I'm so happy to report that "Project Gradual Integration" is complete, and Aba, Luci, Dyana, and Grisham settled in quickly as pasture mates.
It's been 3 months since Aba and Luci arrived at the Mareworthy farm and just under 2 months since Grisham arrived. Here is the gradual process I followed to ensure today was as drama and stress free as possible. Perhaps everyone would have been fine with a "tear off the band-aid" approach, but there are some risks with that approach that I prefer to reduce if possible.
For me, there are four key components to consider when establishing a new herd in a new space:
When we had the fencing updated last year, I maintained one 3.5-acre field, one 1-acre paddock, and three smaller dirt lots/round pens, and we divided an existing 2-acre paddock into two 1-acre paddocks. These smaller paddocks give me more flexibility for rotational grazing.
With my largest current field only being 3.5 acres, I knew I didn't want to put more than 4 horses in it at a time - possibly 5 for the right group. Knowing I also didn't want to leave any other horses in solitary confinement (unless absolutely necessary) nor do I want to put more than 2 horses into the smaller 1-acre paddocks, that meant I knew I needed to put 4 horses into the 3.5 acre field because putting in 5 would leave an odd number without the ability to limit the smaller spaces to 2 horses without isolating one horse. So, based on the space I have, I knew I needed to create a foursome.
How did I determine that foursome? The easiest would have been to put Freja, Q, Dyana, and Worthy out together since they were a successful foursome in Ohio, but by doing that I would have been faced with the challenge of separating Worthy from Secret and finding Secret a new buddy - possibility but not ideal.
The other part I consider when putting horses together in a space is who will be left behind if I take one out for a day at a show or just into the barn for a little. Knowing I plan to get Dyana to shows this year and both she and Luci will be making trips to the breeding shed, I prefer to have them in a larger group so they are leaving more than a single horse behind. This helps EVERY horse feel less stressed because it reduces the chance of a horse that is turned out running and screaming getting the whole farm stirred up.
So, I selected the group of Aba, Luci, Dyana, and Grisham because it is the right number of horses for the turnout options I have today, and it's the right mix of horses based on my intended purpose for each of them this year. Dyana and Luci will have more trips and training sessions while Aba and Grisham can just enjoy being pasture puffs.
Then comes the process for introductions. First, I focused on giving each of them a buddy, so they would have a familiar horse when they move into the bigger space. That process involves some key steps for me:
Now that I know how each of them behaves when being introduced to a new horse and that they have all stayed relaxed in the intended turnout field, I can start combining the variables to get all the horses together in the same space.
I basically follow steps 3-7 from above, but now I'm getting each pair comfortable with the other pair.
For the first turnout as a group, I leave safe halters (i.e. leather that can break) on them to make for an easier time catching them if needed.
By this point I have a pretty good idea about how each horse is going to behave because I've taken my time to carefully observe all the interactions she's had with other horses up until this point. For instance, I know that Dyana is super curious and likely to put her nose everywhere she shouldn't BUT she's also not a fighter and is pretty good at reading clear social cues from ears, tails, etc to move away when warned. Luci is also curious but not quite as smart about moving away and a little more inclined toward light retaliation if someone swings at her. Aba is the biggest wild card with the most anxiety. She WANTS to meet the new horses, but then the feeling of connection makes her uncomfortable so she can flip quickly. She's thankfully not aggressive so very unlikely to pursue a horse who moves away, but she will stand her ground if the other horse doesn't yield. Grisham is fine minding her own business, but like Aba, she will stand her ground for a minute although she's not at a point in her life where she feels the need to escalate - she's been a mother 13 times, so she certainly knows how to set boundaries without being nasty about it.
Having those observations about each of them helps me know they should be an okay group without any real drama. If I had observed two super dominant horses during the pairs phase, I may have re-thought my choice for grouping, or I may just have decided to rely on a little light sedation (nothing wrong with letting modern medicine lend a hand) for those horses I felt might be more of a risk to others - let them kind of "wake up" in the new space and feel like it's normal so there's no need to try and prove a point.
What was very interesting for me to observe with this group's initial turnout was the dynamic that came into play having two very experienced broodmares - Aba and Grisham - whose buddies are very juvenile - Dyana and Luci. It was interesting to watch Aba and Grisham put themselves between the new horses and their "babies" with Grisham stepping in between Aba and Dyana and Aba stepping in between Grisham and Luci a few times. Not aggressively, but just creating a physical barrier.
That raises a variable that is also very important to consider. By establishing pairs before getting them into a larger group, there is a possibility of developing a herd attachment that could result in possessiveness causing one of the buddies to feel required to protect her buddy from the new horses. I try to address this unhealthy co-dependent bond proactively by still turning them out individually a couple times a week during the buddy-up phase to reduce the risk of them becoming overly attached.
The great news is that Aba, Dyana, Grisham, and Luci were very relaxed within only a few minutes, so we should have a newly established group that can enjoy the larger field giving me another option for rotating and resting the 1-acre paddocks. Now I have three 1-acre paddocks and three smaller paddocks/round pens that I can use to rotate Freja/Q and Secret/Worthy while still giving those pairs some time in the the larger field to stretch their legs on occasion and also the ability to rest the larger field by putting Aba, Dyana, Grisham, and Luci into smaller spaces on those days.
Dyana and Grisham's first time in the big field.
Aba and Luci's first time in the big field.
The pairs meeting across a shared fence line for the first time.
First time with everyone out together. Very minimal squealing, and everyone got to grazing within only a couple minutes.
2/23/2023 07:12:21 pm
Are you Just started following you without any previous info. Saw you mentioned one horse has been breed 13 times.
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Kyle the OTTB Mare Guy loves how mares connect when you take the time to build a relationship. He is dedicated to showing the world why mares are superior and working as an advocate for OTTB warhorse mares and broodmares who need to retire.
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