Ep 50 // Introducing New Horses
Have you ever wondered how to safely introduce new horses to each other? Or integrate a new horse to an established herd? In this episode I share with you my process and thoughts on the matter! I've successfully introduced many horses to herds and to companions with minimal to no bickering, injuries, or scary moments. The goal is peaceful introductions with safety in mind! Even the most intense resource guarders and poorly socialized horses CAN learn to safely interact with companions, and SHOULD have equine companions.
[00:00:00] Hey there. Welcome to the TWE Podcast, the podcast where we talk about all things related to horse training, horse keeping, and being better horse people for our horses. I hope you enjoy this episode today, and if you'd like to share your thoughts with me or have suggestions for future podcast. Please feel free to reach out to me through social media or the TWE website, the willing equine.com on my website.
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[00:01:03] Hey, everybody. Okay. So in this episode I wanna talk to you guys about a very much highly requested topic, which is introducing new horses to the herd. And this is something that's kind of fresh on my mind because I've actually been working to introduce a new horse to my herd. Her name's June and she arrived a couple weeks ago, and she's young and anyway, just, she's gonna be so much fun to work with and she'll be a long-term resident with us. And I'm really excited about that. But the hot topic is how do I go about introducing her to my already established herd of horses without causing a lot of potential risk to her or the other horses. And this even applies when you're just introducing two horses to each other, or maybe you even need them just to be, you know, coexist across a a fence line. Like you don't even have to be in the same pasture for this to be applicable. This is really about the socialization process, the introduction process of getting horses used to each other that are not familiar with each other. So maybe a new horse has arrived at the barn and they wanna go out into the pasture with the other horses obviously. I mean, that makes sense. Or maybe. You've moved your horse to a new boarding facility and you'd like them to have a pasture companion, and so you're introducing them to a new horse there. Or maybe you've brought home a new horse, you've purchased a new horse or adopted a rescued one, and you'd like them to be integrated into the herd or maybe just have a companion with one of yours. All of those situations apply here. We'll just need to modify according to your situation and what your needs are. And I'm gonna put this out there, this process that I'm gonna talk you guys through and kind of what I do is more challenging in a boarding facility because they're often not set up with the intention of introducing horses to each other. It is really common from my experience to see boarding setups and, or even just private barn owners too. That, or just in the equestrian role in general, the idea of like, okay, we want our horse to have a companion, we want them to go out into the herd. And so we just put them out into the herd all of a sudden, and then we either stress about them chasing each other around and kicking on each other, which is very probable in that situation when they're suddenly introduced to each other. Or, you know, the, I'm looking at from the human perspective as far as like, we either get like super worried about it, and sometimes that prevents people from putting horses out with companions because they don't want them to get hurt, which I completely understand, and they don't want the other horses to get hurt, which I also completely understand. But, you know, I, I have thoughts on that, but we're gonna talk about that. The other thing that can happen though is that we tend to dismiss it as normal horse behavior, and then just think about it as, you know, as normal for them to kick on each other. They're establishing a hierarchy, right? They're asserting their dominance, all that which. All of that requires a whole nother conversation as far as the whole dominance and hierarchy and all of that, which we have a lot of science that's showing that that is not the case. That horses do not have a fixed hierarchy, a fixed dominance, you know, role. Like there's the alpha, beta, whatever. It just keeps going like that. There's not a fixed relationship in like lineup of horses. So there's not like the most dominant and the second and the third, and then the fourth, and then it's just always the same, is that's just not how it actually is. I highly recommend the book Horses and Company by Lucy Reese, and that's a really great book on this topic. But there's also a lot of research out there that you can look for on your own. I actually have an article about this called Leadership and Dominance on my website, www.thewillingequine.com. You can read all about that there, and I would encourage you to do so. It'll help make so much more sense about why horses behave in a certain way and why aggression towards other horses. So horses being highly aggressive towards each other is not normal. And having one horse that is particularly aggressive towards the other ones, which is often thought of as like the dominant horse is kind of a fall. It's like a, it's a horse actually presenting behaviors that are not safe or healthy, or they're just not normal. They're not good behaviors necessarily. Horses like that, typically they're have a heightened aggression state. They have poorer social skills and not all the time, but I'm talking about like highly aggressive horses. Horses that will attack other horses or chase them around or really guard their resources where they block all the other horses from coming up to the water troughs or to the hay bales and stuff like that. That's called resource guarding. And I actually have another podcast episode that's all about aggression within herds and horses acting aggressively towards each other. So definitely check that out because I go way more into that topic. But again, that's kind of another area where I recommend studying a little bit more, and that will help tremendously understand the need, the necessity for our introduction processes of introducing horses into the herd to be much more intentional. They need to be better thought out. They need to have structure, they need to have planning, and there needs to be time and patience and conditioning that occurs through that process. It's not just a case of throw the horse out into the pasture and then let them duke it out. That's just a recipe for disaster and you're bound to get your horses and trouble and your horse or other people's horses. So anyway, that, you know, I've been introducing horses to each other for a while now. I have an established herd of, well, I personally have seven horses right now, and they're not all together in the same pasture, although I would consider them. As a part of the same herd because of they can be kind of rotated in and out. They tend to walk the fence