After the time spent looking for a new (or first) horse, doing research, making phone calls, contacts and visits, the day will arrive when they will become a part of your family. But the preparations and work do not end with the horse’s arrival – there are a number of things you can do to make the transition easier.
If you have a horse trailer, the first big step will be loading the horse on the trailer and transporting them home. Hopefully it will be something the horse has done before, and will go well, as it did with us. Don’t forget to bring along a hay bag to give the horse something to occupy its time while traveling.
Many new horse owners like to have their own veterinarian do a wellness check once the horse arrives. A wellness check will enable your vet to perform an objective assessment of the horse’s general health. You should provide any information you have, health records of the horse and any medical problems that you are aware of, including medication they may be taking, as well as dates when they were last dewormed, had their teeth checked and a history of vaccinations.
Your vet will perform a physical exam of the horse, from checking their weight and assessing their condition to taking their “vitals” (temperature, pulse and respiration rate). This will include listening to heart, lungs and gut sounds. Our vet also checked the horse’s eyes and eyesight, both by looking into the eyes as well as testing his reaction (blinking) to holding his hand near his eye.
In some instances, blood may be collected for lab tests, a fecal sample may be taken and the horse may be dewormed or vaccinated, as well as having an examination of their mouth and teeth. In addition to checking the teeth for sharp points or uneven wear, the veterinarian can determine the age of the horse by examining its teeth.
Next you’ll need to introduce the horse to their new environment – including stablemates. We put our Morgan mare in her stall while unloading the new horse and leading him in the barn. She was quite excited to meet him and arched her neck and kept snorting at him. He was also interested in her and put his nose up to make contact. Fortunately, there were no “fireworks,” kicking, biting or gnashing of teeth, and we were pleased at the easygoing nature of the new stablemate.
As it was late in the day, we put him in the adjoining stall with plenty of hay and water and later came in to check on both horses with their evening feed. It’s important to provide the same feed that the horse has been getting – we asked for a week to 10 days’ supply in case we needed to change feeds. This should always be done gradually, over about 10 days, starting with a very small amount of the new feed mixed in with the old until you have fully made the change. This will make it easier for the horse to tolerate as a rapid change in feed can cause digestive problems as well as cause the horse to refuse to eat.
That night we checked in again while closing up the chickens to be sure the new horse had eaten all his feed and was drinking water and eating hay.
The next morning was the turnout. It’s wise to turn a new horse out in a separate paddock or pasture if available to cut down on the possibility of injury while the horses are getting acquainted. There will always be a “pecking order,” no matter the animals – some are dominant and others are submissive.
It’s important to walk the horse along the fence line, pointing out where the watering trough is located, as well as the hay stations and any obstructions or gates or other objects you might want the horse to know about.
We have an adjoining paddock to our main turnout which works very well with enabling the horses to see, smell and touch each other while being protected by the board fencing in between. Our new horse spent the better part of his first week in the extra paddock, but by the end of the first afternoon, we were pleased to see both horses eating out of the hay bags hanging from the same fence.
When the day came for turnout together, we put the new horse out first and walked him around the “new” paddock, stopping by the watering trough and by the hay bags on the fence in several areas, as well as the gate and run-in overhang behind the barn. After he seemed comfortable, we let our other horse out, and were grateful that there were no issues that arose between them.
Note that if you use hay bags, be sure to have at least one more hay bag than you have horses in the paddock to ensure that no one is left without hay. The same principle applies to hay piles or feeders, as often the lowest ranking horse can be chased away and left without hay to eat. Remember that it is the digestion of the hay or roughage that your horse eats that will keep them warm, not the concentrated feed you might be providing.
Heading into the winter and the coldest time of year, be sure there is adequate fresh, unfrozen water for your horses to drink. Horses need water in order to process their hay and if not given enough fresh water, they won’t be able to digest the hay that is so important for warmth.
Spend time with the new horse, checking as often as possible during the day to be sure they are settling in well, eating and drinking and are socially accepted by the rest of the herd. If there are children in the family, let them know that the new horse may be a little nervous or “spooky” until they settle in, as ours was, and to move quietly and slowly around them to prevent them from being frightened.
It takes a lot of time, patience and hard work to be a successful horse owner, but the benefits will far outweigh the disadvantages – and there’s nothing like a hearty “neigh!” of welcome when you return home or head out to the barn.
by Judy Van Put