Moving a horse to a new barn or facility requires careful planning and consideration. Horses are sensitive animals and are prone to experiencing stress when relocating to a new environment or joining a new herd.

This puts them at risk of developing various health and behavioral problems when it comes time to move to a new barn. Health conditions associated with changing barns include gastric ulcers, weight loss, stereotypic behaviors and other conditions linked to elevated stress levels.

Maintaining your horse’s normal management routines as much as possible is critical to helping your horse adjust to its new home more quickly. Your horse may be excitable or nervous at first but will likely adapt after a few weeks.

As a horse owner, you can help ensure that the move is as stress-free as possible for your horse by following a few simple steps. This guide reviews essential factors to consider when relocating your horse to a new barn.

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Considerations Before Moving your Horse

Helping your horse to adjust to a new equine facility takes time and patience. As the day approaches to relocate your horse to a new barn, careful preparation can ensure a smooth and stress-free transition for both you and your equine companion.

Health Records Review

Ensure that your horse’s health records are current and complete. Before you relocate your horse to a new facility, ensure your horse is up to date with veterinary check-ups and that they have received necessary vaccinations, health certificates, deworming, and hoof care.

Proof of these services may be required by some boarding stables and shipping companies, so it is imperative to keep receipts and copies of health documents. If your horse is being transported internationally, a health certificate may be required from your veterinarian.

Be wary of facilities that do not request medical records when introducing a new horse to the barn. This may be a sign of lax biosecurity measures, which could suggest a heightened risk of infectious disease for your horse.

Some facilities will require a Coggins test to check for equine infectious anemia (EIA), a highly contagious disease which is transmitted by horseflies and biting insects.

There is currently no treatment or vaccine to prevent the spread of EIA, and infected horses must be quarantined to prevent transmission of the disease. EIA can be fatal in some horses, while others show few signs of the disease but are carriers for life and pose a risk to other horses.

Plan Veterinary Care

Schedule any veterinary wellness care or treatments at least two weeks before moving your horse to a new facility. Avoiding unnecessary veterinary appointments near the time of moving will prevent overwhelming your horse with too many potential stressful experiences.

If relocating to a new region, select and reach out to a new veterinarian before you make the move, so you are prepared in case your horse has a health emergency.

Packing & Labelling Equipment

Avoid last-minute stress by packing well in advance of your moving date. Create a checklist of essential items to ensure nothing is forgotten.

Label all your equipment with either your name and/or your horse’s name prior to moving. Labeling can help prevent the loss of items that can easily be confused such as blankets, grooming tools and tack.

Moving to a new boarding barn can be made easier by taking care of these chores ahead of time.

Hire an Experienced Shipper

Transporting your horse, even short distances, can result in physiological stress that affects the endocrine and immune systems. [1]

Depending on the moving distance, it may be worth researching and hiring a reliable horse transporter who prioritizes your horse’s safety and comfort during the trip. Find one who is experienced and can provide references.

A professional shipper will stop for water breaks, allow your horse time to rest, and check on their wellbeing throughout the trip. This is especially important when transporting your horse during extreme weather conditions.

Follow our guide to long-distance shipping your horse if your move involves a long trailer ride.

Arrival at a New Facility

Upon arriving at a new facility, your goal is to help your horse acclimate to their environment and positively introduce them to any new equine companions.

Explore the Environment

Walking the facility yourself, prior to your horse’s arrival could alleviate unexpected stressors as you become familiar with what may or may not cause a negative response from your horse. Hand-walking your horse around the new facility next will allow them to gain familiarity with the new environment. Your presence will help to provide comfort and assurance.

Even if you’re just moving your horse to a different barn on the same property, there will be new smells and sights for your horse to get used to. Walk your horse through and around unfamiliar buildings to allow him/her to take notice of the change in environment.

After your horse has been led around a new facility or living environment, let him/her spend a few hours alone in their stall, paddock, or field, so they can settle into the new home. Check the stall or pasture to ensure it is free from any potential hazards, such as loose fence boards or protruding nails.

Maintain Familiarity

Bringing along familiar forage, eating conditions (i.e., hay net), or treats can help comfort the horse in a new environment.

Use familiar bedding material and try to maintain as much consistency as possible in your daily routine. Try to feed, exercise, and groom at the same time(s) as your last barn to help your horse settle in.

Biosecurity Protocols

Following proper biosecurity measures is important whenever introducing horses to new herds and environments. Effective biosecurity practices can prevent the introduction and spread of infectious diseases among horses.

