People change horses as often as they buy new cars these days. “New” horses are always coming and going. There are people who have had 5-7 horses in as many years. Many of these “new” horses already now how to behave in the herd. They know how to yield to the dominant horse, how to read posture, how to get out of the way, when to back down, and how to be a horse. Unfortunately, many of our pampered pets don’t know a whole lot about being a horse and this can get them into trouble when they most need it.Since you can’t ask the horse, it can be difficult to determine how your new horse is going to act with an established herd. So it’s better to be safe and control this introduction a bit than to deal with veterinary bills and frustration.
It’s always best to quarantine or keep a new horse separate from your established herd until you are sure that the new horse is free of disease or any other malady. When the horse is determined to be in good health, then it’s fine to begin the process of introducing him to the herd.
Many people that won’t let their horses be with another horse because they are afraid they’ll get hurt or that they are too valuable. Sure, getting hurt is always a risk –horses are some of the most “accident prone” animals on the planet. But, like our kids, we can’t always protect them from everything. No doubt they do cost a lot of money, but horses are herd animals and they value the companionship of another horse more than just about anything else.
There are numerous ways to introduce a new horse to the herd. Many people just throw the new guy out into the pasture and let him work it out with the established herd. This can work, horses have been doing this on their own for years before we ever got involved. This method works best if you have a lot of room for the horses to utilize their inherent herding traits just like they would in the wild. But, if you have a confined area where territory has been established, pecking order, friendships, etc. then you may want to intervene in order to control the success of the new horse in establishing himself in the herd.
If you just have one horse and you are bringing in another one, you’ll probably have two very relieved horses and your job won’t be too big. Horses are herd animals and it takes more than one to be a herd — it’s really not a fair deal to keep a solitary horse. Many times you’ll be surprised that if you throw the new guy out with the others that he’ll go stand by himself and wait until he is invited in by the dominant horse.
However, if you have one horse to integrate with many others (which is more likely) then you may have some issues. It’s likely that the resident horses are going to set the tone for behavior. Horses can quickly determine where they fit into the dominance “food chain” on their own. They know their station in life, but they are also always trying to improve their status. Horses have nothing but time out in the pasture — they do this all day with other horses; flicking their heads, displaying dominant posture, and even kicking and biting when they feel like it’s necessary to reinforce their position in the herd. Leaders get used to leading. Expect that a horse who was dominant in a herd that he last came from is going to try to regain this status with the new herd.
Spoiled horses or horses that haven’t had much horse to horse interaction but have had a lot of horse to human interaction may not know how to behave in the herd environment. It’s not your job to teach them, but it is your responsibility to have a horse that knows how to yield to another. By having them in the herd, they are forced to play by horse rules ? they have to yield to the dominant horse or risk the consequences. This is one of the best ways that I know of to teach a spoiled horse who is pushy with people how to be a horse.
The Common Problem Technique
Before attempting these techniques you should be able to interpret a horse’s attitude, posture, and have the skills to work in a round pen.
My favorite method of introducing a new horse to the herd is by giving all of the horses a common problem to work out. I usually put 3-4 horses into a round pen or arena and work them all at once with the new horse. If you only have one horse this is still a good exercise to introduce one horse to another.
The common problem that we are talking about is you. You need to ask them to do things that focus on you as the leader. Ask them to change directions, get them to draw in to you, hook on, move their feet like you want, etc. Make them all work. This gets their mind off their horse games that they play with each other and on to you. Look for signs that that herd is accepting the new horse. If you see any inappropriate behavior (i.e. kicking, biting, etc.) ask them all to work some more. If the behavior is good, reward them by letting them stand still.
It can take 2-3 sessions or it may take many more before your horse is fully integrated with the other horses. Don’t rush the introduction, it may appear that the horses get along pretty well after the first time but it’s probably a mistake to do this once and throw them all out together. Your time is well spent to do this right and not rush the introduction. Once you can see that the horses openly accept one another without any stress or pressure from you, it’s probably ok to put them out together.
