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Introducing a new horse to an established herd

Introducing a new horse to an established herd

Okay, so Jazzy is a mule and not a horse but the process and experience was the same when we introduced Cash and Romeo. Well, almost the same. Jazzy only weighs about 500 pounds, half the weight of most of our horses. We knew she was more vulnerable to the bullying that comes with herd introduction. Her body couldn’t take as many kicks and she wouldn’t be able to outrun any of our horses. And she didn’t yet know the pasture.

Jazzy the mule looking at her new horse family
Jazzy looks to the barn as Moonshine is turned out.

This is the approach we took:

  1. Barn Intro – First we put her in the barn. The horses knew immediately that another equine had just arrived and were waiting by the barn to see what was going on. Jazzy lived with horses so this wasn’t new for her. Through the barn gate everyone met (wish I snapped a picture of this). We kept Jazzy in the barn for a few days so the horses got used to her being there. Normally we would have put a new equine in a round pen in the pasture so everyone could sniff and run around in circles in the early days but we’re using the round pen sections as a temporary fence.
  2. Pasture Intro – Time to switch. We wanted Jazzy to explore her new home beyond the barn. She’d need to know the boundaries, where the natural food supply was and where she could go to get away. We also have a run-in barn for inclement weather. So the horses went into the main barn and the mule went into the pasture. We were surprised that she didn’t leave the barn area. Over the next few weeks we discovered she’s a follower and has no interest in being alone. To this day I don’t think she’s seen all of the pasture.
  3. First Horse (Valentine) – After a few days of keeping them apart, it was time to let them mingle. We started by letting out the lowest ranking horse, which is Valentine. He’s docile, not caring much about his position in the herd. He’s never started a fight. Valentine immediately went to Jazzy to smell her. Although at first she was nervous, it wasn’t long before they were eating near each other.
  4. Second Horse (Romeo) – A few hours later, it was Romeo’s turn. We thought he was our next least aggressive horse but this turned out to not be true. Romeo, an Appaloosa, is our smallest horse. It wasn’t many years ago when he was the new guy and the other horses ran him hard around the pasture. I felt sorry for him at the time but he ended up second in command. I guess he wanted to make sure Jazzy knew this because he immediately bullied her. Horses are smart. He toned it down when we were around but the minute we were out of sight he let her have it. It took Jazzy a little time to figure out she should not run into corners. Eventually Romeo settled down to eat from the hay ring but he wasn’t letting Jazzy near it.
  5. Third Horse (Cash) – A few hours went by and it was time to turn out Cash. I worry about him around other horses. He’s insecure in his position in the herd (second from the bottom) and I was afraid of what that would mean for Jazzy. Cash surprised me and mostly ignored Jazzy.
  6. Last Horse (Moonshine) – When I saw Cash wasn’t going to be trouble, I turned out Moonshine as well. I left her for last because she’s the herd boss and demands the utmost in obedience from her subjects. But she too gave Jazzy little more than a sniff and headed for the hay.
Lessons learned

It seems clear now that Romeo is the herd enforcer. He’s the right hand man for the queen, handling her dirty work. Over the next few days, the horses all ran Jazzy around the pasture briefly and it started with her running from Romeo. With horses, when one runs, they all want to run. But Jazzy’s submissive nature allowed her to integrate quicker. Within three days of sharing a pasture together, Jazzy was grazing near her new herd. They won’t allow her to eat with them when all four are at the hay ring but if one or two are there, she’s allowed to join in. She did have to endure some kicking and biting. In fact, during those first few days, she ended up with several bite marks on her back, one of which needed wound dressing. But things are good now.

Lastly, having two round bale hay feeders (or hay rings) makes a big difference when you have more than two equines or if some of them don’t get a long. We added the second one as an experiment last year. We’re able to keep round bales in two locations, far enough apart that no one horse can dominate both food sources. This has worked out very well at our place and the cost was minimal.

Our first mule

Our first mule

Once a month or so, we hook up our flat trailer and head to our local hay supplier to get a month’s worth of round bales. All summer we’ve been greeted in our supplier’s hay yard by the sweetest little mule we’ve ever met. Jazzy would come and greet us and if our windows were open, would stick her whole head in the truck to say hi. She let us pet her all over, never biting, and if we allowed her, she enjoyed hanging out with the humans while the hay was being loaded and the fat was being chewed. Jazzy, her owner explained, was bottle-fed, raised by humans and made to feel like one of their herd. But Jazzy’s owner didn’t want her anymore and was talking about sending her to the sale barn where she’d probably fetch $25 and end up who knows where. Jazzy’s owner liked her well enough but didn’t really need her. Animals to him are livestock, meant to be bought and sold at will. I respect that, even though to us these animals are pets at worst and members of the family at best. Given the poor market for equines in Tennessee due to oversupply and under demand, we think we knew where Jazzy was headed.

Ever since moving to Tennessee, Pops (Mikki’s dad) has talked about getting his own mule or donkey/burro. After months of scratching her behind the ears and telling her how pretty she is, Pops decided he wanted this mule. A few days ago, she was loaded into our horse trailer for the short trip to our barn. Little 500 pound Jazzy was dwarfed but our seemingly huge trailer, the size of which was selected to fit 1300 pound Valentine. I wasn’t there when it happened but I’m told she didn’t want to get into the trailer. It was a new, scary experience for her but she made it without any serious issues.

Jazzy has been with us for a few days now and things are mostly fine. She’s adapting. Herd introduction was a little challenging and I’ll discuss that in another post.

Jazzy with Valentine
Jazzy with Valentine

So what are we going to do with a mule? In short, nothing. We don’t plan to ride her or work her. We’ve learned by observing her over the past months that she enjoys eating weeds along with hay. I think we can accommodate that. She won’t eat much and might be effective in keeping the coyotes out of our pasture. But to us, she’s a pet and a member of our family herd.