Helping Your Horse Adjust to It's New Home
It is not an easy thing for a horse to move to a new place, since no one can tell them what is going on, they can only rely on their instincts to keep them safe. Think of how you would feel if you were having a nice happy life and all of a sudden you were put in a car, not told anything, and then dumped into a new place where you know no one and no one will tell you what is going on. You might be quite upset even if normally you were a calm person. You would be confused and maybe even a little bit jumpy, until you made some new friends and felt that the new people taking care of you were trustworthy. Each horse adjusts differently. Some take it in stride and some are quite upset for a while. So try to understand it from your horse’s point of view before you think some one switched the nice calm horse you bought and dropped off this crazy one. Remember in nature this would never happen to a horse, this is something that only we do to them. So have some patience, be kind, move slowly if he is spooky and do not try to make him adjust too fast. It will happen in time and that calm horse you bought will show back up.
When your horse arrives home, make sure he is stalled or pastured next to other horses. Moving is very stressful to a horse, and horses do best when in a herd.Having a new friend will help them to adjust much faster. Placing a horse by themselves will only increase their stress and anxiety. Even once your horse is adjusted, they should not be alone. They need to have a companion, so if there are no other horses, and your horse is having anxiety, invest in a goat or a mini horse or something that can stay with your horse and be part of his herd.
Do not be surprised if your new horse screams. He is seeing if there is anyone he knows there. New horses may scream for a couple of days or as long as a month. You cannot stop them from screaming; they will stop when they are comfortable. Remember you have taken him away from everything he knows. Be patient. They may also run around their stall and act like a lunatic, this is all because of stress and should resolve in time. I had one horse that reared up and looked into the other horse’s stall for 3 days and then he was totally fine. We have moved him several times and it has never happened again. He is a great horse, but many people would of sent him back or said he was crazy, he just had anxiety because he was taken from his pasture mate of 10 years and put in a strange barn with no one he knew. We were patient and he has worked out great, so no matter how annoying it may be, you must be patient.
If possible put your horse in a stall or a small paddock. Until your new horse trust you, he may be difficult to catch. So if you put him in a large pasture before you have bonded, you may find you are spending more time running after him then riding him. Also it would make the bonding go faster if he understands that when he sees you he gets something that taste good. Food is the way to a man’s heart, but it is also a way to a horse’s heart. So find something he likes and gives it to him when you see him. You may even want to feed a little grain before you leave for the night until you feel he is bonded with you.
Your new horse may scream or have anxiety when his new stable mate leaves. This is also normal, he feels comfortable around his new friend but anxiety when his new friend leaves. Think of how you felt when you first started school or a new job. When you are with someone its much easier, but alone, if you’re not confident, you worry. In time your horse should get over this. If after a month he is still too bonded to one horse you can move him next to another horse. Also remember your horse should be bonding to you so you will need to spend time with your horse. He will not bond with you if you do not put in the time.
Do not ride your horse when he arrives; give him a couple days to adjust to his new surroundings. Turn him out and also hand walk him around the new facility, let him see his new surroundings with out worrying about anything else.
Before you ride round pen your horse, lunge or turn your horse out and run him around. Get rid of your horse’s anxiety energy. Round pen your horse until he is breathing hard, licking his lips, head and tail are low. If you do not, you are just setting your self up for disappointment and possible injury. Horses may not act the same as when you tried them because they are in a new situation. It may take weeks to several months for that horse to come back. So to have a successful ride you need to get rid of that extra energy from anxiety. You should do this for at least the first month every time before you ride. If your horse still seems not to be the quiet horse you bought then you may need to continue for another month or two. Just like people, a horse takes time to adjust and some take longer then others. Also moving your horse’s feet gives the horse respect for you, so spend the time in the round pen.
