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Horse Problem - Introducing New Horse to New Pasture Mates - Horse is getting injured









QUESTION: What would you do? The horse I wrote to you about recently, well, I haven't been able to ride for 2 weeks due to lameness. I think she is getting kicked or something in the new pasture she is in. I realize that the horses establish their pecking order when new horses are introduced. She turned up lame a day or two after first being put into this very large pasture with 5 or 6 other horses. I watched her and the lameness began to get better after a couple days, not hot spots or obvious other reasons for lameness. After a week she looked ready to go again. I was excited to ride her that weekend, showed up, and ughhhhh! Lame again! This is the 2nd week and second time she is lame. I have observed her and she is not dominant at all, and was completely excluded from the herd for the first week. This week only one horse is showing her companionship. This is the second pasture she has been in since leasing her and the first was no problem, no injuries. We moved her because the other was smaller and crowded. I can't watch her like this, she seems unhappy. I feel like it is now really hindering our momentum we had using your wonderful techniques. I am unfamiliar with the large ranch problems since I always had the same horses growing up. Do you just ride it out? Thanks again.

REPLY: Hi. First...that's not how I introduce new horses to new pasture/herds, just tossing them out there and leaving them to fend for themselves or they are more likely to get injured and more highly emotionally stressed than they need to be in the transition to a new home/new herd. I do it more gradually and in a very specific sequenced manner. Let me show you how I do it.

First, I introduce them over a fence line for a while, housing the new horse alone in a paddock or another pasture that shares a fence line with the herd's pasture. The new horse by instinct will be drawn to the herd, approaching the fence line, often tentatively at first, but then hanging around there very often. Then usually one by one the herd members come to check out the newby, but there's a safe fence line between them to keep the newby protected for a while. I keep the new horse that way for a few days, however long it takes.

Next, I observe periodically which herd horse member seems most interested in the newby, is making friends over the fence line, remaining there more often to keep the newby company -- or -- I pick the most overall getalong herd member for this next step.

After the herd has adjusted to the idea of a new member's presence overall, but a fence line between them, I next take that getalong horse herd member or the new friend herd member that I have observed seems most interested and friendly toward the newby, and I put him/her in alone with the newby for a couple of days, to allow them time to pair bond. Horses form pair bonds, deep friendships, and putting them in alone together facilitates that as they will naturally gravitate to each other in the absence of other herd members/competition. Sometimes, I even trade off there, removing that herd member and exchanging them with yet another herd member to bond with the newby as well. If the herd is small (like mine here, my 4 horses), and I want to introduce them to a new horse I have in for extended training for example, I can even put each horse in one by one with the newby for a day or so, trading off, until all have had the opportunity to get to know the newby alone. Once I see which horse the newby is most comfortable pair bonding with, has made the quickest friendship with, I keep the two of them together the longest, and last---even for a couple of days if needed. They eat together, drink together, sleep together, 24/7. And a bond is usually formed.

When I see that all herd members have mentally adjusted to the presence of the new horse (but still over a fence line) and things have settled down, AND the new horse has formed a pair bond with the last horse I have housed him/her together with, now it's time to allow the newby into pasture. But I turn the newby out together with the pair bonded horse, so that they enter the herd as a pair/team. I.E., I open the gate and send them both out into the herd together. I do this preferably when the herd is not all congregated there at the gate, but off minding their own business. The seasoned now-pair-bonded buddy will usually stick very close to the newby and keep him/her protected from aggressors. Most often the buddy will herd the newby to the outskirts of the herd and stand between them and any over-aggressors. From there the new horse feels safer, more protected, not alone, and he/she can start figuring out the pecking order, but safely with a buddy beside him/her to hide behind when needed.