lines together. They sometimes are all combined in the same pasture. Sometimes a couple of them are out and some of them are in, but they've all lived on the same property and very close proximity to each other for years and years now. So while they would probably need some reintroduction to each other, if I were gonna put them all in one giant herd, like a couple of them would. So for example, I have five horses, four mares, and one gelding in particular that share the same pasture. Right now they're actually currently split up into two pastures because one of my horses needs some rest. She has a leg injury and the babies tend to run the, you know, the herd runs around altogether with the babies. And so I need her to do more walking and not running. So I have her split off into a side pasture with a companion, but I could easily open that gate and they all go together. And normally they do, normally they coexist as a herd. But then I have my two seniors that actually roam the whole property outside of the pastures and it's all fenced in. They're all perfectly safe. But they get to come and go from the barn as they want. And they're pretty much just kind of rule the place and those two have not been in the pastures with the other horses for a couple of years now. So while yes, I can mostly turn them all out together, I, I did, I do take some time to reintroduce them to each other, even though they share very close, they're over the fence. And a lot of times they socialize. They don't actually live their day to day lives all together, these two senior horses and the rest of my herd. So I still wouldn't just throw them into the herd altogether and expect them all to get along. I would take time to introduce them to each other and make sure that they all had plenty of resources and there was plenty of space for them to live and move about and get away from each other. I would also do some other things that we're about to talk about so that, you know, even though they've all lived in the same, on the same property and they've all been in close proximity to each other, we have to keep in mind that the herd is really more, or I would say like a herd of horses. Like if you have your pastures with your herd they're typically going to be the ones that live together on a day to day basis and engage with each other on a daily basis. And not so much the horses that are over the pasture fence. However, if they socialize a lot together, the horses over the fence, maybe you've got two pens and and your horses are actually kept individually, but they socialize over the fence. Initially that you'll need to take some time introducing them to each other because you could see some aggression over the fence. And again, we're gonna get into the details of that and how I introduce horses that way. So there's a bunch of different setups and nuances to this whole thing. Depends on the environment, depends on your setup. Depends on whether the horses are kept individually, if they've all been together for a long time, if they, and you're introducing a new horse to a really established herd.
[00:10:03] When I think of an established herd, I'm kind of talking about that group of five horses I just mentioned with my four mares and one gelding who've been together for multiple years now in the same pasture. And they, they've got it all. They know each other's body language, they know what to do. And when there's a routine, everything is pretty consistent. So they have like an established herd, like it's the same usually most of the time. So whereas I would not consider horses that maybe they were introduced to each other, you know, a couple months ago, and then one of the horses left and then a new horse came in, and then a couple months later, a new horse came in, and then a couple months later, another horse left. Like, when there's so much coming and going in that herd, when the horses are constantly fluctuating, the horses that are in that herd, what that herd consists of the, the horses that make up that herd, if that's constantly fluctuating. I don't really consider that a quote 'established herd' because the, the social interactions and the day to day interactions and what the herd looks like, it's kind, it's constantly flowing. So it's constantly changing and they never really get a chance to fully establish with each other and to fully settle into a routine and, and a common kind of language with each other.
[00:11:23] Which then brings me to this other topic where I think with a lot of times with dogs, and I, I know this with dogs we talk a lot about like body language and having social skills. We talk about socializing puppies, we talk about dog, dog friendly puppies, we talk about, and dogs. We talk about adult dogs that have good social skills versus not. This has talked about a lot in the dog world and maybe not as much as it could be. I, I definitely see a lack of it in many areas, but it's, it's further along, I should put it that way. In the horse world, we don't really talk about horse to horse social skills. So the skills that are necessary for a horse to have to be able to properly socialize with other horses and deescalate situations and avoid conflict and not create conflict, and just all of that stuff. Right. When you think about, a herd of horses. Or when I, at least when I do, when I think about a herd of horses an established herd of horses that are, have a common language, that they're all, you know, very much getting along. They've been together for a while. They've got all, got great social skills. There's very little conflict. We're not seeing a lot of biting, we're not seeing kicking, we're not seeing, chasing and, and, and resource guarding a ton of it. Now, there might be some from time to time, I'm not saying that's never gonna happen, but it's very, very, very minimal. When you have a new horse that comes into the herd or to, to the barn or you know, or maybe your horse is in the herd and somebody else is bringing in their new horse, there is a, a shift that happens. Well, a couple of aspects we need to consider. One is that, how, what is that horse's social skills like? What is their experience with other horses? Do they have great social skills? Are they able to avoid conflict or do they create the conflict? Do they recognize calming signals and displacement behaviors. Do they deescalate the situation along with the other horses? Do they recognize other horses, calming signals, and then respond to them and walk away? Or also offer their own calming signals?
[00:13:32] And also for reference, if you wanna learn more about calming signals and language signs and all that, like equine behavior. And you can call it different terms. You can call it signs stress, you can call it self soothing. Like there's all kinds of terms you could call it. But I really recommend the book Language Signs and Calming Signals. So, fantastic book. And I'm not gonna try and pronounce the author's name, I butcher it every time. But definitely look up Language Signs and Calming Signals, that is going to be very, very helpful for the situation.
