Episode 63 // Bringing New Horses Home
In this episode we dive into helping our horses transition to moving into a new home, whether you are moving your current horse to a new facility, sending them to a trainer, or bringing home a new equine partner!
I share my process for making this transition smooth and stress-free, as well as some tips that trainers and facility owners should consider to help horses adjust to new homes.
[00:00:00] Welcome to season four of The Willing Equine Podcast, the podcast, where we chat about all things, horses and being the best horse people we can be for our horses. My name is Adele Shaw. I'm a certified behavior consultant, and my passion is for creating positive relationships between horses and people.
[00:00:29] Well, guys, I have another loud episode for you guys. I figured you guys would probably prefer a little bit of a noisy audio background with me driving than no podcast at all to this week, month, whatever it is. Yeah. And it's gonna be a little bit shorter one, but I wanted to get it out there. I'm trying to stay consistent trying to stay on top of this. And I wanted to talk about bringing new horses home. I wanted to talk about bringing them home, you know, you, you go out and you find you the companion of your dreams. You've been horse shopping for weeks, months, years. You know, it's your first horse or it's your 10th horse. It doesn't really matter. It's really exciting. You're eager to bring them home and you also wanna do it right. And you want to make sure that you make it as low stress as possible for your horse. And also as low stress for you and enjoyable and just set everybody up for success. It's a good goal to have. And I'm here to offer some suggestions. Now there's gonna be different ways of doing this. This is not a fool proof. Like it has to be this way or the highway kind of situation. This is just me sharing what I do and how I help horses transition to new homes.
[00:01:36] And this will also apply to people who will be moving their horses to a new facility or a new barn, even if they are not changing owners. So let's say you have to change boarding facilities and you need to move your horse. How do you help your horse settle into the new facility as easily as possible? This episode will also apply to you and your horse.
[00:01:55] So first things first is that as much as we're all super excited to like get to the new barn, start exploring it, you know, taking the horse out on the trail rides, or maybe getting into the arena and starting our lesson program right away, or getting back into training right away. We need to take it easy. Horses do take quite a while to settle into a new home, especially if they're changing herds. If there's changing herds and their companions are different than they were before, you can expect it to take quite a bit longer for a horse to really settle into a new home. And when I talk about quite a bit longer I'm gonna say that for a full transition process for a horse that's kind of an average horse. We're not dealing with a lot of trauma. Not a lot of unpacking there's, you know, the horse has normal behaviors. You guys have a good relationship. They're not changing owners, et cetera. And you've just changed boarding facilities. And you're going to a new, you know, good place, a place where they're gonna provide them with their forage and their freedom and their friends and all of that. And your horse has been prepared properly for that transition time, which we'll talk about in a minute. I would fully expect it to take that horse about a full six months. To really settle in now, hang on. Don't panic. That doesn't mean you can't train for six months. It doesn't mean you can't take your horse out of the pasture for six months. I'm not saying that. I'm just saying for a horse to reach a state of like homostasis, where they are comfortable in their body again, they're established in the herd they've, you know, reestablished connections and companionship. They feel comfortable with the routine and the environment they're settled and their digestive tracks have adjusted to the new forage. Maybe any changes in their feeding regimen. It's gonna take a minimum of six months. Now that doesn't mean that again, like I said, that you have to stop everything and just, you know, put a freeze on everything for six months. I'm not saying that now again, we are talking about normal, like the average horse. There are horses where that is going to be the case. That's an abnormal case, but it, it might happen. So what I'll say though, is that for at least the first month, for the average horse, I would fully expect them to need a bit of adjustment to their normal routine and their normal like how you guys would interact on a daily basis. And if you're getting a new horse that you've never worked with before, you know, you just purchased a new horse, rescued, adopted whatever it is. Again about a month. That's when I bring horses into my facility, when I bring new horses into my training program. So while I'm not assuming ownership of the horse, I am like their full-time care provider and their full-time trainer at that time, I expect it to take at least three to four weeks for the horse to really start settling in and for us to start making headway in their training. Now, of course we start training before that, especially when horses come in for lesson programs or training programs. Usually it's a little bit hard to ask an owner to sit for a whole month while paying board and full training while the horse just kind of chills out before we start the training program. However, that would be really nice. So it would be nice if owners could allow for one month minimum of the horse settling in, before we started a full training program, usually I start a full training program and I, I gradually, you know, kind of work up my work, the horse up to that. I start it within the first week or two.
