Your job will become more difficult when you are dealing with a boarder and their horse isn't adjusting well to his new herd buddies. This is something that I have learned first hand about clients and horses and you need to make sure you have this part of your business designed extremely well because you will need a plan B if A isn't working. I have learned that sometimes a good timeout does the trick.
When we opened our barn over ten years ago I experienced herd management in the most unbelievable way. Within a period of a month I had forty new horses at my barn and I didn't know anything about any of them. Not only did I need to put them into smaller herds of five or six horses per paddock but I didn't have a clue on who was going to get along or not. Thinking back to those first few months of running our barn those days were a complete blur. I was guessing on so many levels and it was a lot of trial and error. I would not wish that on anyone and that is why I now go around helping others work through this part of barn management.
My tip for today...The timeout
Today I wanted to share a tip on something I do if I am having an issue with introducing a new horse into an established herd where the dominate horse won't let up. In the perfect world it would be wonderful if all the horses would just be nice to each other but as you all know that is not the case. The first twenty-four to forty-eight hours are going to be the most crucial in making sure the new horse is settling in easy. Many of your horses will do just fine with adjusting to a new herd but I can promise that you will get horses that will have a very difficult time and the more you can do to make the transition easy the better it will be for the horse.
I have found over the years that if a horse comes to my barn and is a very nervous and insecure horse the transition will most likely be a more challenging. One of the things I will do is to watch the herd closely after I have introduced the new horse and if there is one horse that is not easing off and is creating more stress to the new horse, I will pull that dominate horse out of the herd for a day to two. When I have pulled the dominate horse out of the herd even for just one full day, it gives the new horse much needed time to adjust and become confident in his surroundings. It doesn't do any good for the new horse if he is continually being chased down and kicked at. He doesn't get time to adjust when he is to busy running away from the dominate horse that is chasing him. Even just pulling the dominate horse out of the herd for a short time will settle down all the other horses. I have witnessed horses that acted dominate under the leadership of the top horse and once the top horse is pulled out they lose all the wind in their sails very quickly.
It has been amazing to me how the dynamics change so quickly when the top horse is pulled out for a short time. The new horse starts to relax and find his bearing and starts to adjust much faster. Once a new horse feels more comfortable than they can start to figure out the herd and where they are and when the dominate horse is placed back in the herd the atmosphere can change dramatically. This has happened several times over the years and in each situation the herd settles in so much faster.
There is no guarantee when placing horses together that they will always get along but this little tip of pulling the dominate horse out for a day or two can make a huge difference in many cases. Is it more work? Of course it is but if you do the work in the beginning when there is an issue it can save you much stress in the long run.
Different views of herd management
I don't think a little timeout ever hurt anyone and that would include horses. Many people will have the view that horses need to work it out no matter what but if you want to make your job easier and truly set your barn apart than take a different path and you might be pleasantly surprised at the results. This doesn't mean you need to pull the dominate horse out all the time but in a situation where there is clearly a problem and the new horse is stressed more than the average horse, I would give it a try. It has worked for me many times and it had made a huge positive difference in the transitioning for a new horse that is struggling.
One more tip - Make sure when setting up your barn that you have a paddock to place the dominate horse by himself for a day or so. You don't want to put him in another paddock with other horses. That will only cause more stress to him and you. If you build extra paddocks you will use them for many different reasons and you will never regret it.
If you would like to read about barn management in a whole new way, please check out my book "The Total Horse Barn Management Makeover." I cover so many of these topics and you will look at your job and your clients in a whole new way.
I wish you many blessings in your horse business,