These policies are important not only for the safety and well-being of your horse but also for financial reasons. An outbreak can lead to hefty veterinary bills and the tragic loss of animals.

Quarantine if Necessary

Quarantine can be useful for helping to prevent the spread of disease by prohibiting contact between new arrivals and resident horses. [2]

The isolation period for horses arriving from low-risk facilities should be approximately 7 to 14 days. For horses coming from facilities with unknown risk, consider extending the isolation period to approximately 21 to 28 days.

Horses showing obvious signs of disease or having a high risk of infection should not be allowed on the premises. An alternative approach is to transfer ill horses to a separate isolation facility.

During the quarantine period, isolated horses should be kept separate from all other horses except for those they arrived with. This isolation period can be challenging for both the horses and their handlers, but stress levels can be reduced by ensuring that quarantined horses can at least see other horses, even if physical contact is not allowed.

Handlers must take precautions, including washing their hands and using protective overalls (changing clothes is also advised) to prevent the spread of any potential infections to other horses.

Quarantine Companion

Horses are social animals and are more comfortable as members of a herd. Because isolation can be stressful, consider providing a quarantine companion for your horse to reduce stress.

For quarantine companionship, a suitable option is a fully vaccinated, mature gelding with a stable temperament. However, this “companion” horse cannot rejoin the existing herd until the quarantine duration has been completed.

A mare is unsuitable as a companion for a male horse that hasn’t been gelded as she may become impregnated. Alternatively, using a goat as a companion is a viable option as they won’t be affected if exposed to equine respiratory diseases.

If a companion cannot be provided, consider hanging mirrors in your horse’s stall or environment. Mirrors provide visual stimulation and have been used to reduce stereotypic behaviors in horses housed alone. [3]

Addressing Digestive Issues

In horses, gut issues frequently emerge as one of the first indicators of stress. Moving to a new barn is also a major risk factor for colic, gastric ulcers, and other forms of gut dysfunction.

Changes in environment and feeding program can disrupt the horse’s hindgut microbiome, impacting immune function and nutrient absorption.

However, there are steps you can take to safeguard your horse’s digestive health when relocating to a new facility. Work with an equine nutritionist and/or your veterinarian to provide extra support during this transition phase.

Omeprazole

If your horse has a history of gastric ulcers or tends to be anxious, your veterinarian may recommend administering Omeprazole (Gastrogard®, Ulcergard®) at the time of the move.

Omeprazole is a proton pump inhibitor used to reduce stomach acid production and prevent or treat gastric ulcers in horses. It works by blocking the parietal cells of the stomach from secreting gastric acid.

While this drug is effective for improving gastric pH (reducing acidity) to allow gastric ulcers a chance to heal, Omeprazole does not directly promote the healing of the ulcers or the rebuilding of the gastrointestinal barrier.

The drug is primarily effective in treating ulcers in the squamous region of the stomach but has also been used to reduce the severity of glandular ulcers. [4][5][6][7]

It may be administered alongside antimicrobials and gastroprotective drugs, such as sucralfate.

Feeding and Management

Feeding and management also play a key role in preventing gastric ulcers and supporting gut health. You can reduce your horse’s risk of digestive issues by feeding a forage-based diet, avoiding long periods without access to forage, and ensuring your horse drinks plenty of water.

Also consider feeding a probiotic and prebiotic supplement to support your horse’s gastric health and the hindgut microbiome before and after moving barns.

Mad Barn’s Visceral+ is a comprehensive gut health supplement formulated to help horses maintain healthy stomach tissue, hindgut health, and immune function.

Visceral+ was developed by veterinarians as a pelleted supplement that is safe for horses with gastric ulcers. It works with the body to naturally support the stomach lining, maintaining gut health and reducing the risk of digestive upsets.

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Managing Diet and Nutrition

Closely monitor your horse’s feeding behavior when moving to a new barn. Horses may have a reduced appetite when being introduced to a new feed source and dietary changes need to be made gradually to allow the horse’s gut to adapt.

Make Feed Changes Slowly

Moving your horse to a new barn frequently involves a change of feed or forage. Transitioning to a new type of hay and grain can significantly increase the risk of colic and other gut issues.

To minimize colic risk, avoid abrupt changes to your feeding program. Bring along a few bales of hay from your previous facility and feed the same grain that your horse is accustomed to eating. You can gradually introduce your horse to new feed sources over 7 to 10 days by progressively mixing them in with your old supplies.