Keep your horse out of your space. You would never see a gelding get into a mare’s space unless she wants him to. She will give him boundaries and if he doesn’t follow the rules, she will give him warning and then she will bite or kick to get him out. You need to be the new head mare. You do not want your new horse disrespecting you. He will naturally test you, no matter how good he has been in the past. You must make him understand that he can not get close to you, keep him at least 3 feet away at all times. If you can reach and touch your horse, he is too close. In the beginning you may have to continually back your horse out of your space. The firmer and more believable you are, the less he will test. If you are not firm they will continue to test until they take over. This is no ones fault except your own, so do what you must to claim your space. You may go into your horse’s space to kiss, hug, pet etc. but never let him come into yours.
For your first couple rides, stay in the arena or a round pen. It is best to find out how the horse responds to you in a safe area where they cannot run away with you. See how they steer, practice circles, practice stopping, backing up, side passing, every thing you need for trail you need to practice. Practice their gaits and their canter. Do this for several days before you go on trail. Do not leave the arena until you feel you are safe and your horse listens to you well.
When you go to get on your horse for the first time. Keep your reins short so you can pull immediately if he walks off. Make sure he stands for you to get on and then stay standing there for several minutes. Check your equipment and move around, so your horse gets use to waiting for when you are ready. If you rush off as soon as you get on, your horse will never learn to stand still. If he does walk off, back your horse up, get off and remount, repeat until your horse will stand still.
Make sure to ride your horse on a short rein with contact. This will help you to keep them in gait, but it will also help you if the horse spooks. Remember they can be unpredictable when they first arrive, so you need to be prepared to help you horse if he does spook. Always turn back the way they spooked from. If he spooks to the right, then pull left. If you are riding with loose floppy reins, you will never be quick enough to shorten your reins in time. Also some horses will switch gaits so quickly that if you do not ride with contact by the time you shorten up you may have hit 4 different gaits. Hopefully you did not buy this horse with the intention of ruining its gaits, so ride with a short rein until you can keep him in gait.
When you go on your first trail ride, try to ride with another horse, but not more then one. Horses will behave better with a friend, but if you add more friends, it sometimes increases their energy level and they can act up. Once your horse is good for at least a week of riding with one horse then you can add another horse in one by one but do not go from one to 5 horses and expect to have a nice calm ride.
When you trail ride stay at a walk or a slow gait. Do not go slow and then run them as fast as you can. You will be missing many of their best gaits and you will make your horse more trotty or pacey. So ride them in their slower gaits until you get the hang of it. When heading back home if the horse is faster then you want, try to serpentine the whole way home, when he goes slow, go straight, when fast you serpentine, it may take several to many rides, but soon he will figure slow lets him go straight.
When you get back to the barn do not immediately put your horse away. Tie him up for 20 minutes to an hour. If he was fast on the way home, leave the saddle on and tighten the girth and then tie the horse up. You do not want your horse to become barn sour. The only way they become barn sour is by expecting rest and food when they immediately get home. If you make coming home an uncomfortable experience, they will walk home slower and slower. Once your horse is good, you can stop tying him up but anytime you have a bad ride and they come home fast, go back to tying them up.
Use the same equipment you tried the horse in. If you tried the horse in a 7-inch shank and he went great then you do not want to take him home and stick a snaffle in his mouth. This is just common sense. So make sure you know what bit you used when trying and buy the same bit. Use the same bit for at least 6 months, and then you can try different bits, but remember if he was going well, why mess with a good thing. Most gaited horses are ridden in shank bits, especially the forward ones. You want to make sure you have good brakes; it may save your life. So stick with what your horse knows and then you may want a trainer to help you try different bits. Think of it like having a sports car, if you drive 80-100 miles/hour you need some good breaks to stop the car. Same with these horses, you are not riding a pokey quarter horse, so you need good breaks incase your horse forgets your up there.
Feed grass hay if possible, or something lower in protein. Alfalfa will make horses hotter. So start with a low energy feed and then over time if the horse is too calm for you then you can add in alfalfa or grain. If your horse is hot and you won’t even consider changing its food, then you should not be upset if he acts like a child with Attention Deficit Disorder, as you are only making his energy level worse.
