Bringing Home a New Horse

Jennifer Rice, DVM
By Jennifer Rice, DVM on Dec. 19, 2022

Bringing home a new horse whether it’s your first horse or adding an addition to your barn is always an exciting time. But with all the excitement, it’s also important to make sure you have everything you need to ensure a smooth and stress-free move.

What Do I Need to Bring a Horse Home?

Whether bringing a new horse to your own barn or to a boarding facility, here is a list of items you should make sure to include with you: 

  • First aid kit

  • Negative Coggins test: If moving the horse across state lines, they must have an up-to-date (within the last year) negative Coggins. Coggins is a blood test that must be performed by a veterinarian to declare that the horse is negative of the virus Equine Infectious Anemia. This is generally performed annually by your veterinarian.

  • Health certificate: This certificate is written by a veterinarian saying that the horse is in good health and could be required in some states or settings.

  • Medical records from the previous owner including dental records, vaccination and deworming history.

    • Vaccination history is incredibly important as many boarding barns will not allow new horses on the property unless they are up-to-date on specific required vaccines. Talk to your primary veterinarian about the vaccinations and protocol before bringing any horse onto your own property, especially if you have other horses at the site.

  • Hay: If the previous owner would be willing to give you a bale or two of the horse’s current hay, you can then gradually switch them to your hay.

  • Grain: If the previous owner can give you enough grain for 5-7 days, then you can also gradually transition them over to whatever grain you will be giving them or if you can find out the grain ahead of time you can have that at the barn before arrival. 

  • Shipping boots or leg wraps: It is often recommended to protect a horse's legs while traveling to help protect them from any injury while loading, trailering, and unloading.

  • Halter with lead rope: Bringing an extra halter or lead rope is always advised.

  • Shoeing history: The previous owner should let you know when the horse had their last feet trim and how often they generally have their feet trimmed.

  • Pre-purchase exam: A pre-purchase exam is recommended before buying any horse. This can be as simple as an overall health exam performed by your veterinarian to make sure the horse appears to be in good health.

    • For many performance horses this exam may also include bloodwork, lameness examination, and radiographs to look for any abnormalities.

  • Insurance: Horses are an investment, hard to replace, and rather costly when medical issues arise.  Horse insurance can cover a variety of options from surgery or major medical coverage to theft and mortality of the horse. If insurance is something you want to invest in, it is always best to have the policy planned before bringing the horse home so that they are covered the moment you take ownership.

What is the First Thing to Do When You Bring a Horse Home?

Before you bring your new horse home, you should have a plan on where he or she will be placed. If the new horse is entering a facility with other horses, it is best practice to quarantine the new horse away from any other horses for two weeks. This is to ensure that the new horse does not pass on any illnesses to the new barn. During this two-week period, keeping the horse in a safe enclosed space (such as a stall) will allow the horse to get acquainted to the new surroundings and allow you time to get to know each other. 

It will be important to know the horse's previous feeding routine in order to give the horse a similar hay and grain schedule to help them adjust to the new environment. Generally, allowing the horse free access to hay or providing hay multiple times per day is best practice. If you will be switching their hay and grain to something new, gradually change it over for about seven days. This slow change can help prevent an episode of colic from occurring.

After the horse's two-week quarantine has ended, you can begin to allow the horse to explore the new environment. The safest way to do this is by hand walking them around the property and/or beginning to allow them time loose in small turnout areas.

How Long Does It Take for a Horse to Get Used to a New Home?

Since every horse has a different temperament there is no one timeline that fits all. Horses that are more laid back, older, or have traveled more may be comfortable in their new environment in as little as several weeks. Horses that tend to be excitable or nervous may take several months to get use to a new home.

Watch your horse's body language to know that your new horse is beginning to relax and settle in. Relaxed behaviors include:

  • Ears hanging to the side 

  • Eyes half closed

  • Hindlimb propped forward to rest 

  • Tail relaxed and hanging gently 

Other signs that can be good indicators that a horse is settling in include: 

  • Eating well

  • Drinking well

  • Interested in the daily activity that is going on

  • Coming to the front of the stall when you arrive or coming to you when you open the door 

  • Passing feces and urinating normally 

How Do You Make a New Horse Feel At Home?

Spending one-on-one time with your new horse can help them to feel at home. Horses are herd animals, and they will want to bond with you and/or other horses to feel at home and become comfortable in their new setting. Spending time with them every day, even if it’s just to brush them or let them hand graze, can be incredibly beneficial for helping them feel at home as well as building your bond.

If your horse is living in an environment where they can potentially make horse friends and be turned out with other horses– beginning to introduce them to these other horses will be a great next step. Begin introductions with new horses that are more laid back or more accustomed to traveling. This process can be started by allowing your new horse to be in a stall next door or across from their new friend where they can smell and see them. Then the horses can progress to being in turnout areas that share a fence. If you are boarding your horse, the barn manager or trainer can help you make sure this process goes smoothly as they should know the other horse's personalities.

Bringing home a new horse is an exciting time and with the right planning and preparation, it can be a smooth and stress-free experience.

Featured Image:

Jennifer Rice, DVM


Jennifer Rice, DVM


Dr. Jennifer Rice is a 2017 graduate from Purdue College of Veterinary Medicine where she specialized in Equine medicine. Since graduating...

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