Thursday, January 28, 2016

Introducing a "New" Horse to the Herd

Welcome to the Mare Wars.

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?

14 comments:

  1. I think you've just about got everything covered. We usually put a new horse out in a separate paddock so they can sniff and visit over the fence for a few days. Then put a non-confrontational horse in with them for a few days. After that when they're ready they can go out with the herd. Horses have the ability to sort themselves and their positions in the herd with each other and don't really need us interfering. Just my opinion but they will figure it out, hopefully, without a lot of drama. Good luck.

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    1. I think you're right about them sorting it out themselves.

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  2. I had this quandry when I bought Mr Shoes' black mare. I kept her in the round pen for a solid 2 weeks, adjacent to the pasture & close enough for them to touch noses or to retreat altogether. She struck rails down & never seemed to settle at all - I decided to get it over with.
    While she'd been penned, one gelding fell in LOVE with the black mare from over the fence &, when I turned her out, they were inseparable.
    He worshipped the ground that pretty black mare walked on, to the point that he willingly separated from the herd to be at her side & actually kicked his own dam (serious flesh wound but no lasting damage, thankfully) until the black mare assimilated (which took a further fortnight.
    All in all, I think I'm for #12 now.
    Mostly. ;-)

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    1. What a sweet love story. They know who they love. I'm for #12 simply because it's a win-win. Lol.

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  3. & that wound on the dam - it was as big as my hand and the skin flap folded under & balled up in there, all lumped up. I hosed it & got the skin flap down, but because it was right on the point of the shoulder & about 12 hours old, the Vet said there was no use stitching it.
    We gave her some bute & penned her up for a few days, cold hosing it for swelling & putting a ring of SWAT around the wound until the healing was well underway.
    I'll say though that I was quite worried about puckering at the wound site, or that she would suffer something worse (maybe infection traveling into the joint). Luckily, she suffered no further or lasting effects &, wouldn't you know it, she & the black mare are now best buddies.

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    1. I guess that is what they call putting the MIL in her place. That boy was cutting the apron strings!

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  4. I think that covers all the bases. I like to use adjacent pens for a couple of weeks if possible, although lately I have had no choice but to put new mares right in with Josie - fortunately she is the only horse and always welcomes new company.

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    1. Some horses just have that security in themselves and are easy to introduce. I think the adjacent pens help to sort out a lot of nonsense. Of course, anything can happen. Leah struck out at the panels with her back legs when she was new and her leg caught caught in them. She ripped the skin off getting free.

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  5. Go shopping -- ha ha! It is stressful trying to supervise. Getting Rock integrated took months. It seemed there were new injuries on at least one horse each day. I often wonder if the fact that he was a different breed from the others contributed to the difficulty.

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    1. I wonder that same thing sometimes. . Or different color even.

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  6. oh my nerves! My favourite is this one: "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"

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    1. And guess what, I turned them all out and there is nary a scratch on them. All peaceful and happy. Shoot, if I didn't forget to pour myself something!

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  7. Gotta admit I like #12 too. :) We use our big, wood round pen to put the new horse in for 2-3 weeks. They sniff noses, squeal, strike etc and then turn them out in the big pasture where there is plenty of room to get/or stay away from, each other. We've had a few skirmishes, but over all the years we've had horses, thankfully nothing serious. They do a very good job of sorting issues out for themselves. But, having said that - I worry big-time and that stiff shot might just be the thing...

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    1. We've had two injuries, but none life threatening. One was pretty bad though, a nasal cavity smashed in. And, Leah's leg...but that was through the panel. Horses are so unpredictable. It might be better, sometimes to just let them have at it.. and grab a drink.

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Please feel welcome to join our discussion--tell us about your own thoughts and experiences.