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settling in a new horse

New Year, New Horse?

29 December 2023

Welcoming a new horse, whether it be your first or your tenth, can be an equally exciting and worrying time. 

Regardless of age and experience, moving to an entirely new home away from all that is familiar - routine, companions and surroundings - can be very stressful for horses. It may take weeks or even months for them to truly settle in. A change in behaviour is quite normal and they may seem very different to the horse you first met or trialled.

To help them adapt and settle in, the routine they have been used to should be maintained as much as possible. i.e. similar turning out and bringing in times, or living our 24/7.

Some yards may have a quarantine procedure that you have to adhere for the safety of the other horses on the yard. If their management changes dramatically, this is almost certain to cause stress. 

Using a product such as Calm Balance + (our pelleted forage balancer to help settle reactive, tense or spooky horses) or Lunar Eclipse (our meal from balancer for anxious horses and broodmares in foal) may help to 'take the edge off' the more extreme behaviours. If your horse has to be stabled for longer, use Lucie Brix as a boredom buster and enrichment tool.

Dietary changes should be made gradually so, if you can, request a few days worth of their previous feed and forage to accommodate for this. As they will have had to travel by horsebox or trailer to their new home, offering a soaked feed when they arrive will aid hydration.

What to feed your new horse will largely depend on their condition, workload and time of year so ask plenty of questions of their previous owner. If your new horse is due to arrive in the winter and they usually lose condition, pre-empt this by increasing their feed volume or by increasing the calorie density. It is important to appreciate that stress can also cause weight loss so keep a close eye on those poorer doing types.

At Simple System we can happily devise a Feed Plan tailored to your new horse, although for most existing customers you should find they can quite easily fit into the combination of feed you already use, especially if they are a similar breed or type.

Potentially the biggest challenge facing the owner of a new horse, and the new horse themselves, is integration with others. This requires careful planning and is a process that should never be rushed. Ideally, the new horse should be kept alongside their intended companion(s) with the ability to see and touch them for at least a couple of weeks so they can become accustomed to one another, with their own safe space to escape to. There may be some squealing or striking to start with, but this should be short lived as they start to graze, sleep and even play together, albeit with a fence between them.

When no signs of animosity are present you can plan to turn them out together. Ideally, choose a fair-weathered day and integrate them at what would usually be a calm time, after breakfast when they might typically go off for a snooze. It may be advisable to space numerous piles of forage around the field to reduce competition and provide distraction. It is also sensible to offer multiple buckets of water for the same reason. Placing them away from corners can prevent anyone becoming 'trapped'.

Equine interactions are very subtle and some level of running around, even mild aggression is to be anticipated, but there should be an overall friendly atmosphere to these exchanges. They may even seem completely anticlimactic with little more than brief nose-to-nose contact. Any running around or chasing behaviours that persist for longer than 5-10 minutes may indicate that the process has been advanced too hastily, or that they are not yet on 'friendly' terms. 

In these instances it would be wise to take a step back and resume separate turnout for another week or more. Where integration is not going so well it can be useful to ride or lead out intended companions together so that they become accustomed to each other's company in a more neutral space. This can work particularly well for more dominant horses. 

Everyone has different opinions on when ridden work should start (or resume) with a new horse. This will largely depend on what your new horse has been accustomed to, but also your future plans. If your horse has been in hard work or is quite young, you might view this as the perfect time to give them a break, allowing them time to settle into their new home and to build a bond through handling and groundwork. In other cases, often with older, more experienced horses, you may decided to resume riding relatively quickly and give them a break further down the line.

Time off is vitally important for all horses throughout their career, helping them to rest and recover mentally and physically. Even leisure horses may be invigorated by some time off.

Building a new relationship is not always plain sailing so do not be hard on yourself if things are not going well. Never be afraid to ask for help from a trusted friend or professional. You are unlikely to be doing anything wrong, just doing things differently. As much as you have to learn about your new horse, they too have a lot to learn about you too!

If you'd like to discuss your new horse's diet with us our Feed Line equine nutrition team will be happy to help. Call us on 01728 604 008 or complete our short online form.


Featured Products

A comprehensive forage balancer with calming support, specifically developed to help settle reactive, tense or spooky horses.


Premium lucerne compressed into 1kg blocks, feed whole & dry to mimic grazing.


A blend developed for moody mares, stressed or temperamental equines.


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