[00:13:58] So going back to the horses and their social. . I think a lot of domestic courses really don't have the social skills that are necessary to be in a herd environment to begin with. That doesn't mean they can't have social skills. That doesn't mean they shouldn't be put in a herd. Absolutely, they should. It just may take some time. And this is where my introduction process really has its strengths and where, why I use it in this particular way is because a lot of new horses coming into my barn don't have the necessary social skills to maintain the peace of the established herd. And they, if I just threw them out there, it would put everybody into turmoil. So first of all, my horses would be like, oh, oh my gosh, there's a new horse in the herd. And and that would obviously get everybody a little bit worked up. And the second that new horse that's coming in may not be able to properly recognize and know how to respond to my horse in his forms of communication, which then irritates them. And puts them in a tough spot where they need to be able to either protect themselves or be able to maintain accessing their, their resource. It just, it puts the horses that are already there in a tough spot. And the new horse also gets put in a tough spot, even though they may be causing the tough spot because they don't know, they don't know what they don't know, right. They don't have that learning history to tell them how to engage with other horses. And we can say, okay, but yeah, horses are born knowing, you know, language, a horse language and horse behavior. Yes and no. I mean, there's definitely, there's their way that they communicate. But, and they have the ability for that, you know, quote language and that way of communicating. But they are largely, it is largely influenced by the the education of their mother, their dam as they're growing up and of their herdmates while they're growing up. And if you look at our domestic world of horses, oftentimes foals are taken away way too young, and I'm, personally, for me, I consider six months even too young. So they're taken away from the herd really young or from their mothers really young. But on top of that, a lot of dams and foals are kept separate. So they only have their dams to teach them, and they don't have other herdmates, they don't have other foals to play with. They don't have the band stallion to engage with and learn from. They don't have other mares to learn from and engage with. And so they, their kind of social skills are very stunted. And then from there, sometimes if they're like in halter barns or it just depends on the environment, but sometimes they're thrown out into a herd with other youngsters, which is great, but not the best in my opinion, as far as the social stuff goes. Because then what are we getting? We're getting a bunch of youngsters that play together, which is fantastic. They're getting to be out in a herd together, but there's no adult horses to really educate the young ones on proper social skills. So yes, they'll still learn more social skills than if they were just isolated by themselves, but there's just not that holistic, very, how it was intended to be horse band type environment. That family, that structure the different interactions with the different age horses. You've got, maybe the more senior horses, then you've got the younger adult horses, and then you've got the yearlings from the previous year. And then you've got the babies from this year and you've got the band stallion, and you've got the other herds that they may or may not engage with. There's so much opportunity for social interaction and learning that happens in a feral world. That does not happen in our domestic horse life mostly, I'm not saying every situation, but a lot of them. So a lot of these domestic horses are showing up at our barns. You know, you, you know your friend, your barn friend buys a new mare or gelding, and they're so excited about 'em. They bring 'em to their home and they wanna put 'em out in the herd with the rest of the horses. But we have no idea what this horse's social experience is like. And we have no idea what their herd experience is like and like, and we have no idea, like how do they communicate and what they know and what they don't know, and just all of these different things, right? So we need to keep that in mind. The other thing we need to keep in mind is the stress of it. We have, the horses are coming into these new environments, typically, not all the time. Sometimes you're trying to introduce two horses from the same barn that just haven't been together, which is better as far as lower stress. But you've got a lot of situations where horses and new horses bought and wants to be brought into the herd. And that horse is under a lot of stress because they're in a new home, new feed, new people, new smells, new horses, new everything, and they are stressed. Even if they're not running around mad with their head up in the sky screaming and yelling and kicking out, they are stressed. I guarantee you they're stressed. I would bet money on it. Lots of money on it. And it, it can take a long time for a horse to really settle into a new environment and reach like a state of homeostasis where they feel very comfortable and they're able to be in a thriving state of mind and body. And so you can keep this in mind or just kind of think of this as we're also doing this introduction process. We're taking a new horse that is potentially quite stressed and then experiencing putting them into an environment where it's going to add to their stress. Cuz now they're trying to get used to new horses. And then add on top of that the potential for them to have really poor social skills. We've got a recipe for disaster. It's no wonder so many people prefer to keep their horses individually in pens or stalls or whatever because of the high injury rate. I largely think that is due to poor introduction processes and poor social skills and horses, we are setting them up for failure and high injury rates. Okay. So I could go on and on and on and on and on and on about that, all those different things. And I'm sure there's so much more to it. I know I'm not covering everything. There, there's so many very nuanced aspects to bringing new horses in to a herd environment or even just bringing 'em home. There's so much going on as far as genetics and learning history and socially socializing and social skills. There is so much there. So I know I'm not covering everything. Don't come at me , but what I wanna do now after I've talked about that, all of that, Is I wanna talk about my process that I use, and I'm not gonna say it's the best process. I'm not gonna say it's perfect. I'm not gonna say you should use this particular process. I'm just gonna explain what I do. And just keep in mind that your situation may be very different and I highly recommend contacting a qualified professional, a behaviorist would be even better to be able to assist you in this process. I think it's an area that is way under thought of like, we just tend to be like, oh yeah, just throw 'em out in the herd. Or yeah, introduce those two horses together and there's so much room for potential here. Well, potential for injury that we wanna avoid, but also potential for really setting your horse up for success and making huge leap forward in their, you know, if they're coming from a bad history, it could be, or even a, a good history, but maybe this particular area It's difficult for them. There's so much potential here in this very process and this introduction process. This, it's a fresh opportunity to help your horse learn new social skills, learn. They don't need to resource guard, learn that they are going to be okay, that they can trust their new environment. That it's not a hostile environment, that they will thrive and it will be beautiful and amazing and gorgeous. And they're gonna be great. And the herd's gonna be great if there's just a lot of opportunity here to set everybody up for success and set your future training and life together with your horse up for success. I think it is well worth reaching out to somebody and paying for consultation, paying for them to come out and help you in this process. You know, we tend to pay a lot for things like jumping lessons and dressage lessons and going to reining competitions and all that. Like those are great. I don't have any problem with those, but we tend to under focus and pay for, and take care of situations that are really important and could in some cases be very, not quite a life or death, but maybe, I mean, there are a lot of horse to horse injuries that could be avoided. That's basically what I'm putting out there. And also like in situations where you have a horse, I, I've come across this many times and I know people who have, where the horse is notoriously aggressive towards other horses and so has never been allowed to go out into a herd. Maybe they can find a companion that might get along with them. Maybe let's just pray they don't hurt each other, that a lot of times can be overcome and worked through quite easily with minimal risk to everybody if it's set up correctly. So I do recommend you contact somebody and, and help have them help you. That would be my first recommendation. But first, actually, before we go on to my recommendations and my process, I wanna quickly run through things not to do.
