Often, horses that are relocated – maybe through a purchase or to go into a training barn – have little or no experience with travel or changes in their location or routine. Horses being the creatures of habit that they are, as well as being herd animals, often suffer from a lot of stress when a change of their “home” occurs.
Horses that have not been hauled a lot can be stressed before they even reach their new home so whenever possible I like to haul new horses with a buddy. I load up a seasoned campaigner who can help settle their nerves during the trip through their calm companionship. I also like to provide hay for the ride so they can eat away some of their stress.
When I reach the barn I always make the horses (both new and my campaigners) stand in the trailer for a good 5 to 15 minutes before unloading. This teaches the horses not to anticipate unloading and ensures good manners. This valuable training can really help when you stop for a break during long hauls or have to set up at a show before you can unload.
If possible, I’ll turn the new horse out in a safe place for a short while when I get to the new barn; maybe the arena if it’s empty or perhaps a solidly built paddock if I have doubts about being able to catch them again. This lets them stretch their legs and start to adjust to their new surroundings without the added stress of being ridden or handled. I’ll provide water if I’m going to leave them turned out for a while but I don’t worry if the horse doesn’t drink. Often they won’t drink when they’re excited.
When I put them in their new stall, I always make sure they have a nice big flake of hay to dive into as eating is very calming to most horses. When I can, I’ll stall a new horse where they’re near or can see experienced, quiet horses. I personally also like to just leave the new horse alone at this point. Many people want to hang around the stall to watch a new horse but I’ve found this is usually more stressing than calming. Unless there’s some safety issue, just leave them be and periodically check to see if they’re eating, drinking and manuring.
With any new horse, I withhold all grain and concentrates, such as pellets, for the first few days. After that I’ll gradually reintroduce grain or pellets as the horse settles in. Depending on how much grain and/or concentrates a new horse gets they’re usually adjusted to their full feeding by the end of the first week. Even if I’m going to end up feeding the exact diet a horse had at their old home, I still follow this same process to make sure they settle in without any issues.
I don’t worry about riding a new horse right away. I’ll handle them and turn them out for their first two or three days and if they’re quiet I’ll start to introduce them to the sights and sounds of their new grooming area and groom them. By the third or fourth day of regular handling most horses are ready to start work again. With older, broke horses, I like to longe them for their first day of work and maybe ride them or maybe not, depending on how settled they are. If they are having trouble adjusting, I might “bit them up” mildly to get them mentally prepared to work and then I’ll play it by ear from there. When I do ride the new horse for the first time I also like to give them the company of other riders on experienced horses. I might even pony a new horse off an experienced, quiet horse to help them settle to the arena.
Each horse is different and each one settles in at their own pace but by realizing that moving is stressful and by managing settling-in with that in mind, you can help a new horse succeed. Hope these tips help you with your next move! Talk to you later, JD