[00:05:12] And so we'll start off maybe the first week, I'll kind of sit with them and get to know them. And this I'm walking you through again, what I do with my horses, whether it's a horse, I bought or a horse that comes into my training program or horse I'm fostering doesn't really matter any new horse to my facility. This is the program, the routine that I put everybody kind of through, and then we adjust it accordingly to the individual. So we start off with the horse, you know, landing at our, my facility and I provide them with their forage. Usually there's a quarantine period too. I do make sure they have companions nearby, but they do not go directly out into the herd. They stay in a, their own pen, but there is a companion right next to them. So they're not isolated. They're just not able to touch noses or be in the herd with the other horses until we make sure they're not carrying anything contagious, et cetera. So there's a quarantine period, but they have 24/ 7 forage. They have lots of room to roam. They have free choice minerals and salts. They have free choice water. Obviously they have access to shelter. They have you know, their forged, like I mentioned, and then they have companions nearby. I also at this time and before, if I can start them on gut support, I start them on anything that has like is ulcer preventative and also settling. So things with, you know, there's different herbs and stuff. I'm not gonna go through it as far as nutrition counseling and medical counseling here, but there are different supplements that are specifically designed for this that are herbal based. Or you can look at something that is more medicine based and I'm, again, there's different brands. There's different things that I use. Also start them on a really good probiotic. If I can do that before I move them, that's ideal. So I'll start them on gut support a week before and at least, and probiotics and all that before I move them, cuz this can make the transition period so much easier on them. I also usually start them on something that is calming. So something usually herbal sometimes something with magnesium or vitamin B's and all that can be helpful if they're deficient in those things. But that is not typically what I go for. I go for something that has, you know, like chamomile, valerian root and stuff like that. Again, talk to your vet, talk to your nutritionist. Don't take it based off of my podcast, please don't. And I start them on that a couple of days before I move them. If possible, if not a week before. So I'm trying to get it all into their system. I'm trying to get them really in a good place, physically, mentally before I make that stressful transition and then I move them to my place and they continue on it. Now, if they arrive at my place and they haven't been on that stuff. That's, I mean, that happens more often than not. I just start them on it immediately. So with their forage, with their companions, with their free room to move and with the gut support and all of that, I usually spend the first week just sitting with them and getting to know them. Just, I might sit outside. Usually I sit outside their pasture, so in protected contact and I just kind of hang out with them and I let them get used to my presence. I let them get used to me. I'm also usually doing their feeding time. So they get used to me being somebody good in their life that brings them food.
[00:08:19] And if also going on to this transition, you know, talk and all that, if I can, I will slowly transition their feed. If that is necessary. If they're coming from a different barn that fed them something differently, I will spend a good month sometimes transitioning them over from their previous feed. And if possible, I also bring their hay from their previous barn as well. So I'm trying in my hardest to transition their gut and the gut flora and all of that very gradually so that their system goes into as little shock as possible during the transition. And this really impacts the behavior. This really impacts their ability to adjust to a new environment. So everything is slowly as possible as far as transition goes is going to help as well.