[00:23:14] One of the first things not to do is going to be just throwing a horse out into an established herd, or throwing two new horses together without preparation. That's, we just spent a long time talking about why that's the case, but that is absolutely so critical here. Do not just turn your horse out into a large herd of horses. And sometimes it works out. I'm not gonna say it never works out. It does. It can, and I've done it before in the past. Not be, I mean, I just wasn't thinking and I wasn't as I did things differently back in the day, let's put it that way. But I do think there's a high risk with doing that. So that's why I recommend people, avoid introducing horses during stressful times. This is really important. Let's not introduce horses to each other with when situations are going on or things are going on that are really stressful, like bad weather, or recently having arrived or post vet exam series, medical issues are happening. Maybe busy time at the barn, feeding time. That's a terrible time to introduce horses to each other. Maybe if you're introducing two mares, or a mare and a gelding, let's not do it while the mares in season and or directly following, like something like a competition, the horse is tired, has, has stressed from the competition, and needs to really let go of that stress and calm back down and reach, you know, back to or get back to a calm state. Let's only introduce horses when they're in a calm mental state and are really thriving and doing well, and also the environment around them is calm and doing well. . Also we need to avoid projecting our worries and stress onto our horses. There I've largely kind of removed myself from the introduction intro. I largely remove myself from the introduction process. Meaning like I am not physically standing right there usually because I have my feelings about what's going on. A lot of times I'm like, oh, you know, don't do that. Or, oh, oh, don't do that. You know, like there's, there's a lot of that that can be picked up on by the horse, and we can help out by removing that from the immediate vicinity of the horse Also, the horse may want to engage with you. Maybe they think you have food or maybe they even have a negative history with people. And so you're adding a level of stress and worry to the horse. Just stepping outside of their immediate area is going to be really helpful. And I still watch, I'm still there, I'm still observing. I'm still making sure everything go is going well. I'm just not standing right there next to the horse. I usually stand like outside of the stall, like I'm using an example of a distance. So like I stand outside of the stall away a couple of feet. So I'm watching, but I'm not like immediately right there trying to engage with the horses and I don't want them to think I'm trying to engage with them. And last is not to rush the process. You a lot, lot. And last is not to rush the process. A lot of times, cuts, kicks, bite marks, other dangerous behaviors are the results of us just rushing. And we talked a lot about that just a moment ago, so I'm not gonna go too deep into that. But let's just take our time. It may take, lemme give you an idea of how long you should expect to take. It, well, first of all, it really depends. It really depends. I've had horses, I've introduced to each other within a matter of a couple of days with using this process. And I've had other horses where I've, it's taken more like weeks or months to introduce them to each other. Currently the horse I'm working with right now, we're taking it extra, extra slow because I'm being cautious of my mini that is in the pasture. And I know there's a lot of different opinions on whether or not minis should be turned out with full size horses. He does great with my full size horses. And, and they do great with him. And again, my herd is very peaceful. But with introducing a new horse, obviously there's going to be some change in the herd. There's gonna be some shifts and I don't want to put him at risk, so I'm kind of, we're just kind of waiting and seeing, and she's happy. She's just chilling next to the other horses right now, and I'm gonna introduce her to just a couple of the full size horses at a time. It's going to be fine. And we're just taking it super slow, keeping him in mind, keeping my mini in mind, and maybe he won't go out with her. I don't know. I haven't gone to that point and haven't decided. But I'm not in a rush because she's happy. My herd is happy. They all get to socialize over the fence and so that is really important. However, if she was more distressed, she really needed to be out with them. Or they were distressed, whatever, we would change gears, we would shift to a different plan. Right now, the plan is just to kind of hang out and wait and see how things go. So that's kind of an example of how it really fluctuates. Sometimes it's more important that they get out together sooner rather than later. And so I might push the process just a little bit quicker than I might normally, but again, that's not my, that's not my ideal, so I'm not gonna recommend that to you. So I would say at minimum you should expect a week or so. Maybe two weeks, and at max a couple months maybe. So again, when I say don't rush the process, I'm not talking about a couple hours. I'm not talking about a couple days. I'm talking about trying, yeah. So I'm talking about, well, I guess I should say rushing the process looks like. Trying to get it to happen within a couple of hours or a couple of days. Give your horses as much time as they need to get accustomed to each other and to be at peace with each other before you move to the next step.