IF I see that one horse out there is going to be more overly aggressive to the newby, consistently (not just a few warnings, but outright attacking, etc.), and that usually means: picking on them mercilessly behavior, I WILL step in as lead mare of their herd and proactively work on the problem, addressing the aggressive horse, but with me as the clearly communicating "lead mare" of their herd. This is exactly what a lead mare in a natural herd will do when she sees misbehavior going on and so horses well understand this "language." In the wild, or even in large domestic herds, it is the lead mare's job to see that the herd runs smoothly and that they all get along. To work on stopping horse fighting, stepping in as lead mare, I show on this link an exercise I do to intervene, to school the aggressor, teaching him how to get along with the newby, but this lesson is done in a structured manner and in a confined area (like a round pen, arena, or smaller paddock):

This whole process of introduction usually doesn't take as long as it might sound. Often I can accomplish this in just a couple of days, but going this route works. When I take in horses for training here at my training center and aside from training them, I well care for them during the training period that they are in my charge, and I like all horses to live naturally, within a herd while they are here, and all feeling safe and well protected, over-bullying not allowed (normal pecking order directing is allowed). It is what is best for them emotionally and physically, placing even horses I have in for training within a herd as soon as is possible, so I remain proactive there in gradually introducing them to my own herd here.

Since my own horse Gabe is an older, wiser, passive herd leader, gets along well with everyone always, I usually use him first to pair bond with a newby. He's a kind leader and he reassures the new horse, but often in a disinterested, passive, ho-hum way, showing the new horse that he's never about trouble, but does want to show them how to get along, though he does it gently and passively.

But if it's a younger horse I have in for training (like 7 or under), usually my young paint, Doc, remains very interested in pair bonding with the newby, because he sees other young horses as potential playmates, so I'll often use him towards the end/turning them out together at the end of my process.

My young paint Doc is introduced to a new arrival, the two of them
alone in a separate paddock. Nose to nose, heads down, as horses
"exchange air" is horsespeak for "how do you do!" on friendly mode.

My paint, Doc, grooming the new arrival as they

pair bond in a separate paddock from the herd

Doc and the new arrival visit with the rest of the herd over a safe, sturdy fence line
The new arrival horse decides to roll, while Doc watches over him protectively
as "sentry posted."
Only a feeling-safe, relaxed horse will roll around another horse
like this, so their bond is deepening. The other horses watch from over the fence.
Young Doc gets the new horse to romp and play with him and the pair bond deepens
Snow hits right around the time I'm ready to turn the new arrival
horse out into the herd, along with his pair-bonded buddy, Doc.
They settle in together nicely, peacefully and all is well with the herd. sequence usually is: old Gabe first with the newby just to settle down the new horse and help them to feel comforted/not alone (being alone is every horse's greatest fear in life! -- they are HERD animals). But if I see that young Doc is really happy and positively excited about the new potential playmate, I'll focus on pair bonding them and turning them out into the herd together at the end of the process. Somewhere in there before turnout I'll put my husband's horse Cody in alone with the newby, but Cody's not as friendly at first with new horses (mostly with him that's about: he's very possessive of his pair bond with Gabe) and if Cody gets overly rude or bullyish, I step in and school him to get along, not an option not to. He doesn't have to be friends, but he does have to tolerate, my rules. He's allowed to direct the feet/movement of the newby as sr. pecking order horse, but I will step in and discipline him if he goes overboard there, like goes after them with his teeth or with a fighting stance. Because Cody knows this is my (lead mare) herd expectation of him, usually just a strict look at him from my direction and a "shhhh" sound has him correcting himself there all by himself if he gets out of line in the early-on introductions. But I will follow up with moving his feet like a lead mare and "shhhing" him if he even remotely starts to cross the line to bullying. And he gets it, settles down and accepts the newby, even if grudgingly at first. Repeat: they don't have to like each other or even want to be friends, and they are allowed to establish a pecking order via moving each other's feet, but outright fighting dangerously (risking injury) is not allowed in "my herd." Other than that (watching at first for that rule breaking), I let them work out the rest by themselves.

It is very much like (in the beginning of a new horse introduction) being kindergarten monitor on a school playground. There's not a school playground for kindergartners that I know of that doesn't have an adult monitor to see that things are kept peaceful and no fighting or dangerous behavior occurs. The monitor steps in and ensures that peace is kept, every direction, when that is needed; other than that, they don't interfere with that "free time" and remain pretty low profile there. That is indeed the "lead mare's" job in any herd. And is our job as lead mare of our own herds. Luckily, I find, the presence of the lead mare (us) doesn't have to be there at all times, once you've taken that extra time up front to establish the rules.