Keeping a routine feeding schedule is ideal. Research shows that changes from a regular feeding schedule, in particular delayed feeding, can promote negative behaviors such as pawing and kicking. [8]

Bring Water and or Use Electrolytes

In unfamiliar environments, horses may be hesitant to drink water that smells and tastes different. Some horses might outright refuse unfamiliar water, leading to dehydration and potentially causing colic.

To ease their transition, consider bringing water from the previous facility to offer them as they become familiar with the new water.

Consider adding flavored electrolytes, molasses, or Stevia-based syrups to your horse’s water a couple of weeks before the move. This gradually introduces a new flavor, making the transition to the new barn’s water less noticeable for the horse.

Once the horse has settled in the new environment, you can gradually reduce and eventually eliminate the electrolytes from their water if they are not needed. This approach helps ensure proper hydration during the transition period.

If providing a bucket of water with electrolytes, always provide a bucket with plain water too so your horse has a choice. Also, ensure your horse is getting enough salt (1 – 2 ounces daily) in their diet to encourage water intake.

Transition to New Pasture Gradually

Different pasture grasses can have varying nutrient compositions, including levels of hydrolyzable carbohydrates (sugar and starch). Nutrient content varies based on grass species, but also environment, growing conditions, and soil factors.

A sudden influx of non-structural carbohydrate, such as sugars in lush spring grass, can lead to metabolic or digestive issues.

Initially, set up a stall or pen to house horses transitioning onto pasture and slowly increase their grazing time. Using a grazing muzzle can help control grass consumption, and adding a probiotic supplement offers extra protection for the gut.

Start by allowing your horse to graze for approximately 15 minutes each day and gradually increase the grazing time by 15 minutes per day until they reach about four to five hours of daily grazing. Once your horse is comfortably adjusted, continuous access to pasture should be safe.

Turn Out

Every barn has its own approach to turn out, with variations in turn out schedule, grouping, paddock size, and environmental elements.

Transitioning from being in a large herd to solitary turn out (or vice versa) is a major adjustment for your horse. Discuss the situation with your barn manager to find a suitable social group for your horse based on factors such as age, size, and personality.

One study found that providing a turn out area measuring at least 342 square meters (3681 square feet) per horse may reduce the chance of injury in horses that are not familiar with group turnout. [11]

If your horse will be getting less turnout or exercise in their new environment, consider engaging in extra hand walking, lunging, or hacking to mitigate any negative effects. Conversely, if your horse will be getting more turnout or exercise, ensure a gradual transition to support their overall well-being.

Introduction to a New Herd

Introducing your horse to new barn-mates should be done with care and caution to prevent injuries and stress. By proactively addressing your horse’s needs during transition, you can facilitate a smoother adjustment to their new environment.

Horses, as herd animals, have an innate tendency to live in groups, both for protection from predators and social companionship. In the wild, horses establish durable social hierarchies with dominant animals at the top.

Keeping horses in groups allows them to engage in natural behaviors and helps to fulfill their physical and psychological needs. Group housing can also have a positive impact on horse-human interactions during training. [12]

Once your horse becomes comfortable with being hand-walked in their new surroundings, he can be gradually introduced to the herd, depending on the owner’s preference and the need for quarantine.

Turn Out in a Neighboring Paddock

To safely introduce your horse to a new herd, start by turning them out in a neighboring pasture. This allows them to interact with the other horses over the fence while staying separated to reduce stress and prevent injury.

A research study involving pairs of young horses placed next to each other in stalls before turning them out together found this can reduce aggressive contact behaviors, such as biting.

The degree of biting threat demonstrated in the stalls may also help to predict the degree of contact aggression when horses are subsequently turned out together. This can help you screen horses as appropriate turn out companions. [13]

Providing a Turn Out Friend

Another approach to integrating your horse within an existing herd is to pair them with a single well-mannered horse first before introducing the herd.

Handler Safety

When it’s time to integrate your horse into the new herd, handlers should turn the horse out and leave the pasture to ensure safety. Monitor the situation from a distance.

Establishing Hierarchy

It is not uncommon to see horses bickering or for the new horse to get picked on initially. Establishing hierarchy and social dynamics among horses may involve behaviors such as squealing, pawing, biting, kicking, and chasing.

If the new horse is being chased away from their hay or feed by existing herd members, it’s important to feed them separately until they secure their position in the group. Provide multiple sources of forage in the turn out environment to reduce competition for feed and prevent weight loss.

Monitoring horses closely during the integration process is crucial to ensure their safety and well-being.

Training and Exercise

Maintain a consistent exercise routine for your horse and spend plenty of time with them during the initial transition period. To minimize the risk of colic, avoid abrupt changes in their training and activity levels.

