How to Safely Introduce a New Horse to the Herd

Updated June 13, 2023
A grey and a bay horse meeting for the first time.

Like any horse lover, you may have some fears about introducing a newcomer and want to mitigate the risks. The main goal in introducing a new horse to an existing herd is to do it safely - you don’t want any horse or human harmed during the first meeting. 

Remember, horses are herd animals and will assert a pecking order naturally. When horses determine who is higher on the pecking order, it can result in some “bullying.” Here are some tips and tricks to make good equine introductions. 

Understand Herd Mentality and Dynamics

One of the most important things to know are the horses' personalities in your herd and of the new horse being introduced. Who is the head honcho and who is lowest-ranked? Who fights over food?

Herd mentality may make the leader of the herd protective towards threats, like a new horse. It’s their job to protect the weaker members of the herd. So, if your herd leader is a dominant mare and you introduce a new horse, she will act defensively to protect against this outside threat. 

Check Pasture and Fence Safety 

Tour the pasture before introducing a new horse to the herd. Make sure everything is safe; no broken boards, protruding nails, or holes. After ensuring everything is safe, block off dead areas, including corners, lean-tos, and sheds. Horses can get trapped in these areas. 

How to Slowly Introduce a New Horse

Keep your new horse separated by a reasonable distance for the first few days. If you have a pasture in between them, this creates a safe space. This will allow them to see each other and bond but not touch. They can whinny and run fence lines all they want, but they aren't in danger of biting, kicking, or trampling each other. When your herd starts showing positive interest in the new horse, you can begin to bring them closer. Take your time throughout this process if you still feel tension or have a particularly territorial horse. 

Move the Horse and Herd to Adjoining Paddocks

A new horse separated from the herd in an adjoining paddock outside.

After you are comfortable bringing them closer, move the new horse into an adjoining paddock for two or three days. This lets the horses get to know each other, sniff, and make noise over a fence. 

Do not put horses in adjoining paddocks if you have rickety or barbed-wire fencing. 

Combining the New Herd

After several more days, you’re ready to introduce the new horse. Do this during daylight, after everyone has eaten, and when it is not overly hot. You also want to avoid muddy pastures or ice because it makes the ground slippery. Be prepared to interject if necessary. Another safe move would be to remove the horses’ hind shoes, just in case! 

A new horse and a middle ranking herd member grazing in a field.

Start by moving a middle-ranking, non-aggressive horse in with the newcomer for a few days. The new horse will be able to bond with this middle-ranking horse which can offer him some protection before meeting the entire herd. Don’t use the top-dog or lowest horse on the totem pole for this step because either situation has its own complications. 

Once you feel comfortable and are ready for the new horse to meet everyone, the safest way is by opening a gate between the two pastures. You should refrain from leading your new horse into the pasture as that could create a tense and dangerous position for any handler! 

A new horse rearing when introduced to the herd.

At this point, the horses will be familiar with their smells but the introduction will probably send sparks for less than 30 mins. Depending on your horses' age and energy level, it can take longer for them to settle down. Once they do settle, allow them to graze, get some water, and then check them all over for any signs of cuts or injuries. Continue to monitor the herd over the next few days.

The information provided in the Horsemanship Library is based solely on our SmartPak authors' opinions. SmartPak strongly encourages you to consult your veterinarian or equine professionals regarding specific questions about your horse's health, care, or training. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or behavior and is purely educational.