How to take the stress out of moving yards [H&H VIP]

  • While an owner might view a yard change as something of an upheaval, it’s not uncommon for horses to take such a move in their stride.

    “Horses are programmed to roam large areas, so moving to a new environment could be quite fun and interesting for them,” explains equine behaviour expert Dr Debbie Marsden.

    “In the wild, however, they would usually stay in small, family groups. Horses seem to enjoy a physical change of scene, but social changes — as in leaving companions behind — can be stressful for them.”

    Staying in a routine
    While moving two horses together should be pretty straightforward, Debbie advises against disturbing their routine too much.

    “Don’t be tempted to give them a week or two off to settle in,” she says. “Try to stick to the old exercise pattern for a fortnight, at least, and keep their feeding routine the same. Make sure any changes are gradual.”

    Maintaining the usual feed and turnout times can be difficult at a new yard, especially if quarantine measures are in place for newcomers.

    To minimise disruption to the horse’s digestive system, Debbie recommends taking as much feed and hay with you as possible so you can blend new in with the old over the next two weeks.

    “Nature has equipped horses to cope with moving around so don’t worry too much about
    the stress of a new environment,” she adds.

    Home alone
    Moving just one horse can be a little trickier, as some may take longer to settle in unfamiliar company.

    According to Cressida Heath, a stud groom with the Cottesmore Hunt, this can depend on the horse’s individual personality.

    “Some are very laid back and don’t even seem to notice as long as they get fed, while others display signs of stress such as pacing around the stable or along the field fence,” she says.

    “This is often a problem when a horse is taken from a livery yard to an owner’s newly built stables at home, where there is no equine company at all. You may need to get a pet, such as a sheep, or take in a sharer.”

    Whatever the new circumstances, Cressida advises allowing a horse sufficient time to adapt.

    “Try to keep to the same management routine and consistency, perhaps giving him a calmer to help reduce anxiety and adrenalin,” she says.

    “But accept the fact that it may take at least a fortnight for him to settle.”

    Making contacts
    Moving yards can mean leaving a long-established network of vets, farriers and other health practitioners. It pays to do your research before rebuilding your contact list — a word-of-mouth recommendation from a happy client is often a good starting point.

    Choosing an equine vet is largely a matter of personal preference. You might prioritise location, price range or 24-hour cover, or maybe high-tech diagnostic and surgical facilities.

    All UK farriers must be registered with the Farriers Registration Council (FRC) and carry a personal registration card and a vehicle windscreen sticker. Check a new farrier’s credentials by calling the FRC or searching their online “find a farrier” database.

    Equine dental technicians (EDTs) who are qualified and recognised by the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) and the British Veterinary Dental Association — and are members of the British Association of Equine Dental Technicians — are listed on the BEVA website.

    BEVA works with a number of musculoskeletal allied professional groups and lists practitioners they consider suitably qualified to treat horses safely following veterinary referral. Consult www.beva.org.uk for details.

    This article was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (9 October 2014)

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