Horses thrive on consistency, and maintaining a normal training schedule can promote their well-being and help them adapt to their new barn. Avoid beginning a new lesson program or taking your horse to a show right after the move.

What to Watch for After Moving In

Maintain Close Health Monitoring: Observe your horse’s behavior, gum color, feed intake, manure production, manure consistency, and water consumption regularly. Any significant changes might indicate illness and warrant immediate advice or treatment from your veterinarian.

Watch for Stress Indicators: Stay vigilant for signs of stress, including excessive nervousness, loss of appetite, cribbing, or unusual behaviors. [14] If you notice any of these signs, consult your veterinarian.

Ensure Adequate Hydration: Provide your horse with constant access to clean, fresh water to prevent potential issues, especially during warm weather. Signs of dehydration include a lack of energy, red mucous membranes, skin tenting, loss of appetite, excessive sweating, elevated heart rate, dark colored urine, and fever.

Monitor Water Intake: Keep track of your horse’s water intake. Water consumption volume as well as drinking frequency and duration are the most reliable indicators of hydration status for working horses. [15]

An average horse should drink five to ten gallons of water daily. If your horse refuses to drink water or appears dehydrated, immediately consult your veterinarian to prevent against the risk of impaction colic. Addressing dehydration promptly can safeguard their health during travel and other scenarios.

Conclusion

Moving your horse to a new barn requires careful planning, patience, and attention to their needs. By reviewing your horse’s health records, planning veterinary care, packing ahead of time, and considering their feeding plan, you can ensure a smoother transition.

Upon arrival at a new facility, important considerations include assisting horses with gaining familiarity with their new surroundings, minimizing stressors if quarantine is necessary and ensuring a careful introduction to new herd mates. Following a consistent exercise and diet program is critical for supporting overall health and wellness.

During and after the move, closely monitor your horse’s health and behavior. Remember that each horse may adjust to the moving process differently and should be cared for on an individual basis.

Take the time to understand your horse’s unique needs and respond accordingly. With the right approach and care, your horse will soon be happy and thriving in their new barn.

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References

  1. Miller, A. B. et al. Short-Term Transport Stress and Supplementation Alter Immune Function in Aged Horses. PloS One. 2021. View Summary
  2. Weese, J. S. Infection Control and Biosecurity in Equine Disease Control. Equine Vet. J. 2014. View Summary
  3. MMcAfee, L. The use of mirrors for the control of stereotypic weaving behaviour in the stabled horse. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 2002.
  4. Richardson, P. et al. Proton Pump Inhibitors. Pharmacology and Rationale for Use in Gastrointestinal Disorders. Drugs. 1998.
  5. Sykes, B. W. et al. A Comparison of Two Doses of Omeprazole in the Treatment of Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome: A Blinded, Randomised, Clinical Trial. Equine Vet. J. 2014. View Summary
  6. Hepburn, R. Gastric ulceration in horses. In Practice – Wiley Online Library. Accessed Aug. 01, 2023.
  7. Jassim, R. et al. (PDF) Gastric Ulceration In Horses: The Role Of Bacteria And Lactic Acid. Researchgate. Accessed Aug. 01, 2023.
  8. Zupan, M. et al. The Effect of an Irregular Feeding Schedule on Equine Behavior. J. Appl. Anim. Welf. Sci. JAAWS. 2020. View Summary
  9. Geor, R. J. Pasture-Associated Laminitis. Vet. Clin. North Am. Equine Pract. 2009. View Summary
  10. Watts, K. A. Forage and Pasture Management for Laminitic Horses. Clin. Tech. Equine Pract. 2004.
  11. Suagee-Bedore, J. K. et al. Effect of Pen Size on Stress Responses of Stall-Housed Horses Receiving One Hour of Daily Turnout. J. Equine Vet. Sci. 2021. View Summary
  12. Hartmann, E. et al. Keeping horses in groups: A review. ScienceDirect. Accessed Aug. 01, 2023.
  13. Hartmann, E. et al. Social Interactions of Unfamiliar Horses during Paired Encounters: Effect of Pre-Exposure on Aggression Level and so Risk of Injury. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 2009.
  14. Malinowski, K. Stress Management for Equine Athletes. Equine Science Center. Accessed Aug. 01, 2023.
  15. Pritchard, J. C. et al. Validity of Indicators of Dehydration in Working Horses: A Longitudinal Study of Changes in Skin Tent Duration, Mucous Membrane Dryness and Drinking Behaviour. Equine Vet. J. 2008. View Summary