Do You Want to be Friends?
By Eleanor Blazer
"Babe, I want you to meet Alley. She's here from California and you are going to be pasture mates."
"No way! Get her away from me! You can't make me like her." Babe tells me as she lunges at the dividing stall wall, ears back, teeth bared and nostrils flaring. As she whirls around she kicks the wall.
Alley watches through the slats of the wall's upper section with her ears up and a hopeful look on her face. She wants to be friends.
It's been a week since Alley arrived via commercial horse transport. After staying in quarantine to insure she didn't start running a temperature it was time for introductions. Both mares are due to foal - Alley in mid February and Babe in late March.
Babe circles the stall and comes back to the dividing wall. With arched neck, bug-eyed, she puffs up and postures - trying to intimidate Alley. Alley steps forward and touches her nose to Babe's. Babe squeals, strikes, spins and kicks the wall again. Alley doesn't weaken and stays in place.
Here comes Babe again. This time she stays longer. They touch noses. Alley squeals and decides Babe might not be good friendship material after all. Both go waltzing around their stalls.
This dance occurs numerous times before Babe notices it's after five and she hasn't had supper. She spots me watching from the barn aisle.
"I'm getting weak. You know I'm eating for two." She tells me.
"Work on the hay you've scattered all over your stall and I'll get your grain, your highness."
Laying back her ears and glaring at Alley, she informs me, "And you better feed me first!"
Introducing two horses can be traumatic for all involved - humans and horses. Avoiding injury can depend on many factors.
One method of introducing horses is to turn them out and hope for the best. This is very risky, and not recommended.
Proper preparation can prevent many evils. Long before we introduced Alley and Babe, steps were taken to ease the transition.
Evaluating personalities and matching compatible horses is one step. When we knew Alley was coming we evaluated all the horses and decided Babe would be her pasture mate. They were both in foal. Babe was at the bottom of the pecking order in the established herd and would back down quickly if challenged. We also knew Alley was not the "alpha" mare at her home in California. The chance of a full scale battle was low.
Maintaining a safe environment is paramount. It is especially critical when disrupting the routine. Horses are flight animals and the instinct is to run when faced with the unknown. Pastures and stalls should be inspected for weak areas and reinforced. Protruding nails, boards or other objects that could cause injury should be removed or repaired. Fences should be made visible - a new horse might not notice hard-to-see wire strands. Dead-ends or traps should be eliminated so a horse can't be caught in a corner.
Back shoes should be pulled.
New horses should be quarantined. Check with your veterinarian for the length of isolation. Vaccination records, health concerns and management practices of the previous stable will play a big part in the quarantine time.
The introduction should be gradual. Housing horses next to each other in safe solidly built stalls or adjacent pastures with good fences allows time for them to become familiar with each other.
Before turning horses out in a strange pasture, allow each horse time to become acclimated. Lead the horse around the perimeter several times to give her a chance to see the fence. Each horse should be given several days to learn the fences and terrain by themselves.
If possible divide the pasture or put the future pasture mates in adjacent lots. Be sure the dividing fence is safe.
My horses are all trained to respect electric fence. I divided the pasture with an electrified wire. Babe and Alley were able to see each other, but not make contact.
After several days of living in adjacent stalls and turn out areas we put the mares together.
I picked a day that was sunny, with no wind. The pastures were dry and the footing was good. I turned the mares out after they had finished breakfast. This would give them all day to work things out, I would be home to watch them and they would not be "starving", which could lead to aggression at the hay piles.
I put hay in both sections, put a mare in each, rolled up the wire and pulled the posts while the mares ate.
For some time neither noticed the wire was missing. Then Alley went for a little walk, eased over to Babe and started eating hay along side her.
"Hey, what are you doing here?" Babe asked.
"There is safety in numbers. I'll watch your back, if you watch mine." Alley replied.
Babe thought about that for a moment. "Well, I guess that's okay, as long as you don't eat all the hay."
Both mares settled to eating and that was it.
A week later the veterinarian arrived to give Alley her nine month EHV-1 vaccination. I brought Alley in from the pasture and Babe went nuts.
"Where are you taking her? Are you bringing her back? I can't live without her!" she yelled as she raced up and down the fence.
Alley was in the barn entry way, which is about eight feet from the pasture gate. She received her shot, had a quick look-over and returned to the pasture.
The reunion was emotional as they commiserated over their long separation.
Alley and Babe
* For information about how to care for horses take the online course "Stable Management" taught by Eleanor Blazer. Earn certification or work toward a Bachelor of Science degree in equine studies.