Periodically, I invite other bloggers to publish an article on Equine Ink. This article is written by Brad Heath, who has owned and operated Double D Trailers in Wilmington, NC, since 1997. Brad has firsthand experience of being a horse owner, and what goes into the day-in and day-out of the equestrian lifestyle. Growing up, his small-town family farm consisted of cattle, horses, turkeys, and more. Check out his website for tips on what to look for when buying a horse trailer.
As an equestrian, you probably will own more than one horse in your lifetime. Bringing a new horse home is a really exciting time. However, it’s also a time period that should be handled delicately.
When horses are put under a large amount of stress, they are at-risk for injury, sickness, and diseases. It’s important to make sure that before you bring your new horse home, you have a well-thought-out plan in place.
Growing up on a farm, I had the experience of bringing in a new horse several times. After transitioning from one horse to two, and two to three, and then three to four, eventually up to owning 8 horses on our family farm, I nailed the process down to a science.
How to Bring a New Horse Home in 7 Easy Steps
Following these steps can help make sure that the transition goes smoothly for both you and your horse.
Step #1: Vaccinations
Before your new horse arrives, ensure that all other horses and animals on your property are up to date on their vaccinations. You’ll also want to double (and triple) check that your new horse is current on their vaccinations. This will prevent any type of sickness outbreak on your farm. It’s a good idea to consult your veterinarian for specific and current vaccines, but there are few core ones that are necessary for all horse, regardless of breed.
- West Nile Virus
Step #2: Facility
Moving for a horse is already stressful enough. So, you need to make sure that their environment doesn’t contribute to their stress levels. Inspect a few things around your barn before the horse comes in. It’s also a good idea to talk to the previous owner to better understand what type of living situation your new horse is used to. A horse that lived out 24/7 turnout may have a hard time adjusting to being stalled and a horse that’s lived in a stall may sometimes have trouble living outside with a run in shed. To make sure your new horse stays safe, consider the following:
Fences – Make sure that all fences are secure, and there are no areas that a new skittish horse can barge through.
Stall Area – When a horse is feeling stressed, it will do just about anything to escape. The stall area should be tall and sturdy enough that a horse can’t jump over it, or knock it down. Check that the walls and doors are able to be secured properly. Also, ensure that the stall area is not only safe, but roomy enough for your new horse. Any fixtures or lighting in the stall should be above 8 feet, so that horses are not able to reach it.
Pasture – A good practice is to walk your pastures regularly. This will ensure that you’re aware of any new plants that may be poisonous, fencing issues, or dangerous areas that horses should be kept away from. Also consider your current turnout schedule, if your horse will be turned out with a buddy, and think through the temperament of all your horses to prevent fights in the pasture. New horses should be introduced gradually to your existing herd, so it’s helpful to have a separate area where your new horse can meet the others over the fence to become familiar with them.
Step #3: Learn About Their Diet
It’s a good idea to talk to the previous owner of your new horse to learn about their dietary needs and patterns. Also, take into consideration and don’t be alarmed if your new horse doesn’t live up to these patterns right away. When they are transitioning and becoming adjusted to their new environment, it’s normal for their appetite to change slightly, and nothing to be concerned about in the short-term unless you notice them starting to lose weight. However, it’s important to make sure that you are prepared to keep their routine as similar and offer what they are used to. If you switch feed or hay type, it may stress your new horse out even more.
Step #4: Arrange for Transportation
How you’re going to get your new horse home is a big step. Since moving in general can cause a lot of anxiety in horses, you’ll want to make sure that the trailer they’ll be transported in is horse-friendly. Look for a safe horse trailer that is roomy, bright, and inviting. Research has shown that horses travel with less-stress trailers designed in rear-facing configurations, so it will also be helpful if you can find a reverse facing horse trailer. Always makes sure to check your tire pressures before hauling as tires that are not properly inflated are more likely to go flat. If you just round up an old damaged trailer and cram your new horse into a rusty dark box, their stress levels will be through the roof before they even arrive at their new home.
If you hire a transport company, make sure they have a commercial license and don’t forget to check references. If your horse is being shipped a long distances, consider hiring a company with an air ride trailer, closed circuit cameras, and drivers who are experienced transporting horses.
Step #5: Gather Supplies
Make sure you have all supplies needed for the new horse. There are some supplies that can be shared among horses, but in general each horse should have their own of:
- Shipping boots or wraps
- Grooming Supplies – Brushes, combs, hoof pick
- Lead Rope
- Fly mask (if needed in your area)
- Feeding Equipment – Pan, container, trough/buckets
Step #6: Be Prepared for Emergencies
Check that your emergency kit is up-to-date with first-aid supplies, and your list of emergency numbers to include your vet, farrier, and animal control.
If you plan on having insurance on your new horse, you’ll want to confirm that the insurance coverage is in effect before you pick up the horse.
Step #7: Practice Patience
You can do all the right things for bringing home a new horse, and things still might not go perfectly. I’ve dealt with horses who walk right off the trailer and adjust immediately. I’ve also dealt with horses who are terrified from the get-go, we have trouble getting them to eat, they are anxious around the other horses, etc.
You’ve probably heard that patience is a virtue, and it’s a virtue that you’ll probably have to master when you’re bringing a new horse to your home. You may have to spend a little extra one-on-one time with the new horse to help them get acclimated to you and your home. Take the new horse on walks to let them explore their new barn and pasture.
Keep in mind that every horse is different. Don’t get discouraged if your new horse isn’t loving their new home right away. Spend some extra time with them, make sure they are eating well and staying properly hydrated, bond with them through grooming, and they will come around. Although there are a lot of hurdles that we sometimes have to jump through when you bring a new horse home, developing a life-long relationship with a horse is well-worth it.