[00:28:42] Okay. So with that being said, let's talk about what to do. We're gonna introduce the horses one at a time to each other in a quiet and gradual way. So let's say you have a large herd of horses, I'd still recommend doing it one at a time. So I will take the new horse and introduce her to one of my current horses. And then once that is going well, I will remove that horse and, well, it depends. It depends a little bit on the situation, but I either will introduce, I'll either bring one more horse in, which is usually what I do. I just bring one more of the established herd in with the new horse and the other horse I just introduced. And we just do that over time. Gradually. One more, and then one more, and one more. And we keep going until the whole herd's together. Or if I'm really dealing with a, a struggling situation, I might remove the previous horse that I just introduced and bring in the new horse. And we'll just kind of like do that slowly. Again, I'm very much playing it by the individuals, what I'm seeing, what kind of behaviors I'm seeing and going from there. So it fluctuates a lot. There is no hard, fast rule. Making sure the pen and the pasture they are in is large without places where one horse can become trapped. So I usually use like things like arenas or large pastures without shelters because I don't want one horse to get trapped in the shelter and not be able to get out if another horse comes in. So if you had a shelter that was open on multiple sides, that would work as well, but you need to make sure that you're dealing with a large area. We don't want them chasing each other into corners and trapping 'em, chasing 'em into shelters and trapping 'em and too tight of a space where the new or the established herd can't get away. Okay, so finding the time when everything is relaxed, introduce them. We talked about that. So we make sure everything is just really calm and make sure you have plenty of time. We don't wanna be rushed. Don't do it when you only have 30 minutes till you have to go. Usually when I introduce new horses to each other, I plan to be at the barn that whole day with them. And then and I'll plan to be there the next day and then day after that, like I'm just, I'm there for multiple days all day, just watching and keeping an eye on everybody. Making sure there are plenty of resources is critical. So let's say you have two horses and a herd, or two horses and a pen that you're just now introducing to each other when they first go out together. Don't just do one round bale or you know, couple or one like bag of hay, whatever. We wanna have multiple, even one more than there are horses. So if you have two horses in a pen, make three resource spaces, meaning three locations that they can get the hay. Same thing for water. We wanna make sure we have more than one water point so that if the horse gets chased off of that one and or the horse that's currently there wants to resource guard, you want the other horse to be able to have access to it in a different way. So making sure there's plenty of resources, more than one location for the hay. Lots of grass is great too. If you can do that. Lots of places for them to get shelter from the sun and bad weather and lots of places for water access. The more you can do that, the more you can offer the calmer and more peaceful and lower risk of injury and aggression there will be. Always feeding the horses separate meals. I used to feed my horses. When the herd was also well established, it was doing fine along the fence line. I would just have their individual buckets and they'd come up and it went okay. But I definitely saw more aggression. Now I've set up my feeding setup, set up my feeding setup, and they each have their individual pens. It doesn't have to be complicated. You don't have to make it expensive. You could even just take one horse right outside the gate and one horse in and let them eat and then put that horse back in. It doesn't really matter how you do it, but I highly recommend separating the horses to eat in one way or another so that they, again, they're not resource guarding, they're not pushing each other off their food, even if the one horse that's being pushed off walks off and there's not like this conflict. It does make a difference for that horse and also the horse that is technically being reinforced for that behavior. So every time your horse, or I should say every time the horse that does the resource guarding or goes and takes the food away from the other horses, every time that works, it gets more reinforced and they're more likely to do it in the future. So it becomes a stronger behavior. And then the horse that gets pushed off of their food is more likely to be worried about the food and is more likely to try and get the food from you faster. Maybe even show some tendencies towards food anxiety or aggression. There's just not really a, a win there except for it's a little bit easier for the humans in some cases. Some cases it's more dangerous and harder to have them all together eating. I do prefer to have them in separate pens. And removing back shoes is really important for turning horses out together and also avoiding having on halters, and I would even argue that potentially, especially for the beginning, you should remove fly masks. Horses need their eyes to be able to communicate well with the other horses and also the other horses need to be able to see the eyes to be able to take that in as body language and information. Horses express a lot through their eyes. So having on fly masks really prevents some of that communication. And I think it's important, especially in the beginning, maybe the first couple of days, especially if you have a horse that has really sensitive eyes. Maybe you do it in a sheltered area where they're not in direct sunlight. You just have to make it work for your horse. Maybe you apply extra fly spray couple, you know, throughout the day. I don't know, something to. Make sure that horse remains comfortable, but also making sure that they're able to communicate and receive communication from the other horses in the herd. That's gonna be really important when you're doing that introduction process. Later on, you can put the fly mask back on. I do have horses that have fly mask, so that is something I do. I'm not against fly masks. The halters, they need to be removed so that they don't get caught potentially even in the other horse's teeth. Something like that. That's really important. But if you have to have halter on, make sure it's a breakaway. And the back shoes is because if they were to kick each other, metal is going to cause a lot more damage then a barefoot back foot. And I, all my horses are barefoot, but I understand that some people wanna do shoes and that's what they need to do. That's great. Maybe even temporarily remove the back shoes. Usually horses can handle having their back shoes off. There's quite a few horses that I know and work with and only have front shoes, so that is something to consider.
