A guide to how to help your horse adjust to his new home and reduce the risk of illness!
Over the years I have come across many owners who bring a new horse home and have problems within the first few days or weeks. Transport, dehydration and changes in management, in particular changes in forage and feed, are major risk factors for the development of gastrointestinal disturbance and colic. This short guide includes a range of advice to reduce the risk of this happening to your new horse.
Moving home for a horse can be stressful. Travelling is tiring and weakens the immune system which in turn can lead to an increased risk of respiratory disease and/or colic. Changes in feed and routine can also lead to an increased risk of colic.
If possible avoid doing anything potentially stressful to your horse for at least one week after moving them to their new home. For example, try to avoid worming, vaccination, shoeing, dental treatment, turn-out with other horses and hard exercise.
When your horse arrives at your yard, if possible keep them separate from other horses for at least two weeks. Whilst this is not always possible, keeping your horse separated will reduce the risk of them passing infectious diseases to one another.
It is not uncommon for horses to show a change in behaviour when they have been moved. This can be due to separation from other horses at their previous yard, changes in management, etc. Changes in behaviour can also obviously be an early warning sign of the onset of illness so it’s important to keep that in mind.
Try to keep your new horse’s feed buckets, water buckets, tack, rugs, etc separate from those of other horses on the yard. This can reduce the risk of infectious disease. Also use a hand and stable disinfectant when moving between other horses on the yard and your new horse.
In order to reduce the risk of problems such as tying-up, colic or respiratory disease, try to keep the management of your horse as close to that when it was at its previous home and make any changes gradually.
Horses can often develop respiratory disease after travelling. The longer the journey the greater the risk. For this reason you should take your horse’s rectal temperature when you arrive home and then each morning and evening for at least 3 days. A horse’s normal rectal temperature at rest is usually between 37.5°C and 38.0°C. The temperature is lowest first thing in the morning and increases throughout the day by around 0.5°C. When you arrive after transporting your horse home the rectal temperature may be increased slightly (up to 38.5-39.0°C). This is not unusual and in most cases is nothing to worry about provided it drops after a few hours in the stable. You should take your horse’s rectal temperature morning and evening for the next few days. A persistently elevated temperature of around 38.5°C or higher, especially if combined with any nasal discharge and or a cough, may indicate a respiratory infection associated with travelling (“shipping fever”) and is an indication to call your vet.
A big risk for colic is when there is a change in forage. Ideally you should ask to take at least a few bales of hay or haylage from where your horse has been kept with you when you collect your horse. To reduce the risk of colic you should gradually introduce your own forage (hay, haylage or pasture) over the next week and at the same time reduce the amount of hay that you have been given. If your horse is going to have access to pasture on a daily basis, initially try to avoid long periods of turnout on good pasture. Start by turning out for a few hours a day and gradually increase over a few weeks.
Check what bedding your horse was stabled on at its previous home and try to use the same bedding at least for the first 1-2 weeks. A change in bedding can represent a challenge to the horse’s respiratory system and combined with stress from moving can lead to the development of respiratory symptoms such as cough and nasal discharge.
Another risk for horses developing colic when they change home is decreased water intake. The water in your horse’s new home may taste different from where he was previously. Make sure buckets or troughs are clean and free from any traces of disinfectants that were used to clean out water containers. If your horse continues to be reluctant to drink after a day you can try adding a small amount of sugar or molasses to the water to mask the taste and encourage drinking.
If you have automatic waterers installed then some horses will not drink as much from these as from buckets, especially if they are not used to them. It may be a good idea to include one or two buckets of water in the stable until your horse has settled in if they are reluctant to use the automatic waterers. Dehydration and stress are risk factors for development of colic.
In order to reduce the risk of colic due to stress, dehydration and changes in feed, it is a good idea to put your horse on a live yeast probiotic when moving home. It is highly recommended that you continue to feed this for at least 4 weeks as this is the time it takes the horse’s gut to adjust to a new type of forage.
Try to keep your horse on the same hard feed as it was on at its last home and if you want to make any changes do this slowly after 7-10 days. You may decide in the first week at their new home that your horse will not be exercised as hard or as long in order to adapt to his new surroundings. If so, the hard feed should be reduced to reduce the risk of tying-up.
When it comes to introducing your horse to other horses in the field, it can be better to introduce your horse to only a few at a time. If the other horses have been together for some time they will have established a pecking order. Introducing a new horse is likely to upset the pecking order and can be a stressful time for your horse, so ideally don’t try to introduce your horse to other horses for at least a few weeks.
- Travelling and moving home can be stressful for horses and increase the risk of certain problems, such as colic, respiratory disease and tying-up.
- Try to keep your new horse separate from other horses initially if at all possible.
- Try to minimise any potential stress in the first week by keeping your horse on the same forage and hard feed as at their last home and avoiding hard exercise, turning out with other horses, worming, vaccination, showing and dentistry.
- Monitor your horse closely for the first few days, including taking their temperature.
- Make any changes to feed slowly, ideally over 7 days and after the horse has been at their new home for at least a week, by removing a small amount of the existing diet and adding in a small amount of the new diet.
- Remember to reduce hard feed if your horse is not being worked as hard to reduce the risk of tying-up.
- Horses can show changes in behaviour when they move home but changes in behaviour combined with cough, temperature, reduced feed and water intake, etc can be signs of illness so remember to consult your vet early if this occurs.
Listen to Dr David Marlin’s Podcast on moving your horse, click here