Actually, I find that introducing a new horse to pasture is more like introducing your high school student to a new school. Pair bond them up to someone beforehand and they have someone safe to hang with as they "enter the fray" and learn about this new herd (or high school). There is nothing more stressful to a new horse (or a new high school student) than not knowing whom to hang with, whom to eat lunch with, etc. It really is quite similar as horses establish tight "cliques" much like high school students do. Get proactive there like I've described and the stress period is reduced dramatically, and the new horse eases into the group more sanely and more safely.

While we were building our training center here in Virginia, I temporarily stabled our horses at a nearby facility with a 55 acre pasture with about 25+/- mixed-sex horse herd (mares and geldings mixed in one big pasture), and I used the same process there to introduce any new horses to pasture by taking out a herd member or two (but one at a time) to pair bond with the newby before turning them out together in the herd. And rarely were there scuffles or injuries. This is the best method to introduce a horse to pasture....gradually and focusing on pair bonding.

But you've got a problem there now because that gradual introduction route wasn't taken. Since she's getting hurt now, you might want to back up there, remove this horse from the pasture/herd and put her together in another pasture or paddock (if you have that available there) with a particular getalong horse for a while (or one you do see her making friends with slowly already) so they can form a deeper pair bond, and the more seasoned herd member will develop a protectiveness stance over the newby. And if you can arrange that in a way that they share a fence line with the larger herd, all the better. If you absolutely have no other "housing" options there to pull them out together for a while, just using a round pen or an arena for this purpose, you hanging with them together there for a day (adding food in there so they eat together), will still help.

And after you see the two have deeply pair bonded after being alone together for a while, then turn them out together in the herd. Since you say this horse keeps getting injured, I believe that's what I'd do there myself, not just allowing this new horse to keep getting injured, out of her control. I would also spend some time observing the herd to pick out which horse tends to be overly aggressive with the new horse, or who keeps picking on her mercilessly (often it's only *one*!), and I would take that horse out and work with him via that exercise I showed you there (that link) along with your horse, to teach the aggressor that this kind of behavior is not acceptable "in my herd."

I've taken this above route many, many times and I've never seen it fail to work yet. Long way is the short way here, as we say in natural horsemanship. The time you take to back up and fix a problem you see, going the natural horsemanship route, fixes the problem for good.

So...that's what I myself would do there. And I would advise you think about doing as well.

Also...make sure that the herd has plenty of space, plenty of food and plenty of water to go around equally, so that there is no competition for all that. General rule for pasturing horses is: approximately an acre per horse. Anything less than that is usually overcrowding and you'll see more disruptive fighting going on as horses compete for territory/food/water, etc. Also feeding times (if supplementing with hay, etc.) should be set up so that all horses have equal access to food and the lower pecking order horses aren't being pushed away from food, and that can mean something as simple as placing hay spread out (like in winter) in several locations, not just one. Common sense. And with multiple horses in one pasture, it's a good idea to have more than one water source, since most fighting goes on around food or water, the majority of the time.

The lower the water level gets (especially in one single trough), the more they will start to rumble territorially. Horses get innerly panicked when they see water levels running low. And it triggers genetic survival of the fittest behavior. Picture a dwindling water hole in the deserts of Africa, say, and you get my drift. Horses act the same way if sustenance is not enough to "go around."

Which is why I keep my own troughs filled to the top at all times, as best I can, with clean, fresh water. And have more than one water trough accessible if more than 3 horses are there, AND ice cleared off it daily during winter if that's occurring. And (winter) hay spread out into several separated-out piles or a dominant one may rule the hay pile, not allowing lower pecking order horses in, and hence more potential survival of the fittest type fighting going on. Most pasture injuries in horses like that (kicks & bites) occur surrounding those 2 areas -- food and water,'s avoidable usually if the barn manager is aware of it and remedies it with better multi-horse management. Two troughs can make all the difference in the world to reduce such fighting in particular, and feed spread out into several locations. Sometimes boarders have to assert their needs. After all (I'm assuming) it is YOU paying the monthly board fee, not the barn owner, so he owes you a non-injured horse in his herd management there. So if you can't get the barn manager to remedy the situation like I described above, you're wise to opt for another pasture, but do NOT pasture your horse alone, have a buddy there as well right with her to keep her mentally healthy.

Try the above and you and this horse should get on a better track there and stop getting injured, settling in more calmly and comfortably--and more safely.

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