Getting a new horse can be fun and exciting but for those of you who already have horses, this experience can be a little bit tricky. Horses are herd animals, which means that they get used to being around the same horses (and usually people) every day, or at least during turnout. Being in a herd is how horses survive in the wild, and it’s also how our barn horses set boundaries among themselves, determine who’s in charge, and keep each other company. It’s important for a horse to have friends.
When introducing a new horse to an existing herd, it is preferable to quarantine the new horse at first, generally for about 2-4 weeks, to make sure that it’s clear of any health problems that could affect the rest of the herd. Once this period of time is over, it’s safest to begin introducing the horses from across a fence in a separate pasture. This will allow the horses to meet and get used to each other while reducing the risk of injury.
Once it seems like the horses are getting on relatively well across the fence, you want to make sure that the new horse has adjusted your facility’s routine as the other horses have. This may take some time, but the new horse will be less likely to be bullied by the other horses if they know where to be and when. If the horses are not getting along across the fence, you may want to consider that the new horse may not be a good fit for your herd, or they may need more time to get used to each other before moving on to the next step.
When all of the horses seem mostly comfortable with each other, you can try putting the new horse in with the rest of the herd. However, don’t just throw them out into the pasture and walk away—it’s important that you observe how the horses get along and that you understand where the new horse will be in the herd’s hierarchy, or pecking order. Some herds and horses take longer than others to adjust to each other so be patient, but don’t allow the horses to relentlessly bully each other as this can cause some issues, not to mention the risk of injury. Make sure that all of the horses are able to eat and drink without being constantly harassed.
If you’re concerned about what’s happening in your herd or if your new horse is having trouble adjusting, contact a trainer. They can assess your situation and let you know what the next steps should be. Some horses will simply take more time to get used to each other while other situations may be more complicated. Normally this is a fairly easy process, although all horses and herds are different. Be patient and have confidence in your horses’ abilities to adapt to new situations.