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Introducing old horse to new home

From: Jami

Hello, I am seeking advice on the best way to introduce a previously boarded 20 year old mare to her new home (ours). The barn is currently under construction and we expect her to move in within a month or so. We have six dogs who have never seen a horse.

Also, do you have any knowledge/experience of miniature horses? I am now wondering about a stable mate for our horse. I have heard that goats and horses are good companions; any insights into this issue would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks, Jami


Hi Jami -- congratulations on getting your mare onto your own property, you must be very excited about that!

The single most important factor will be your fencing -- horse-safe fencing is a must-have. Any horse moved to a new facility will probably be nervous, worried, and missing its friends for the first week or two or three, and you want everything to be as safe as possible so that an anxious horse running the fenceline can't injure itself.

Even if she runs the fenceline, though, turnout is essential! More is better -- pasture is ideal. A mare of her age will be much healthier if she spends most of her time outdoors and can walk about freely and graze. If the arrangements at her current barn involve less turnout time, find out whether you can arrange to increase her turnout for the last week or so. If you need to turn her out in a halter for some reason, be sure to buy a safety halter with a breakaway leather crownpiece.

Stall: if she'll be spending any time (nights?) in a stall, be sure that the stall is safe (no sharp edges, no doors that open inward, no protruding nails or hinges) and comfortable (large, airy, with lots of light, and deep bedding). Use the bedding that she's used to, at least in the beginning -- both for the sake of continuity and for her health. If she's always been bedded on shavings or rice hulls and you fill her stall with straw, she may eat her bedding! The stall will be new and unfamiliar to her at first, but it will help if you put her in it briefly, then lead her out of it, walk her around, and put her back in it briefly, then lead her out of it again, etc. Do this five or six times -- it's very reassuring to a horse, because at some point, going into the stall, she will relax a little and think "Okay, I've been here before. " This also works well at shows, by the way!

Introduce any feed changes at her boarding barn in the weeks before she moves -- for a week or two, mix her new hay and grain with her old hay and grain, adding a little more of the new and taking away a little more of the old every day. The feed should no longer be new and different when she arrives at her new home. This has to do with familiarity AND HEALTH -- the stress of moving can change a horse's eating and drinking patterns and upset a horse's digestive system, and you don't want to add to that stress by changing her feed at the same time.

Dogs may have to be kept in their run until the mare is accustomed to her new home. Then you can introduce them to her, one at a time, on leads. If they are well-trained and will come, go, and down-stay when told, they should be fine off the lead. If they aren't, it would be a good idea to train them before your mare comes home, even if this means boarding her for another month or two! Otherwise, someone may get hurt -- some horses are understandably terrified of dogs in groups, and will destroy a fence and injure themselves in their attempt to escape what they (quite reasonably) see as a pack of predators. And some horses have previous experience with dogs, are not fond of them, and will kick or bite them if the dogs get too near their legs. It's safer for everyone if the dogs are well-mannered.

Horses do need companions -- they are social animals, and don't do as well if they are alone. Depending on your situation, you might want to adopt a second horse to be a companion for yours. Goats can be good companions, but take a certain amount of maintenance, and a lot of attention -- they are very talented escape artists.

Miniature horses are small, but they are still horses, and have to be treated like horses! You have to go to a lot of trouble to keep minis: a tiny halter is a one- time expenditure, true, but there are other things to be considered. Fencing, for one -- and the height of mangers and water troughs, for another. Minis will need salt blocks and shots and de-worming, just like any other horses. Minis need their hooves trimmed regularly, just like big horses, and it doesn't cost less because they're smaller -- it can cost more! Getting a farrier to come out to a barn for only two horses can be difficult, getting him to come out for ONE horse is almost guaranteed to be difficult -- getting him to come out to trim one horse AND A MINI can be impossible, because farriers have to get down on their knees to trim the hooves of miniature horses, and some farriers do NOT want to do this at all, and who can blame them? This is something that you might want to discuss with your farrier in advance of any purchase -- and it's also something you might want to discuss with your vet.

In fact, you might ask your vet about finding a companion animal for your horse; he may well know of another horse, perhaps a retired one? that would enjoy sharing your horse's pasture. There are any number of ways to find horses looking for homes; a lot depends on whether you will want something that can be ridden, or just a friend for your horse.

Whatever you get, introduce it gradually and over a fence or from the next stall until both animals are more curious than fearful. And don't introduce a new companion immediately -- your mare is going to have quite enough to cope with, just moving to a new home and meeting six dogs!

Don't despair if it takes your mare quite some time to adjust to her new home. If she has moved every year or so since she was a young horse, it will take her a relatively short time to make the adjustment. But if she has lived at only a few barns, and has spent quite a few years at the last one, give her time to adjust to her new surroundings and situation -- as a rule of thumb, allow her at least one week for each year that she lived at her previous home. So if she'd been there for two years, the adjustment will take less time than it will if she had lived in her previous home for, say, eight or ten years. Give her time, be patient, spend extra time with her, and show her that her new home is a very nice place to be.

Jessica

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