[00:35:29] Okay. Now we have reached the point at which we can begin talking about talking about the process, the process that I used to introduce horses to each other. We reached, we reached the monumental moment here. Okay, so first things first. When I'm bringing a new horse in, I usually use some sort of like a calming supplement or something. It doesn't have to be very powerful. I'm not talking about a sedative unless you need it, but I, I'm not talking about that. I'm just talking about something to help take the edge off something to help quiet them. There's a lot of supplements, there's a lot of options out there that you can try, but when I bring a new horse home, whether I'm introducing them to new horse or not, it doesn't matter the new horse that arrives in the environment. I almost always give them something in their food right away and I keep them on it for a while. Talking probably either a couple days to a couple weeks, depends on the horse. This just really helps them settle in and helps everything go over smoothly. You can also use the same process, the same thing when you're introducing horses to each other potentially. You could give it to the whole herd, you could give it just to the new horse. It really depends on what you think your individual horses need. Usually I just give it to the new horse. But I do have one horse within my herd that I also give the calming supplements to because she has a harder time accepting new horses in, even in the environment, just a new horse arrives at the barn and she has a hard time with that, not even necessarily in her actual pasture. So again, it really depends on the individual horses. If you're not sure that you're not gonna, you're not gonna risk anything unless there's, you know, definitely talk to your vet. But I don't see a whole lot of downside to just giving it. So that's one thing. And then where I usually start horses is I like to use two separate pens. And then we're gonna be talking about, in particular, I'm gonna use a scenario where I'm going to be putting two horses together. So when you have a horse that you're introducing to a herd, it's a little bit different setup because you've got multiple horses already in the herd and you're bringing in a new horse. And I guess I could talk about that as well cause that's what I'm doing now and it's, it's kind of the same but. Anyway, I'm getting off topic here. I'm not getting off topic. I'm getting too much into the details, but okay, let's say I'm going to introduce two horses to each other, and I'm going to start them off usually in my barn, it's just because of my setup, but you could also use two individual pens separated from each other, so they're not necessarily touching noses over the fence. So I would like to see some space in between the fence line so they can see each other well, but they can't touch or sniff or kick or anything like that. There is plenty of space, and this again, kind of depends on the individuals. I, in some cases where one horse is really agitated or aggressive, I might opt to have, like, I'm using an example for this is where I usually do this in my stalls. So I have a row of five stalls in a row with runs out the back that are large. They're 48 feet long, and no, they're longer than that. They're like 60 feet long anyway, they're very long and they're the width of the stalls and they they're side by side and the horses can come and go from the walkouts into the stall as much as they want. So usually what I do is I put one horse in one stall, then I skip a stall, there's no horse in there. And then I put the other horse in the third stall. So there's one whole run install in between. So that's about 14 feet, cuz I have 14 foot stalls. And that usually provides adequate space from each other. But if I were to have a, a rare situation, which I've had before, I actually will put two stalls in between them. And how I judge that is on the horse's behavior. If they're running the fence line, getting really kind of angry, looking at each other, kicking at the fence. Just acting really agitated and angry, then I know they need more space from each other. Usually though, the one stall in between is plenty. And you can again, duplicate this with two pens. It's not difficult as far as, as long as you have the setup. You could use temporary pens too. That's something absolutely possible. There's temporary all kinds of options for temporary fencing, paneled fencing, electric fencing, all that. I'm not a fan of electric fencing, but it is an option if you need that. So creating two pens where they can stay long term for multiple days that doesn't mean they can't leave the stalls in the walkouts, but I'm just saying they're just gonna live there. So they start to spend time seeing each other, eating around each other, getting used to each other's smells, sounds the way they communicate with one another. They're just getting used to each other basically. When I stop seeing any signs of agitation, so when I start to see them relaxed and calm, looking at each other peacefully, resting out in their walkouts together, they can eat and not kind of try and attack each other, through the fencing, which is pretty rare, but it does happen when they can do all that with that space in between, I remove the spacing, so even better, would be able to have like two temporary pens and you just get them closer and closer together over time. I don't have that ability right now, but I, so, and it usually goes pretty well for me just to then move one of the horses into that middle stall that didn't have horse in it. And so now they're sharing a walkout in a, a stall wall. This is when I, I usually start them off by having some food in the stall. So I'll have like a flake of alfalfa, not grain. I'm not, that's really high value and can make them really agitated. But I'll have like a flake of alfalfa or a hay ball with alfalfa in it inside their stalls. And there's a full wall in between them and there. And they start off there and usually they'll sniff each other through the stall walls and there's grills so they can easily see and sniff each other, but it's full height. So they can't touch, they can't like go over the fence at each other. They'll sniff at each other and engage, and then eventually they'll usually walk out into the walkouts and this is where they can have more contact with each other. And again, it's really important to have that pasture, those fencing, I guess not, again, I didn't mention this, but the fencing needs to be really secure and safe. You don't want them to be able to kick the fence and knock it over. Or a long, long time ago, I had an unfortunate incident where a horse kicked through the fence and got their legs stuck in between the boards and just did a whole bunch of damage to that back leg. That is really important to try and avoid. So right now I have four panel wood fencing with no climb fencing on it, like a, it's like a really dense metal though, so it doesn't bend. And so if they were to try and kick at each other, it wouldn't go anywhere. But you could, there's other options as well. And so I, I like that because then even if they do kick the fence, it won't go through it and make contact with the other one. But usually at this point they're pretty like familiar with each other and calm. And if you're still in the calming supplements, that'll help. And if the environment's calm and everybody's doing well, and especially if the new horse or one of the horses is pretty socially well adjusted, this process usually goes very well. And they might squeal a little bit. They might kind of trot up and down their walkouts a little bit, their pens, they might offer a little bit of a nip or something, but that's usually the extent of it. And they go back to eating.
[00:42:56] Again, this is not every time, I'm not saying this is for your particular case. You may have a case where we actually need to do some intentional conditioning and re socializing, and there's a whole more way more advanced process for that and using. We can actually teach the horses with things like clicker training and positive reinforcement and other things like that to actually improve their social skills. We can actually come in and kind of manually help them do that. That can really help for those particular cases. I've worked with a couple of those, but that is way more involved and I'm not gonna go in it into that here. And this is where I say to consult with a qualified professional on that, a behaviorist.
