In Ring One, we have sweet Money Penny, a 21 year old Quarter Horse/Arabian...or in other words, a Quarter Arab. Penny, it would seem, is made of sugar, because she is sweet, sweet, sweet.
In Ring Two, we have the feisty wild horse, Beautiful Girl. Beautiful likes herd order, and she likes being second in command to the Alpha Mare. Beautiful fights to the end, and has even gone butt to butt with the alpha male of the herd and run him off. Beautiful is made of piss and vinegar.
Three months ago, Money Penny began challenging Beautiful Girl for the #2 spot in the Mare Herd, and Beautiful came down, surprisingly, lame. A big win in Round One for Money Penny, as it sent Beautiful Girl to the healing stall for some R & R and Money Penny secured her top spot.
Round Two began by placing Beautiful Girl back on the same side of the barn as the turnout, and then Money Penny came up with a mysterious head injury, a win for Beautiful Girl, as it required Money Penny's removal from the herd, raising Leah to the top spot.
For the record, Leah would rather not have the top spot, and by top spot, I mean 2nd to the top, because the top is most certainly Cowgirl--the alpha mare in every herd she's been in since she was 2.
My farrier watched them all interact last week and said, "Boy, you're going to have WWIII when you put these two together." True words.
But both will have to be released soon, and I don't want either to get hurt, so I'm putting together a list of safety practices when introducing "new" horses to your herd. This is list is for myself and for others who might be reading the blog and find themselves in the same situation. Some of these suggestions are ones I've learned from experience and some are from several articles I've read in preparation for the big day. (Please share your own advice in the comments.)
Introducing a New Horse to Your Herd:
1. Make sure the ground is solid and not muddy, icey, or slick.
2. Make sure there are no pens or corners that they can get trapped in when they're chased. Also, make sure there is nothing dangerous they could run into--implements, wood, low branches, etc.
3. Introduce them AFTER you've already fed the herd, to minimize the dominance issues over feeding.
4. Introduce them to the alpha horses first, then slowly introduce the lower horses who may be more insecure about their place in the herd (ie. Penny and Beautiful Girl). The alpha horse will help protect the new horse from their challengers and will help them find their place in the hierarchy.) An alternate to this #11.
5. If the horse is truly brand new (unlike my two), make sure they are turned out alone first so they can learn the boundaries and fence lines.
6. Turn them out during daylight. (I learned this the hard way once and lost my herd at night when one of the members accidentally went through a wire fence.)
7. Turn them out when you're home so that you are there if intervention is required.
8. Turn them out for a couple of hours the first day and then longer each day.
9. Before turning them out, introduce them through a barrier--in our case, the runs from the barn adjoin the large, shared turnout. Let them get to know each other that way and work out some of their challenges with the barrier as a safety net. (If this is a new horse, consider quarantine away from your herd first, so that you don't introduce germs, worms, etc.--especially since they will all be under a great deal of stress, lowering their immune systems).
10. If you have a gelding who is confused about his gelding status--mounts mares, challenges the alpha geldings in stallion type fights--consider not introducing them to a mixed herd.
11. One article suggested having them introduced to a gentle herd member first so they have a "buddy" before the big turnout, but I've done that in the past and didn't find it very helpful. The alpha still moves the "buddy" to the sidelines and even seems to resent the interference. But it has probably worked in some situations or else people wouldn't suggest it.
12. Pour yourself a glass of something very strong and try to relax and console yourself with the knowledge that horses have been doing this for thousands of years and it usually turns out just fine.
And, for that matter, you can always do what my farrier suggested to me....
"Let them out, and then go shopping for the whole day!"
Please add your suggestions in the comments. What have you learned about introducing a new herd member?