefully bond.

At this point you can rotate other herd members into the paddock but another method would be to, if possible, remove all of the horses from the pasture, then put the two newly bonded horses into the pasture together.

Doing so will permit the new horse, in the company of his new pal, a chance to discover where pasture boundaries are.  If he is allowed to familiarize himself with the pasture before the rest of the horses are turned out, he will be less likely to run into serious trouble should he feel the need to flee from aggression.

Reintroduction of original herd members to the field should be done slowly, by adding one or two at a time every couple of days.  Throughout the clash of introductions, and for the next few weeks, keep a sharp eye out for injuries and lameness, as well as lethargic or sulking herd members.

With any introduction, the newcomer is apt to be put through a time of hazing from various members of the existing herd. This is normal and needs to be allowed to take place, that is as long as the clash of hooves and teeth don’t become all out brawls.

When dispatching a new horse into the herd, introductions should be made in a gradual manor, meaning launching the horses together only one or two at a time. This will help minimize some of the anxiety and brutal conflict that is sure to surface when a herd is altered.

Additionally, see to it that the event takes place early in the day so that not only will the newcomer have an adequate length of daylight to become adjusted to his new situation, but will also be able to easily see trouble coming.

“Since horses are more apt to be agitated and aggressive before being fed, I would wait until after the horses have eaten before making introductions,” says Williams

Likewise, be sure that you’ll have the entire day free to stick around and observe the proceedings so that if things get too hairy, you’ll be able to step in and referee the group if necessary.

“Also, separating the horses at night for a couple of days can give the owner some peace of mind that nothing is happening while you’re sleeping,” adds Beaver

Although it may seem like peace will never again reign among your horses, eventually the group will settle into a comfortable routine of pasture life, with the latest member an accepted associate within their newly revised pecking order.  And your new horse will truly be at home.

If you'd like to read more interesting articles click on the following drop down link: 

Choose which Article you want to ride down, then click on the Let's Ride button.

Mirror KB Ranch & Photography

914 Arabian Lane

Libby, MT 59923

FAX: (406) 293-2270

Phone: (406) 293-6586

Got questions? Contact us at: wranglers@mirrorkbranch.com


Trailhead | About Us | On the Trail | Raising an Orphan Filly | Tales of the Twin Wranglers
Training Philosophy | Photography | Promotional Photography

Gallery 1 | Gallery 2 | Gallery 3 | Gallery 4 | Gallery 5
  Gallery 6 | Gallery 7 | Gallery 8 | Gallery 9 | Gallery 10  | Gallery 11
Just Text Horse T-shirts | Just Text Mule T-shirts

Montana T-shirts and more | Clothes an' more with Robert Fuller

Design your own | Product Information

Equine Articles | Twin Wranglers | Ol' Bake

Equine Hangman | Product Order Form | Links
Our Privacy Policy
Send an E-greeting | order Greeting Cards

© Copyright 1998 Mirror KB. All Rights Reserved. Duplication of all photos or images, for any reason, without the expressed permission by us is strictly prohibited under the law.