[00:43:37] And so yeah, so they're in their pens side by side and I usually, they wait here, they hang out in this type of setup for a while until I'm not seeing the squealing, the running, the biting at each other the kicking. And something to keep in mind is those behaviors may never happen to begin with or they may stop pretty quickly, but that doesn't mean they kind of won't resurge back up later on. So this is why I usually wait for a couple of days. I don't say, oh, like they're just standing there sniffing each other right now, and it's been 30 minutes. It's time to turn 'em out together. I usually give them a couple of days to really get familiar with each other here and socialize and call, you know, remain calm around each other and just get to know each other in a safe environment. So the other aspect of this is not, I'm not trying to just avoid kicking each other, a biting each other, sorry. What I'm actually trying to achieve with this setup is I want them to be able to escape each other. I want the one that is worried or anxious or fearful to be able to remove themself from the other horse without having that other horse antagonize them and come after them. This is where I really feel this setup is valuable is because a lot of times what I see in horses that are aggressive towards other horses or chasing the horses around, it's not actually that they are dominant or aggressive or angry or all these things. Oftentimes, well, I guess it really depends.
[00:45:08] There's two different reasons that might show up. One, I think though is like a fear aggression. This, we talk about this in dogs where they're actually frightened of the other horse and they're just trying to protect themselves. They're in a self-defense mode. So if we can avoid the need for that horse to defend, to defend themselves, and to protect themselves, then it puts them in a situation where they feel much safer and they don't need to act that way. And we can introduce them in a much slower way and in a calmer way, and then they won't need to act that way. And we can avoid all the aggression.
[00:45:41] The other reason this might show up again is the poor social skills and the resource guarding and stuff like that. So, they can also happen simultaneously. So you can have a horse that has both, but again, this is why I'm talking about this setup. I want them to be able to make contact with each other. I want them to be able to sniff. I want them to be able to groom each other. I want them to be able to express how they're feeling, but they need to be able to move away from each other. Trying to avoid those situations where a horse is put in a place where they're over threshold, that they're being overwhelmed, that they're just being flooded with new horses and new everything, and they can't escape. They don't know how to get the other horse to stop and they have to defend themselves. And that's where the aggression comes out, and that's where the dangerous behaviors come out. So then after that, after we spend time in the stall and they're very comfortable and they're not showing a lot of calming signals, we're not seeing also yawning and rapid blinking and leg rubbing and rolling, and all the other behaviors that show up for calming and displacement behaviors. This is where I start to consider putting them together. I might try in, in a set up, like my arena, it's a very large space. There's nowhere for them to get trapped and it's a neutral area. But oftentimes I will go to the pasture. So I have a smaller pasture that is perfect for like two horses, and I'll usually take out the new horse to the environment, to the place, the boarding barn, whatever, into that pasture. Let them get used to it, let them investigate, see everywhere, look at where all the fencing is, look at where the hay is, look at where the water is. And then I will bring the other horse out that is probably more familiar with that pasture. And that's when I allowed them to engage directly with each other. But the, the thing I do here is when I first do this, I always spread out like tons of little mini piles of alfalfa everywhere. And my horses think of alfalfa as a treat. So if you feed your horses alfalfa all the time, they may not find it as high at value, but I, I spread it out in lots of places. Well spread out from each other.
[00:47:46] And this really gives the horses something to do and focus on and engage and with, rather than just like, new horse. And there's nothing else to do except for to banter with each other. So I try and immediately give them something to do. And then as that gets eaten up, they start to recognize that there's a new horse with them and they're like, oh, I guess I should engage with this other horse and kind of see them. And then this is when they'll start to socialize a little bit. And again, you might see a little bit of squeals, a little bit of trotting away from each other. Some minor conflict avoidance behaviors. Some minor calming signals and stuff, but it really shouldn't be anything insane. There should be no chasing each other around. You know, pinning other horses into corners. There should be no, like absolutely, you know, double barrel mule kicking at them at each other. Rearing and fighting, you know, lashing out at each other. One or two warning shots is one thing. But full on aggression towards each other is a different story and we might need to reevaluate the situation and the introduction process. It can be challenging though once you've put the horses out together to break that up. If you're able to though, you know, you might consider keeping a breakaway halter on just one of them while you're observing. But definitely take it back off when you're not observing. When you first introduce them to each other, maybe have a breakaway halter on both of them or one of them. And, you know, maybe you can quickly guide that horse out of the pasture if things are getting out of hand. Usually though, I can deescalate the situation by throwing down some more food or you know, I dunno, usually if I've done my job well that's not what happens. It's maybe a little bit of turmoil of right in the beginning, but it's usually pretty chill. Like, I don't, I can't remember the last time I saw like big fireworks. It's just not, not a thing that really happens anymore since I've been doing this process and taking things very slowly.
