A few weeks prior to writing this article, I started a search for a new boarding stable for my horse, Annapolis. As a followup, this week's feature article brings you some ways that you can make the transition to a new barn as smooth and stress-free as possible for your horse.
The thing to aim for when you move your horse to a new barn is to quickly settle him in to a routine that will be familiar to him. It will help tremendously if the feeding and turnout schedule is similar to what he has been accustomed to.
On arrival at the new barn, put him into his stall with some hay and water (a small paddock if he will be at pasture) and let him get used to the sights, sounds and smells for a few hours. Once he has settled down you can take him out for a walk around the property, letting him graze if he wants to.
Any responsible barn owner will take horses' temperaments into consideration when choosing pasture mates. Horses that are usually low in the herd hierarchy should be pastured together, where they won't be picked on by more dominant horse.
Before turning your horse out with a group of strange horses, first of all take him for a walk around the field. The purpose of this is to show him the boundaries, the water trough etc. Then you can begin to introduce him to the other horses.
This is the time to stand back and let your horse be himself. Generally there will be much sniffing and possibly some squealing and even some face-pulling as the horses work out between them who is dominant and who is low-man on the totem pole. Although this can be nerve-wracking to watch, it's perfectly natural and, as long as every effort has been made to match the pasture mates in temperament, it should be safe.
You may find that your horse bonds quickly to one of the other horses, or you may find that he moves off by himself to explore his surroundings further. In Annapolis' case, he wandered off to the pond and within ten minutes he was rolling in the shallow water, completely coating himself in mud and generally having a great time!
If your horse is a filly or mare, try to delay the move or at least not turn her out with the other horses until she is not in season. There's going to be enough excitement as it is without excessive hormones coming in to play.
If the new barn uses a different feed than your horse is used to, it's very important to make the change to the new feed gradually. For the first few days, a small amount of his regular feed is replaced with an equal amount of the new feed. After a few days, the percentage is increased and this continues for the course of a week or two until eventually, the feed consists entirely of the new feed. Making the change in this way will help the bacteria in the gut to get acclimated to the new feed and lessen the chance of colic. If you are worried about your horse colicking, or if he has done so in the past when travelling to a show, etc., consider consulting your vet, who may recommend a probiotic to restore normal gut function.
Some horses refuse to drink strange water, and dehydration can cause colic. Take a tip from regular show riders and begin putting sugar or Kool-Aid into your horse's water a couple of weeks before the move, so that he won't notice the difference when he gets to the new barn. Once he's settled, you can gradually phase out the flavoring.
Moving to a new barn gives you the perfect opportunity to spend some quality time with your horse. Everything will be new to him, so take the time to be with him as he experiences the new grooming area, the new wash rack, etc.
So far, Annapolis seems to have settled in well to his new surroundings (although the look on his face when he first met the cow and the sheep was something I really wish I had taken a photograph of!)
And don't forget, if you have any concerns at all, don't be afraid to contact your veterinarian. He or she will be familiar with your horse and will be able to recommend management techniques that will ensure a smooth transition to the new environment.