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Joining the herd, integrating a new horse.

Don Jessop

With a new horse coming in a few weeks, we have some preparation to do. In a perfect world, we'd just open the gate and let all the horses in together. But in reality, that could be very dangerous for the new horse and for my current horses. When horses get together for the first time, it can be like watching fireworks. There's plenty of explosive kicking, biting, and screaming that goes on with both parties. So, what's the solution? How can we integrate horses into each other's world if we don't want to keep them separated forever?

As a professional, I don't integrate client horses in temporary training or boarding. It's not worth the risk, but as for my own horses, I like to make sure any new horse makes it safely into the herd. Here is how I do it...

Step one: Give my new horse its own safe place, away from the others. 
I need a few days where the only interactions my new horse has with my herd, is on the other side of a secure fence, ideally, with more than one fence between. A side benefit is I get to bond with the new horse without the distractions of all the herd dynamics.

Step two: After a few days, I begin feeding all my horses near the fence between them. Imagine a pile of hay sitting on both sides of the fence, encouraging my horses to learn how to eat next to each other. The distance from the fence can change depending on how aggressive the horses are. Regardless, the secure fence should prevent any unwanted injuries. 

Step three: After a few days of eating next to each other (if they are calm about it), I begin leading my new horse (if he's trained for it) through my herd. I keep a training stick in one hand and the lead rope connected to my horse in the other. If my other horse's approach, I shew them away. I want my new horse to learn to be connected to me even with all the excitement. It does more for our relationship than almost anything. This method ensures no one gets hurt and also teaches concentration from everyone, including my other horses, when I'm in the picture.

Step four: After a few days of leading and feeding around all the horses, I consider letting my new horse integrate a little more, still attached to the lead rope. I keep all my horses highly aware of my presence and only allow nose to nose contact from each horse. Kicking, biting, or anything else, I shut down and shew the horses away, refocusing my horse on me and the others to give us space. The horses learn to interact politely this way.

Step five: If all is going smoothly, eating next to each other, polite interaction with me involved, and consistent behaviors in general, I'll invite one of my best horses to spend a few hours each day with my new horse. Picking the best horse depends on the personality and intensity of each horse you have. I like my big, mild mare Pauli, who never fights with anyone but she's big enough not to be too bothered by anyone either. 

Step six: Add another horse. In the first few minutes, if the horses don't get along, I jump in and separate them. But usually, all I see is a mild kick or lunge toward, followed by respectful and curious behaviors on both parts. I find I don't have to interact much, if at all, if I've set everything up slowly like I described above. The whole idea here is not to erase all potential, natural horse behavior. It's to reduce the intensity, because too many horses come at each other with such intensity that one inevitably ends up injured. With days of prep, this is unlikely to happen. You can't prevent everything, but you can make the environment safer for everyone.

Step seven: Integrate them all together. Open the gates and give them all the space I have. Let them play, explore, bounce off each other a little, and hopefully, my new horse has bonded with a few of my older horses and fits nicely into the herd. If I skip steps, I often end up with a horse that stands on the outskirts for a month or two, unaccepted by the older horses. but, using the methods described here, that doesn't usually happen. 

One final note:

I'm not in a huge hurry to ride my new horse during this transition. But I do jump right into foundation work. The slow work, the stand still work the Zen work. I want my horse to learn about me, about how we operate around here. I want my horse, in those early days and weeks, to understand how important it is to stand and wait for me, to stand for trimming and grooming. To tolerate touching the sensitive areas of his body. (eyes, ears, mouth, tail, underbelly, and feet). Perhaps even, to stand for mounting.

People think riding is about trotting and cantering about or walking down some trail with your friends. It's not. Real horsemanship is much more than that. It's about teaching the horse to carry a calm mindset regardless of new environments. So, I spend a fair amount of time each day integrating my new horse into my lifestyle. Each time he steps out of line while leading, I make a correction and reward the right behaviors. Horses love leadership. I have entire books written on the subject.

I don't recommend leaving a new horse to fend for himself, thinking you're being kind by not bothering him. I recommend interacting more and helping him find his place. Even better, find his place to be peaceful, happy, and productive. I recommend helping him not just integrate with his herd, but with you too. Right from the start.

I would love to hear from you now. How have these steps helped you?
Thanks for reading, see you soon.
Don Jessop

Don Jessop - Blog Welcome

Hi! I'm Don Jessop

With Mastery Horsemanship

I write to inspire, educate and encourage you on your horse and personal journey.

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