[00:49:37] So if you were to do the same thing with the herd, what I would say would be to have the new horse in its own individual pen near the herd, near the established herd. I would like that the established herd not be able to move away far enough that the new horse can't see it because it'll cause that new horse a lot of stress. So maybe you can keep the herd. It depends on how your setup is. Sometimes people have like smaller pastures like holding pens, and then they have the larger pasture that they let the horses out into. Sometimes they have side by side pastures where really they can see each other very well. It really depends on your setup. I'll tell you that currently I have the way my place is set up, I have an arena, a large arena, and then there's a like a 16 foot pathway around the arena, like a gap. There's kind of like a place we would drive through to, you know, whatever you, to fill water, to feed the horses through the fence, whatever it is, just a space between the arena fence and the pasture fence. Then there are two different pasture fences on, there's like one pasture on the short side of the arena and then one pasture on the long side of the arena. And that run flows through the whole front of both of those pastures. So what I actually did was I put up fencing, like temporary or like paneled gates, gate panels anywhere. I took them and I closed off that 16 foot walkway on both sides and I put June in there. I put the new horse I put her in that created like a runway, a run area, very large one. And she actually can see the horses when they're in the small pasture and see them when they're in the large pasture. And there's really nowhere that they can get that she can't see. And then actually in my large pasture that it's not the case, they actually can get further away, but I have 'em separated right now so that the smaller pasture, they will always be within eyesight of her, so she doesn't get distressed. And so it works out really well. So she's sharing a fence right now with the herd, both herds, small herds or the full herd if they're all together and is able to socialize with them and engage with them on the other side of the fence, but she's not in the herd with them in the first week or so. Actually, I wanna say like the first three to four days, it was a little bit more like we were seeing some of that squealing over the fence. We were seeing some of the trotting back and forth, some calming signals and displacement behaviors. But what was great about this is that the new horse, June, she really wanted to avoid conflict. And so she would not necessarily directly approach the fence when the herd was up against the fence trying to investigate her. She needed her space to watch them from a distance. And then over the next couple of days, she got more comfortable and approached the fence line much easier to to socialize with them. On the flip side, my herd, the one mare I talked about, who really struggles with new horses being in the herd. , she was able to also get away from June and go to a comfortable place for her and then return when she felt more comfortable. So she was able to also avoid conflict. So it gave them that space to be able to come and go as needed and to socialize without having to chase off each other or defend themselves or to feel frightened or need to be aggressive. Like it really discourt and it just is a setup that really helps everybody be set up for success. But initially when she got here, I actually had her in the barn and in the stalls, like I talked about earlier, and I just had one horse from the herd in the barn with her, and I did that process of having them in separate stalls and then side by side they got comfortable with each other. They were doing great. Then I put that her horse from the herd back out into the. And put June the new horse in the run area. And so that way she actually had one horse in the herd that she had already socialized with, which helped her feel more comfortable and also the herd to be more comfortable with her around. So that's kinda the process I used there. And eventually what's gonna happen is and this is what I would recommend, is I'm going to have one, maybe two of the established herd horses in the smaller pasture like they are right now, and just put the new horse in with those two. And then gradually we will add in the other horses from the larger herd until it is a complete herd and they're all together and they're all doing well and we're not seeing a lot of aggression, we're not seeing chasing each other around all of that.
[00:54:16] So it's a very gradual process that I use. I, I know I've said this like a million times, but again, it definitely fluctuates. It's definitely something that is a case by case situation. It's definitely up to your individual horse and you and your setup. I think as long as you follow those beginning guidelines where I set you know, the things not to do and the things to do, you're largely going to be successful. The only thing I would say that is really critical on top of those things I mentioned in the beginning is that setup that I just explained, where the new horse can escape and the herd can move away from the new horse. But, but this is really, really important. Please make sure that the new horse is not left isolated. They need to be able to at least see the herd and. See the herd or see another horse. They need to be around other horses. They're not, horses are not meant to be individuals. They're social creatures. They are herd animals. So don't let the herd or the other horse that they're being introduced to get so far away that it causes the new horse distress. They need to all remain in a really calm state and comfortable. So that may mean that you temporarily fence off part of your pasture so they stay up closer. There's a whole lot of things you can do. Management is key here. It is going to be your, your friend. And if you don't do it, it's your enemy. And just making sure that we are giving both of the current resident horses and the new horse the freedom to be able to safely remove themselves from the situation in the time that they need to be able to socialize with each other in a calm state gradually so they can get familiar with each other before they're put in together. Those two things are so important for reducing potential injury, for reducing the chaos that happens when horses are first introduced. Just, it's just gonna help so much. So hopefully all of this information was super valuable. This was a topic that has been very, I've been getting a lot of questions about recently and I'm very passionate about and I really wanted to share with you guys through my podcast, especially since it's really hard to do on a video. It's hard to explain it because there's so many, you know, nuanced aspects and I don't always have I don't know, it's just hard to video. It's hard to do like a tutorial on. It's much better to like, just talk about it.
[00:56:42] But again, I recommend the book Language Signs and Calming Signals and I also recommend the book Horses and Company and feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about this or you would like consulting for your particular setup and your particular horse. I do email and video consults. I'm more than happy to help assist, especially if you have a horse that is what I would consider like needing extra attention in this area. Meaning that they maybe don't have a great social skills, they have a long history of being aggressive towards other horses. I'm happy to walk you through a process that will help you guys or help put you in touch with somebody in your area. That would be ideal cuz then they can actually come and help you hands on. This is kind of an area that benefits from that hands on observation, although there's definitely ways we can do it virtually. I've done that many times as well, so, yeah, let me know if you guys have any follow up questions on this. Again, I'm gonna say, this is my personal, personal process. This is the one I've been using and I like. Maybe I'll change it up in the future. I don't know. I, there's a lot of things that you could change about it to fit your particular needs. I just think as long as you stick with kind of those key aspects that I mentioned, you'll be doing much better.
[00:58:05] Thanks so much for listening. If you'd like to find out more, head to my website, the willing equine.com. I'm also on a lot of different social media platforms, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook. So check those out and I'd love to hear from you, so don't hesitate to email or send me a message.