Horses each have their own way of handling a stressful situation and some will do it better than others at your barn. Your job as the barn owner is to make the environment you created as stress-free as possible and that means you might have to do a little extra work in the beginning until the herd settles down. Usually it takes a couple of days for a new horse to start to relax unless he has come from an extreme situation where he has never lived with other horses at all or has had some trauma in his life.
The best classroom of all
Every barn owner will have their own way of introducing a new horse to a herd and I am not going to say there is a right way or wrong way. But I do believe some ways or better than others. I want to share what has worked for me over the last ten years of boarding horses. I have had a lot of experience introducing new horses into our herds especially in the early years of our business when we had a lot of turn-over. It is definitely one of the most challenging parts of the job if you are not real familiar with herd management. I am going to be totally honest here and tell you that in the beginning when we opened our barn doors for business I had very little experience in herd management. You can read a lot about it but nothing compares to doing it on a daily basis. That is the real classroom and your skills of reading horses and what is going on in the herd will go through the roof.
The gang can be very overwhelming!
Many people will ask me if I put the new horse first or last into the paddock? My answer is always the same. I have learned that I start with an empty paddock and put the new horse out first. This gives him time to smell and run around and check out his surroundings. Everything from the electric fence to where the water is located are all so important. He needs to figure all this out and it will be much easier if he isn't being chased down by another horse. Once he is out in the paddock for a bit then I add one horse at a time and I pick a horse that is least dominate and start from there. My main objective is to find a buddy for the new horse. You never know which horses will buddy up but I start out with the least dominate and work my way to the most dominate. It may sound overly simplistic but sometimes we make things too complicated. Keep it simple and let the new horse get to know each horse as they come in. This way it is not so overwhelming for the new horse.
I have heard of other barns that will put a new horse into a herd and all of a sudden you have a bunch of horses circling the new horse and it can get crazy very fast. It is like a wild gang coming all at once after the new horse. I am not saying that it is a wrong way to do it but I do believe putting the new horse in the paddock first is not so overwhelming and he won't have an entire herd coming at him all at one time. If you are dealing with a nervous horse than I would recommend trying this first. The process might take a bit longer but I believe you have a better chance of having the herd settle down faster.
If you take it slow in the whole introduction process the end result might pleasantly surprise you. You will learn so much about how each horse deals with a new horse and it will truly show each of their personalities so much more. Once you have done this a few times it will become so much easier to predict how each horse is going to respond when a new horse comes in. They will become like your own children and you will know them extremely well in all situations. It's not to say there won't be a few surprises but they will become less the longer you do this part of the job.
I can pretty much predict how most horses at our farm are going to respond. I sometimes make a wrong call when I think of who is going to buddy up with the new horse but I am so glad the surprises are less and less when it comes to this part of the job. I guess that is what makes this job so unique and amazing! I love that horses truly do have their own personality and there is never a dull moment. They keep us on our toes but I wouldn't have it any other way.
Wishing you many blessings in your horse business,