[00:09:04] So I'll spend the first week just really sitting with them, getting used to them, getting to know them, watching their body language. How they communicate, you know, their different calming signals that they use most commonly. How do they interact with the horses, you know, even at a distance over the fence? How do they interact with people? I watch their reactivity to different things, you know, like there's a squirrel that just left off the tree. Like how do they react to that? So I watch all those things. I get to know them. I really feel them out. And then I start to let them get to know me and I'll just spend time with them. I also will be working with other horses in proximity to them. So we could talk about that as a whole different podcast of how horses can learn from observation and how they absorb the, kind of the, the feeling and the energy, the emotion of their environment. I've really strongly believe that horses definitely pick up on their environment and how they're experiencing through kind of, you know, vicariously through the other horses what's going on. So I make sure that any horses that are in proximity to them and any training going on is as low stress and as positive as possible, as pleasant as possible. I'm always striving for that, but I'm extra careful of that when I first bring in a new horse and I want the horses that they are surrounded by to also be good examples. So they're calm. They're well adjusted. They're not reactive. They have good behaviors around people. I'm trying to influence their behavior early on and give them a really good sense of how this is gonna go and what the environment is like and how the people are.
[00:10:35] I'm also very cautious about who interacts with the horses when they first arrive as well. It needs to be somebody that's very educated, also very calm, also can set like a precedent. Like this is how it's gonna be here in as far as in a good way. This is how it is. We're all low key and we're all respectful of each other and this is how life is here.
[00:10:54] So that's like the first week and then rolling into the second week. It continues along that way. However, I start to introduce some training sessions and so I'll do some quick training sessions. You know, again, this is in context of how I train. So typically when I start working with horses, my training sessions are around 10 minutes each. At most sometimes or five, sometimes they're only two minutes and maybe one to two a day to begin with. And so I'll start with, you know, let's say we got a seven day week, right? So I might do two or three that week, total of sessions. And they're probably gonna be under five minutes long. Maybe I'll do a couple more sessions. It really depends on the horse. Some horses come in with a lot of clicker training knowledge. And all that and, and are much more stable and, you know, kind of tracking along that average horse, as far as like behavior wise and all that, we might do more training sessions quicker, versus a horse that's coming in with a lot of baggage, a lot of trauma that needs, you know, they need help. They need time to adjust all that. I might push off training for a little bit longer, or I might just do like a super brief couple of sessions at most. And we're just going to progress from there as the individual horse needs. So training from there progresses into more of a full-time routine within three to four weeks, and then by the third month, that's when I really start seeing the training and the changes and everything start to compound, meaning that I see a huge impact on their behavior. I see a big transformation in their personality and in their behavior towards people and other horses and all that around the three month, mark. This is usually when I'm starting to see the biggest results from the training we've been putting in. If it's related to behavior modification or we're trying to train new behaviors, obviously we're making progress that whole time. But around the three month mark is when I really start to see horses settle into, you know, the training and settle into the environment as far as interacting with the people and figuring out the routine and understanding what's going on. Now, it still takes three more months, at least for them to fully settle in, especially since I don't start introducing them to the herd until like, so I usually do a couple week quarantine. So it'd probably be towards the end of the first month is when I start introducing them to another horse that they'll be staying with. If they're coming in for training, they'll stay with one to two other horses that will also be coming in or they'll be leaving with the training program. I don't usually integrate horses into my established herd, unless they're staying long term. Like I have a couple clients' horses. I have one right now she's staying with me long term. Like there's no deadline on how long she's staying and she's integrated into my herd because she's just become a member of the herd. I try not to change herd dynamics and remove companions and, and change horses in and out of the herd, unless it's absolutely necessary. So like for example, this horse, that's staying with me, this client's horse, if for some reason something happened, which we don't foresee happening, but if something happened and she left in a year, that would not be awesome that would be really sad. And I know there, the horses would really struggle with that, but that's kind of an unforeseeable event. And it's not expected now. However, when horses come in for training, like a three month program or six month program, or even for a year that that is, that is coming. I know they're going home. I know they're going home eventually. So I do what I can to put those horses either with a horse that I feel will be able to adjust quickly to their absence or put them in with another horse that's here for training that also will be leaving and hopefully around the same time. Now this takes a lot of management. There's a lot of ifs ands or buts, there's a lot of like, it really depends. I just do the best I can based off of what I know on horse social dynamics and companionship. And I just try my best not to change the herds, especially and this is just how it is, cuz they're mine. I, especially my own herd. I don't bring client's horses into my herd willynilly and just. Like yeah. Have fun. This horse is leaving in six weeks. That just wouldn't be ideal. And it would cause a lot of disruption to my own horses. So that is unnecessary. So with that being said let's see. What are some other things that I do?