Calming supplements. There are many things you can do to help your horse be calm, but in truth, people are lazy and most won’t round pen or take the time to help their horse adjust. If you are just plain stubborn in your horse ways and you know you will not take the time to help the horse adjust to new things. Then try a calming supplement. Just use it until you and your horse are adjusted and safe. It is cheaper then a hospital bill and can you really ever have a horse that is too calm and get hurt?
As a trainer I hear many times that a horse was good for a while and now he is acting bad. Or that the horse is acting totally different then when they tried it. Many say the horse must have been drugged and the drugs are now worn off. Drugs do not last that long. Yes it is possible the horse was drugged, but it is also possible you have not helped your horse adjust. It is also possible that the horse was ridden daily and now you are only riding it on weekends. The workload can make a big difference. If you bought a hot horse it may need to be ridden 10 miles per day to get rid of its energy. So make sure you know how much the horse was being ridden and what its daily routine was, so you can try to match it when you take it home. If you do think the horse was drugged then immediately call your vet and have them draw blood, if you do it ASAP they should be able to prove the horse was drugged, so you can hopefully return the horse.
Never ever just get on your horse and try to ride if it was not ridden the day before, until you really know your horse. Knowing your horse takes many, many months. This is one of the biggest mistakes, people make. I make all my clients round pen their horses for many months so they can see how much energy their horse has for that day. Every day can be different sometimes they are full of energy sometimes they are dead quiet but best to find that out before you get on.
Do not let other people except trainers or very good riders, ride your horse for the first 3-6 months. Horses will get confused if they have many different riders, it is like having different teachers and they all teach the same subject but in a different way. It may confuse your horse so much that he begins to have bad habits. If you bought this horse then you must take the time to ride it yourself or get a good trainer to help you, while he adjust.
Don’t expect perfection. It usually takes a new owner 6 months to a year to get use to and to trust their new horse. You cannot rush it. Horses will figure you out much faster; they usually have their new owner down in days. That’s why they immediately begin testing you to see what your limits are, they knew the limits of the previous owners, and so they didn’t need to keep testing them. So instead of you having your horse running in circles, he may have you running in circles. So again, take the time to get your horses respect and it is best to be a little too firm then too soft with them in the beginning. If you do not prove you are worthy leader to them, you will not earn their trust or their respect and therefore they will not do what you want.
If possible have a trainer help you adjust to your new horse. It will save you a lot of confusion. Trainers will catch things your horse is trying before it gets worse. It is worth the expense to be safe. A gaited horse is still a horse. Its gaits will not kill you, but bad behavior can, so get a good trainer to help you for a couple weeks to a month. That way if problems come up later on, they can also usually help you fix things fast.
As a trainer I see many horses they are mismatched with the owners. Many people selling their horses are not truthful and many horse sales people just want to sell a horse. So it is up to you to pick the right horse. Older horses are better for beginners and younger horses are best left for the young or the motivated riders. You may be young in your mind but if you are 50 or over go for an older horse.
The owners that do not do well, are the ones that picked the wrong horse or picked the right one but did not put in the time. They are the ones that just think it is all on the horse and the horse must be perfect from day one. People are not perfect so why should horses be perfect. I bet your new horse is disappointed too, he thought he was getting a good leader but found out he is pretty much on his own. People also say they are going to ride more then they actually do. Somehow 5 days a week they said they would ride is really only 2 days a week. The friend they said would help them is really not helping them. The trainer they picked does not like the horse. The arena or round pen is too far away to walk to. Their barn only feeds alfalfa. You need to be sure of all these things before you buy a horse. Do not buy a hot horse if you do not ride well and you are not going to ride a lot. A pretty horse is not so pretty when it bucks you off. Buy for temperament and buy for safety and you will not be sorry. A crappy gait will not kill you but a crappy temperament on a horse can surely be your end. Most of all put in the time to get to know your horse and remember they must respect you first before they will listen to you. It may take months to years but isn’t that the fun part of horses?