A new horse in the paddock

It doesn’t take long for a newcomer to become an accepted member of the herd. Kim Dyson discusses ways of easing the process.

Getting a new horse is an exciting event. But introducing the newcomer can result in some tension within your existing herd, even if it’s only two animals. Horses are herd creatures, and when several live together they quickly develop a hierarchy with leaders and followers.

Invariably, there will be a leader who has a favourite sidekick, some followers and, at the bottom of the ladder, the underdog.
Before you bring your new horse home, check your paddocks and stables for any dangerous places or objects the horse might encounter as it tries to get away from the others. If it’s muddy underfoot, hold off until conditions improve.

Keep the new horse separate from the others until you are sure it’s disease-free and healthy.

I don’t turn new horses out with head collars on. But I sometimes put a head collar on the herd leader as a precaution. If the situation gets out of hand, I can then catch it with ease.

If you have one or two horses, they should accept the newcomer quickly. Initially, there may be some posturing, prancing with tails up, sniffing, snorting and squealing, but this is unlikely to last.

Larger herds
There are different schools of thought on introducing a new member to a larger herd. Many owners simply put the new horse in with the others and let them sort things out for themselves.

This usually does the trick, but occasionally it does not. It normally works best with horses that are known to be followers and not herd leaders. Sometimes a horse, often the newcomer, will end up with bite marks or get kicked in a scuffle. However, as long as the animals have plenty of room to get out of the way, the herd usually settles down without too much fuss, and the new member accepts its ‘assigned position’ in the herd pecking order without question.

If the newcomer is highly assertive and feels that it should become the new leader, it may take longer for the horses to settle into the new order. It is important to keep an eye on the situation and remove the new herd member if matters look like they’re getting out of hand.

Adjacent paddock
Another option is to keep the new horse in an adjacent paddock separated from the others by a fence. After the animals get used to one other, the horses can be placed together in a single paddock.

Bear in mind, however, that just because the horses were next to one other and had time to sniff noses, it does not mean there will be no squealing, biting, kicking or galloping when the new horse is put in with the others.

Yet another way to introduce a new herd member is to turn it out with the others, one at a time. This gives the new horse time to bond with one or two members at a time. Introduce the leader last of all.

You will know that your horse has been fully accepted into the herd when they all graze together and the scuffles have stopped.

Kim Dyson breeds Arabians and Lusitanos, and has 22 years’ experience in holistic equine and human body work.