[00:15:04] I did a whole podcast episode on reducing aggression within the herd and introducing horses to each other. So I'm not going to cover that in this episode, I recommend going back and listening to that episode. So just go check that out. I think it's called aggression within the herd. And then also there's another one that's I believe it's specifically about introducing horses together.
[00:15:26] So yeah, so I'm not gonna go over that too much in this episode, but just know that there is a slow integration process that I use for horses when I'm introducing them into a herd, whether it's with my herd or with companions that they're going to be with for the next couple of months. And then in reverse, when horses leave my training program and go home, I do this whole thing over again. So they, they, they go on extra gut support, they go on extra like a calming support and for a couple like a week or two before, and then we take them home. They go home and then I have the client keep their horse on those things. Now the gut support, they stay on lifetime. Like I always have my horses on gut support. Now they can reduce the quantity of it or switch to a different product. That's a little bit more low key. Once the horse is established back at home, the calming one, I only keep them on for like the week before. And. It depends on how they're taking the transition. If they get to my place or home, and they transition really easily into home, they seem to be doing fine. Then we can wean them off within the first week. If they are having a hard time, though, if they're really struggling, then I might keep them on for more like a month or two. Now, again, it really depends on the supplement and you're using too. And what products are or what ingredients are contained in it. So I'm hesitant to give you a definitive, like timeline. Just know that it really largely depends on the individual horse and what you're specifically using and I'm happy to consult on any cases where you might be moving a horse and you feel like you need extra support and assistance in that transition process.
[00:16:57] Now, if I can move horses together as companions that's even better, I've actually had clients send me more than one horse at a time where like two herd companions will come stay with me at the same time and go through the same training program and then go home together. That is extremely ideal. And if you are changing homes, like if your horse is moving boarding facilities. If you're able to move with another horse, that's in that horse's herd, that would be extremely ideal. Or if like, maybe you're a private, you know, horse owner and you don't have your own facility, you have boarding facilities, you keep your horses out. If you could, obviously I know horses are expensive, but this would be ideal is if you had a horse, like two horses that stayed together, no matter what, no matter which homes they go to, that would make the transition process a whole lot easier on everybody and would be ideal. So like, let's say you stay at one boarding facility for, you know, and we always assume that we're gonna stay there forever, but let's say it ends up being six months and then you gotta move again. Cuz that boarding facility is shutting down. Well, instead of your horse being ripped away from all of his companions and being thrown into just totally new place where he doesn't know anybody, he doesn't know what's going on, it's just really stressful, et cetera, et cetera. You would be able to move both of your horses at the same time and at least they had each other. And that is really helpful. Now keeping the same owner, same person is also helpful, but not as helpful as keeping the companion with them. And yes, this does usually cause them to bond closer together. I don't see a problem with that though. I think that's actually normal horse behavior and a really good way to help our horses out when they live in such an unstable, constantly fluctuating environment, where they're always changing homes, all that, as long as they have one constant companion that's to me would be better than trying to keep them separated and not have any type of strong relationship or strong, bonded relationship. You can always work on, you know, separation, anxiety related behavior, separation related behaviors on the side and help your horses feel confident, being away from each other in small amounts of time. But I would never expect a horse or I would never, that it's just really sad to me, honestly, when people purposely change their horse's companions out regularly so that they never get too bonded to just one horse or when they get upset with their horses or think something is really problematic when their horse is very bonded or connected to another horse, there is nothing more normal in this horse world than horses connecting with other horses. That's like being upset with a child for being connected to its mother or for or siblings to being attached to each other. Like there's, that's normal, that's normal social behavior. It's actually abnormal for a child and a mom not to be bonded. Or it's abnormal for two siblings, not to like each other and to not be connected at all. Now, of course, sibling relationships are a little bit you know, they can be a little bit touch and go depending on how the upbringing is and all that. But you guys get my point is that that is normal social behavior. So