Don’t get too involved. Let the horses determine what their herd standing will be. You may be able to do this for a few minutes while you have the focus of the herd, but you’re just wasting your time. The minute you leave, the horses are going to work this out on their own. Obviously, if a horse is getting the tar beat out of him by another you should get them working.
Remember to stay safe. Don’t insert yourself in the middle of the action. If you have to get “big” to keep the horses from running over you then do it.
This is where you are establishing your leadership role with the herd. If the horses are moving you out of the way, you probably shouldn’t be the one doing this exercise. And just in case, I always carry a rope or progress string that I can use to send energy to a horse that isn’t playing by the rules.
You may have more than one horse to integrate and that can be done with these techniques. After a while the “new guy” will be integrated into the herd because he’s been working with the other horses to problem solve.
You may have too many horses to do this in a round pen. It’s important to know that the more horses you work with the harder this is to do. It’s not a good idea to work more than 5-6 at a time with this technique in a confined area. Any more than that and it’s hard to keep up with all the action.
You can use an arena, small fenced area, and even a small pasture. A round pen is not important, what’s important is that you control the interaction of the horses.
The Buddy System — The Slow and Easy Technique
Assuming that you have separately fenced areas to keep horses safely separated, another technique that you can use is to put the new horse into a stall or paddock within site of the others. This way he can visit from a distance and watch the interaction of the other horses. The new horse will study the others behaviors and learn what the herd hierarchy is from a distance before he gets into the mix and the herd gets a chance to check him out too.
Pick one horse to introduce to the new guy to and concentrate on building a relationship between the two of them. Start by walking the new horse by the other horse just so that they can see each other. Stop and allow them to smell each other, but don’t let them interact at first. This is easier if you do the introduction on neutral territory. Go on a trail ride, take them to a friend’s house, work cattle, go to another barn/arena to ride, etc. There is nothing like working together to bring two horses together in a common bond.
Eventually, you are going to put the two of them together in a fenced area. For the sake of safety and the ability to control the situation, you may still want to use some form of the “common problem” technique in order to freely introduce the two horses.
The Wide Open Spaces Technique
Provided you have a lot of unhindered space, you may be able to throw the new horse in with the established horse(s) and let him work it out with the established herd on his own.
Nothing new here — horses have been doing this on their own for years. A good rule of thumb would be 1 horse per acre of land. You need more space to allow for the horses to move, send horses out, invite horses in, etc.
You risk more kicks, bites, and other injuries with this method. But, your personal safety is less at risk.
Even if you decide that this is the way you want to go, it’s still a good idea to work the horses in order to get their mind off of the horse games with each other. If you can initially get the horses to focus on you, they will be more likely to quickly accept the new horse because of his cooperation with the others.
Many horses don’t know how to be horses. We have a group of mares that we use to institute herd behavior with our new horses. There’s nothing better than an established band of mares who will not tolerate spoiled behavior to teach a young horse how to behave. They learn about posture, yielding, respect, patience ? all of the things that you want the horse to understand with you as their leader. It doesn’t matter where they learn it. What’s important is that the horse does understand herd behavior and how to be a horse.
Your job is then easy? All you have to do is learn how to communicate with the horses to become their leader.
Set yourself up for success
Use common sense. With any of these techniques, you will have better results if you set yourself up for success:
When you feed, scatter the food around so that the horses don’t have to eat on top of each other. You’ll avoid a lot of accidents by spending just a little more time.
Make sure that you have shelter for all of your animals. If you don’t have enough protection then you’ll have some of them attempting to push others out into the weather.
Establish a good quarantine program so that you don’t introduce any disesase/sickness to your other horse(s). Stallions should not be introduced into a herd under any circumstances unless you know what you are doing. Young horses shouldn’t be introduced into a new herd until they are strong enough to fend for themselves. Sick, injured and/or old horses may be better off doing their own thing rather than making them have to deal with the fine points of herd behavior. You can introduce horses across a fence line, between stalls, on the trail, or working. There’s a lot to be gained in these particular cases by making sure that these horses have the ability to see the other horses and can visit from a distance without causing any harm or being hurt. A horse doesn’t necessarily have to be in the same fenced area as the others to be part of that herd.
Article by Tracker Outdoors