Bringing Your New Horse Home
Traveling is stressful for any horse. How they handle & recover from it varies from one individual to another. There will be new smells, sounds & activities, which will make the horse more on edge than usual. S/He will need time to get used to new surroundings, so try to be understanding & patient. Horses who have traveled longer distances shouldn't be worked right away. Every day or portion thereof on the road should equal a minimum of 2 days of rest in the new place. Frequent visits & the odd grooming session will help you & your new horse bond, and keep him/her from feeling too lonely.
Water intake is frequently a concern on longer trips. Some horses drink very little; others may not drink at all. Your horse will be thirsty, so ensure easy access to plenty of fresh, clean water. Most horses are wary of anything new & may not try it right away. Monitor your horse's hydration level & keep a close eye on how much s/he drinks. Depending on their muscle/body fat ratio, horses usually need a minimum of1 liter of water per 10 kilos of body weight each day. Consider how you will be offering water to your new arrival. Horses who are not used to automatic waterers will be very leery of them, and may refuse to drink from one at all. It may be necessary to begin with a bucket of fresh water every day until the horse gets accustomed to the idea of an automatic device.
Some horses will tell you if they're thirsty
Like us, horses under stress are more susceptible to illness. It's a good idea to ensure your new horse is up to date on all shots, and has been included in a well rounded de-worming program for at least the past 6 months. Consider a brief quarantine period for your horse's safety and of others in the new place; especially if the horse came from a high-risk area or environment. I urge you to discuss this with your vet.
It's a good idea to purchase a few bales of the hay the horse is used to, and to have a bag of any grains or pelleted feed on hand. If you're going to switch feed, plan on doing so gradually. It can take a month or more for a horse's GI tract to develop the needed gut flora to properly digest new food. Introducing too much too soon can bring on gastric distress, which often leads to colic. Sudden changes in food types at least result in a lot of wasted feed, as the horse is incapable of digesting the new food well, so a high percentage passes on through the intestines unused.
Bring horses into a new environment as early in the day as possible. This gives the horse adequate daylight to look over his/her new place, and get a feeling for the fences & such. It's not uncommon for recent arrivals to try to escape by jumping over or climbing under fences. Make sure your fences are sound, strong & safe. When introducing the horse to the new environment, it's a good idea to hand walk around the paddock or pasture first. Walk along the fenceline, keeping the horse closest to the fence as you walk. Show him/her where the food & water can be found, and monitor the horse for a while to see how s/he's settling in. While it's common for horses to be uninterested in eating at first, they should regain their appetite within a day. If the horse is still not eating or drinking at the end of 24 hours, consult your vet for advice.
There are a few precautions that should be taken in preparation for introducing a new horse to his/her neighbours. Putting the newcomer into a paddock that will allow him/her to see, but not reach the rest of the herd will give everyone time to size each up & watch them for a while. Horses communicate largely by body language, so this observation time can clue them into a lot of information they're going to need later on. If the horse is to be introduced into a herd, you can plan for a relatively uneventful integration by introducing a less dominant member first. This where knowing who the "boss hoss" is, and who the submissive horses are comes in handy. It pays to know your herd! Bring one of the "middle" horses in to meet him/her first. Horses in this position are less apt to be too aggressive, or too submissive. This often allows for a smooth transition, and often the horses will bond quite quickly. If you know the horse coming in is very aggressive or submissive, try to pair him/her up with someone who occupies the same rank in your present herd. In the case of aggressive or dominant horses meeting for the first time, there is bound to be a "meeting of the minds". It may be a good idea to remove hind shoes until the fireworks are over.
Introducing or removing a horse changes the dynamics of the herd. Just because everyone got along before doesn't mean they will continue to live peacefully!
Watch for hints to potential issues; like a marked drop in activity or demeanor, refusal to eat or drink, or diarrhea that lasts into the following day. These can be due to simple depression (horsey may be homesick!), or signs of stress-related ailments. Whenever I'm in doubt, I call the vet. Vet bills tend to be a lot cheaper than horses.
As soon as it is practical, take readings on your horse's vital signs. Getting a baseline can help determine if there is cause for concern. Temperature, respiration, heart rate & CRT (capillary refill time) should all be measured & recorded.