let's try not to look at it as a problem. Now I get it we're in a manmade environment. Horses have to change homes, horses have to go into the trailer to go to the vet. I've talked about this before on this podcast where I do everything I can to keep at least one companion with my horse when I take a horse to the vet for a colic or just a checkup or whatever. I take another horse with him. I call ahead. I ask the vet and make sure it's okay to bring the second horse. They're almost always okay with it. And usually it's Finn that goes with me cuz he is a little mini. So if you are not sure about getting a second horse, you're worried about the size of the horse, et cetera. Minis are great ideas as long as your horse is okay with minis. Not a lot of horses are and are fully aware that minis cost just as much as full size horses, they need the same medical care. They need the same farrier care and sometimes it's actually more expensive for a mini for farrier because it's harder on the farrier's body and it definitely pay a farrier, the normal amount. But there's other companions too. There's like mini donkeys, some horses like goats. Sometimes I've had clients who have a cow actually for the horses, companion, not as perfect as a companion, as another horse, but it will do in the absence of nothing as an alternative. So try not to look at separation anxiety and bonding as a problem behavior and actually more as something that you can utilize it to really help your horse to feel more comfortable, to transition into new homes in a smoother, less traumatic way. Obviously we can only do what we can, but you know, these are baby steps. These are steps we can do. These are things we can do to help our horses out. And I don't see a problem with that.
[00:21:28] So, yeah. And then I'm trying to think of what else I might do as far as transition. For traditional training or riding lessons. I didn't really talk about that too much. If I have a client horse come in, that is going to be going under saddle and I'm supposed to be working with them under saddle. I always start off with like my clicker training sessions, which all my training is clicker training, but just on the ground working in some basic introduction to the clicker, some, you know, learning how to stand with me quietly. Can you just be here with me and just spend, you know, just kind of relax with me and have your food? I might work on some leading behaviors. We're always starting on the ground. No matter what I do, what, what the horse is there for. We start on the ground and I assess, and I'm evaluating where they're at, how they're doing mentally and emotionally and physically during this time, I'm usually also having their physical well being evaluated by a vet osteo osteopath massage therapist farrier, barefoot tremor nutritionist, all I bring in all these professionals to help me with my, with the horses that come in for training. Now it'd been depends a little bit on the individual horse, cuz. In, and they can't be touched so that obviously that's not gonna work. We do the best we can. And then once we move into like riding that usually doesn't start until the second month. I want my horses to be fully settled in for us to have a relationship for us to understand each other. I want to be able to read their body language and I want them to be able to know me and trust me. And sometimes it starts earlier than that. It really, again, it just very much depends on the horse, but I would say in general, if you're getting a new horse that you just bought and you're getting them settled into a new home and you're getting used to them and you're trying to, you know, you're figuring them out and they're figuring you out and you want them to have time to really settle in and feel comfortable in their environment. I would say you shouldn't expect to jump into a lesson program, a regular lesson program for at least a couple of weeks. I would give them at least I feel like two weeks is really tight. I would say three to four weeks before you start integrating into a lesson program and then I would start doing it gently. So maybe one ride a week then, and you can do some ground work in between. And then it's like two weeks. And again, it's so dependent on the individual horse and the individual situation. So this is not a hard, fast line. This is definitely me sharing with you what I do and how I do it. And why I do the different things I do, but it is not like it's an absolute, like cruelty to start it, you know, day 10. Like I'm not saying it's abuse or something. It's just not how I do it. And there's definitely a lot of reasons for that. And I'm covering some of them here. But other other parts of it too, are very much based on my priorities. My priorities are very much centered in developing a relationship with that horse and developing their trust in me. And yes, I do train horses under saddle, but I, they're not here for show training. They're not here to go compete. And I prioritize their mental, emotional, physical wellbeing well over, you know, how fast I can get them turned around out of their training program and how fast I can get them into the show ring and all of that. So I base my decisions and I base my program and the structure of my program on that. What does the horse need from me? What can I provide the horse that will help them adjust that is gonna help them feel as comfortable as possible.
