Everyone I talk to introduces a new pony differently. Some just put them together and hope for the best. Some keep them separated for a few days. Some keep them separated for a long period of time.
To me the most important thing to do is pay attention to how everyone is feeling about the new pony. Your existing herd, the new pony…
When I brought Mikey home the weather was not good. It was raining and it was late in the day. We hustled Mikey and Zorro, who had been trailered home together, into the track and let them go. I didn’t know for sure that I would be bringing Mikey home so didn’t have a place set up for him. They all did pretty well at first. When the weather quieted down we went out and spent time out there with everyone. There wasn’t any squealing or chasing. Everyone was milling around, but seemed calm. I went to bed feeling pretty good about it.
In the morning I could see that things were not alright anymore. Mikey was intent on keeping the two girls away from Zorro and the girls were huddled in the corner. None of the hay had been eaten and everyone was so thirsty. Clearly Mikey had kept Sky and Bonnie in the corner all night and wouldn’t let anyone eat or drink. I hauled a bucket of water out to the girls and we quickly put up a pen for Mikey. He was now separated.
Something else I pay attention to is how the new pony behaves. Is it friendly and trusting of people? Is it easy to catch or a worry wart?
Mikey was not trusting, he didn’t want the other ponies near me or near each other which made catching anyone nearly impossible. He was very spooky and silly and wouldn’t let me even touch him for that first couple of days. I knew from his previous family that he could be hard to catch. If it wasn’t his idea then he wasn’t having any of it. I wanted to take some time to change his mind about the halter and being caught. Having him separated would help with that process.
I’ve noticed that ponies that are handled by little kids will often become difficult to catch. I think it’s because kids are often very single minded. They catch their pony, they ride the pony and then they put the pony away. There often isn’t much time spent just hanging out with the pony, spending undemanding time with them. Often kids move fast as well. So that is a bit unsettling for the ponies. Before Mikey lived with the family I got him from he lived at a very fancy barn where they did dressage and had kids. I know he was handled by the kids. He wasn’t worked regularly, just enough to decide that he didn’t really like to be caught! So I have spent the last week changing his mind about the halter.
Mikey is a cookie hound. There MUST be very strong boundaries around hand feeding him treats. I will not give him a treat when he is looking for one. He doesn’t get a treat if he is looking in my pocket or reaching for my hands. He must lower his head and turn it away from me to get the treat. He is so so smart, it didn’t take him very long to figure that out! I would offer him the halter and if he would let me put it on him, he would get a cookie. Then I would remove the halter and leave. After doing that a few times for two days, then I would halter him and take him with me to do chores. He really liked this because he got to be out with the other ponies. And eat some grass. I would let him find a few tasty snacks when we went out to fill the hay nets.
It’s been a week and a half since Mikey came here and today was the first day he got to be out with the other two ponies all day! I know everyone still needs time to relax, lay down and rest, so Mikey will go into his own area at night for some time. This will allow EVERYONE to relax completely.
Mikey didn’t try to chase Zorro away. He didn’t harass Sky at all. He ate hay and wandered around the track, exactly what I wanted him to do! And when I went out to do evening chores Mikey was the first one to come running to me. He came straight up and stood calmly while I haltered him. Then we went and did the chores before I put him up in his pen for the night! That way I didn’t just catch him and lock him up. If I don’t have time to do things this way, then I won’t let him out that day. This will continue to help him change his mind about being caught.
I won’t be starting him driving for a little while. He has something going on with his hind end and needs some body work first. Once he has been looked over by my equine body worker, then I will start his ground driving!