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Introducing horses / temporary stalls

From: Lisa

Hi. I love your information, so I'm writing to you because I can't find the answers that I need. We purchased a horse 4 months ago and he's been alone in our backyard since then. He is a 13 year old gelding that throughout his life had been alone at times and in a group at others. I've been told he gets along well with other horses in general, but now it's been 4 months since he's been near one, besides seeing them/hearing them from a distance. We have a small turnout/arena which he roams about freely that is surrounded by a fence. It includes a run-in type of stall. We are in the process of getting another horse and are worried about introducing them. I've been told not to turn them out together right away, since I need to separate them but let them see each other at first. I'm not sure how I'm going to accomplish this, given that I don't have a stall or way to enclose either of the horses. I don't want to purchase pipe corrals since I'd only need them for a few days or week to separate off a section of the enclosure. I've tried to see if any place will rent pipe corrals, but I couldn't find any. Rental fence companies don't seem to have any horse-approved temporary fencing….it's mainly barricades and chain-link. Certainly I can't be the only person with this problem, yet I have no idea how to safely (and cost-effectively) introduce the horses. I'm afraid to just turn them out and let them work it out, as I've heard that horses can get seriously injured that way.

Also, our current horse has shoes only on the front….if our new horse has back shoes, should we temporarily take them off for the introduction? I've also heard that back shoes are a bad idea for introducing new horses too.

--Lisa


Hi Lisa! To start with your last question, you're absolutely correct, hind shoes are NOT a good idea for horses that are being turned out with others, and it would be a very bad idea for a horse to be wearing hind shoes when he's being introduced to another horse in a turn-out situation. Horses can hurt each other with their bare hooves, but they can cause infinitely more serious damage if they are shod. Please do remove the hind shoes before turning the horses out together!

Now, about the whole issue of horse introductions and necessary enclosures: If you haven't got multiple pastures where horses can run side by side and get used to one another with kick-proof horse fence between them, then the best way to introduce horses is to put them into separate stalls or pens (NOT adjacent ones) and let each one learn the sight, sound, and smell of the other over a week or two. If you have ONE pasture, you can set up a safe enclosure (good pipe corral panels are ideal) near the pasture so that the two horses can get to know each other at a safe distance.

DO maintain a distance, at least for the first few weeks. This is partly for quarantine purposes, and partly because it decreases the immediate physical risks. If you put horses that don't know one another into adjacent pipe corrals or adjacent stalls made from pipe corral panels, there is a very big risk that they will kick at each other and either hurt one another, hurt themselves on the steel pipes, or both. It would actually be safer to put the two horses out in the same large field, where they can chase each other (and even kick at each other) without getting caught in, or injured on, anything (corral panels, field wire, wood planks, ANYTHING) in between them.

That said, the key words are "large field" - not "small turnout". In a field that covers at least several acres, horses can get away from each other. I hope that the "small turnout" you've described is at least a several-acre pasture. Even if it's a drylot, you'd want at least an acre per horse just to allow them enough free movement to stay healthy.

I think it would probably be a very good idea for you to purchase enough good-quality corral panels to make at least one temporary stall (that is, three 12' panels and one 12'panel incorporating a 4' walk-through gate). You could put this at a suitable distance outside your current horse's turnout area, and allow the horses to get to know one another without being in direct contact. If you reinforce this temporary stall with a capped T-post at each outside corner, it should stay in place until you decide to pull the T-posts and put the stall somewhere else. Even at current prices - at our local farm store, good panels cost about $90 each, and a panel with a walk-through gate is nearer $200 - it's still infinitely cheaper than an actual stall, and - alas - infinitely cheaper than the sort of vet bill that can result from a too-sudden or too-dangerous introduction. And you'll find it useful for so many things - more about this in a minute. (Also, if there's a problem, you'll have the vet bill AND you'll still need a separate enclosure...)

It would be a very good idea for you to plan to build some sort of enclosure in any case - it doesn't have to be a big fancy barn, or even a small, home-made four-stall barn, but if you're going to keep horses, a covered stall or two would be VERY useful. You're already experiencing one of the problems that comes from not having enough space for horses: Right now you have a new horse coming onto the property, which means that normally you would keep him separated in a quarantine area for a few weeks, until he's had time to adjust and you've had time to ascertain whether he has any diseases, etc. That's difficult for you because of your limited facilities. Apart from the new horse/quarantine issue, ask yourself what would happen if one of your horses became ill. Where would you keep him and how would you treat him? What if one of your horses became injured and needed several weeks or several months of stall rest? Where would you keep him, and how would you treat him? With only one turnout area and one run-in shed, then the situation is likely to be inconvenient for you even if your turnout area is actually a 50-acre pasture and even if your run-in shed is large enough to be partitioned into several stalls. If it's a tiny turn-out area of an acre or so, basically just an exercise paddock, and the shed can't be partitioned and doesn't have water and electricity, treating an injury will involve adding panels to enclose the injured horse in the shed full-time (which will then leave the other horse out in the sun full-time, unless there are shade trees in the paddock), hand-carrying water back and forth, and doing any night-time medical checks and treatments by flashlight. This isn't fun.

Okay, back to the subject of how to introduce your new horse to your old one. One of the ways you could do this would be by riding the two of them together. Horses meet horses all the time in riding arenas and on trails - if they have good manners and are under the control of sensible riders, being worked or ridden together can be a good way for horses to get to know one another. After a week of shared rides, if the horses seem to get along well and can be safely ridden side by side, you can feel more comfortable about turning them out into the same field to graze and relax together.

What is your new horse's reputation - does he, like your old horse, get along well with other horses in turnout? If he does, then you have a lot going for you, because horses don't like to be alone, DO like to have other horses for companions, and there's a very good chance that your old horse and your new one are both lonely and would love to have an equine companion. There may be a small fuss at first whilst the two horses sort out who is going to outrank whom, but that process doesn't have to involve bloodshed, especially if the horses already know each other in another context (riding, being stalled or pastured nearby, or both).

If you keep your horses in sight of one another, then by the time the quarantine period is over, your new horse will have settled in to his new home, adjusted to his new owners, new feed, new hay, new surroundings, etc., and he'll be less worried and agitated. Also by that time, your old horse will have seen the new one often enough that he won't think of him as a completely new and unfamiliar horse. Then if you and someone else can ride the two horses together for a week or so, by the time you turn them out in the same field there should really be comparatively little fussing.

Once they're turned out together, here's a tip to keep things pleasant. With only ONE horse in the field, you've probably been putting out ONE pile of hay, or one pile of hay and one tub of feed, and you've probably been putting them near the fence. With two horses, and especially when they are getting to know one another as pasture-mates, you'll need to do things differently. Go into the pasture, away from the fenceline, and put the hay or the hay and feed tubs into at least three and preferably more piles, at least 20' apart, so that both horses will be able to eat even if one keeps chasing the other one off. And monitor their body condition and weight, so that you can be sure each one is getting a suitable share of the feed.

Good luck, and don't forget to remove those hind shoes!

Jessica

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