[00:24:40] And I also want them to feel very comfortable to expose their true feelings and their true mental and emotional state to me, a horse that is stressed, or worried or fearful or just anxious in general is more likely to suppress what's going on. Like the truth of what's going on now, a horse that is really comfortable, that feels totally at ease that is doing well in his environment. He's thriving, not just surviving is more likely to express to me what's going on underneath the surface, is more likely to trust me with that vulnerability. And I'm not trying to be anthropomorphic. I'm just trying to express that a horse that feels safe and doesn't feel like their life is in danger, even in a small way is more likely to show me what's actually going on behind the scenes or, you know, beneath the skin. And that's what they're there for. They're at my training facility. They're with me because of that. I need to see what's actually going on. I need to get down into the nitty gritty. I want them to lay it all out on the table. I want them to be totally transparent and honest with me. So I need them to feel completely safe and completely trustworthy of their environment and people around them and the horses around them to be able to show me all of that. And that takes time building that trust takes time in their environment, in the people around them and the horses around them and just, it just takes a lot of time. And then when you have your own horse and you're getting a new horse, that's integrating into your family and into your herd, I would imagine you too also want your horse to be really transparent with how they're feeling and who they are and what's going on with them. Just know though that this is a really common situation that people find themselves in is that when they do give that horse time and space to be able to start revealing what's going on underneath the skin and what's going on underneath the surface emotionally, mentally, physically, sometimes people are surprised. They thought they bought one horse and then they find out they have another one. And, and that is really, really common. And there's nothing that you did wrong necessarily. There's not something wrong with the horse. And it doesn't mean that they were drugged necessarily, it means that your horse is starting to trust and open up about what's actually going on. And that's actually a good thing, but it can be overwhelming and it can be scary. And it's gonna take well, I should say I would highly recommend seeking out a professional, somebody who is a professional in behavior and behavior consulting and behavior modification and understands horses and understands their behavior and why they may be doing the things that they're doing. This is a different professional than a riding instructor. This is also a different professional than a colt starter. This is also a different professional than a performance horse trainer. They all have their areas of expertise. A behavior consultant is somebody who can help you get down into the nitty gritty and help your horse feel safe so that they can be safe around you and get back to the horse that you kind of thought that you originally bought, or maybe it's a totally new horse that you're gonna fall in love with and enjoy every minute of all right guys.
[00:27:44] So I covered a lot of ground very quickly today. I hope this gave you just enough information to intrigue you and to get you thinking and seeking out different ways of doing things and a new way of looking at bringing horses home and integrating them into the herd and starting them into a lesson program. And for you trainers out there that are listening, maybe this gives you some food for thought on how to organize and format your training program. There's a big industry out there for people that need trainers and behaviorists, anyway, anyway, there's a lot of people looking for people who are for professionals that understand behavior that are willing to give their horses time and really get down into the nitty gritty and build that trust , and that safety for that horse. So don't be afraid to organize your training program the way you feel like the horse needs because there is a market out there for that.
[00:28:40] Thanks so much for listening. If you enjoyed this podcast episode, I would love if you left us a review on wherever you listen to your podcast, if you'd like to learn more head to our website, the willing equine.com, where you'll find a bunch of links to our different social media platforms. We have Instagram TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, pretty much everything.
[00:28:59] We also have our blog, our training services and the T w academy where you can enroll in the foundation course that opens a few times a year. Thanks so much for listening and. Forward to chatting with you in the next episode.