In the last 25 years, modern day cowboy and horsemanship clinician, Ken McNabb has had approximately 4,000 head of horses under his care. As a result he has been able to gain a vast knowledge and experience when it comes to raising and training horses. It has become his life passion to share what he has learned with others through various clinics conducted around the country. McNabb held a clinic at the Equine Affaire at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, MA, where he spoke on the topic of introducing a new horse to an existing herd. Before beginning the topic McNabb emphasized that what he was about to share was only his opinion. It may not be the right way or the only way but it works for him.
Horses are highly social herd animals with a dominance hierarchy or pecking order. When a new horse tries to become part of the herd there may be tension and aggressive behavior towards the newcomer until the hierarchy is sorted out. With this being said the owner of a new horse may feel a bit of anxiety when it comes to introducing the newcomer to the existing herd especially if it happens to be a valuable Thoroughbred show horse. While a herd can bring safety and confidence to a new horse it can also bring broken bones and a broken spirit if the introduction process is not done correctly.
According to McNabb the first thing to do is to keep the new horse isolated from the herd for a short time. New horses can carry illnesses so it is best to quarantine them first until you know they are healthy. The biggest mistake a person can make is taking the horse out of the horse. What he means by this is that horses are a social animal and they need a chance to get and interact with other horses. The best way to meet this need is by putting the new horse in an adjacent area to the herd as long as there is a safe fence separating them. This is the safe way for the herd to interact with the new horse and grow accustomed without any physical contact. A safe fence is any structure that is at least 4.5 feet tall with enough wooden rails to form a solid barrier. Wire fences would not be sufficient in this case because horses can break through.
After a day or two McNabb recommends bringing the new horse into the enclosure with the herd. If there is notably aggressive behavior towards the new horse it is time to use one of McNabb’s techniques to change this. What McNabb likes to do is mount the new horse and work the other horses around the enclosure with it. What you are doing in this case is changing the leadership roles within the herd. The horses in the herd are looking at the new horse and thinking that he is suitable for leadership because he is making them move. You should continue to drive the herd around for 15-20 minutes and repeat the process again 20 minutes later. Continue to do this a couple times each day then begin to leave the new horse in the enclosure with the herd and watch to see if you get a positive accepting response.
This technique is also useful if you happen to have a horse in your herd that is a bully. In this case instead of using the entire herd you could use a one-on-one technique by taking a mild natured horse and pushing the bully around the enclosure on horseback. When pushing the bully horse you want to make sure that you are turning him outside or turning him away. This is what horses naturally do in the wild. You know you have a submissive bully horse once he stops turning away and instead turns towards your mild natured horse to follow as you turn your horse away.
Another technique is to let the new horse into the herd’s enclosure and choose another horse from the herd to push the group. It is best not to choose the most dominate horse in your herd to do this. The new horse is forced to become part of the herd and bond with them in a common way.
Yet another option is to once again let the new horse loose into the herd’s enclosure and walk around on foot and push the herd. In this way you are using outside forces to the ban the herd together with the new horse. This technique is called natural horsemanship because it puts the horses in their own natural state.
It does not make a difference whether you purchase a new horse or raise your own fold of horses, the same aggressive herd behavior can occur upon introduction. According to McNabb there is an effective technique that can be used with yearlings. The owner needs to take an older horse out from the herd and put it in a separate enclosure with the yearlings. Make sure that horse that you choose has a gentle personality. The older horse will wean the yearlings and become a disciplinarian to them. After a few weeks you can reintroduce the older horse back into the herd along with the yearlings.
During the time that the yearlings and the older horse spent together in a separate enclosure they have formed a bond. The older horse will now be their guardian within the herd dissuading other aggressive horses from harming them. After a few more weeks the owner should take the older horse out from the herd once again and leave the yearling alone with the herd. By this time the herd should be quite familiar with the yearlings and should not cause any harm to them without the older horse present. With the older horse out of the way the herd and the yearlings have a chance to form a stronger relationship and grow accustomed with each other on different terms.
It is simple to follow advice such as this that has helped countless horse owners regain their confidence and overcome the challenges that are part of owning a horse. For more information on Ken McNabb including upcoming clinics visit www.kenmcnabb.com.