Setting a Foundation for Your Young Horse Working with Your Yearling or Weanling
Too many people get a young foal on the ground and the first couple months he is spoiled with contact, with doing things unacceptable to other horses but "it's so cute".
Too many people get a young foal on the ground and the first couple months he is spoiled with contact, with doing things unacceptable to other horses but "it's so cute". The foal is then kicked out in a field and a couple years later it's time to ride - and someone gets hurt. The horse then, too often, passes through sales to others looking for a cheap horse without experience to deal with the situation created.
The time of year is here - magazines arrive and page upon page of gleaming stallions, with their pedigrees and records jostling for the best mares. Breeding fever hits - but look at that weanling or yearling in the barn. Don't just kick back and wait for him to get riding age. Work with him now - instill that rock solid foundation so that even if he doesn't make it in his chosen occupation there is a backup option for him.
Every time you work with a young horse they are learning. They're learning good things and learning bad things. They pin their ears or cowkick at you and you laugh thinking it's funny - while the horse takes notes. When he's bigger and bolder it won't be funny. Nip it in the bud NOW. When you lead them they should walk next to you, not pulling behind nor pushing on you. I learned to pick battles...you can't expect a young horse going out on a crisp day to be an angel. You CAN expect - and should - him to be under control. Horses with respect and control might give a buck, squeal or snort - but never put tension in the lead rope nor is it directed at you.
He can learn to go over simple obstacle courses, logs and creeks. He can learn to face scary thing like a blanket hanging on a fence, ribbons or balloons, plastic tarps and other things that appear scary until they learn better. You can teach the young horse to load in a trailer, pick up all four feet properly, submit to bathing, clipping and other things. Wrap his legs and use boots on him. Each young horse should learn to submit to hobbles, ropes and other restraints, not from fear but from LACK of fear. Start these things in a controlled environment. Show him he won't get hurt.
The payoffs of this can be huge! A quarter horse weanling one morning at feeding had somehow gotten her back legs into a barbed wire fence - a 4' double wire - the lessons in submitting to a soft rope came back to her when she was told "WHOA". It enabled one person to come up to a frightened filly and get the wire out from around her legs without serious injury in what could have been a crippling accident. Another time a yearling filly was standing in a field for an abnormally long period of time - a smooth wire fence strung inside the regular fence had somehow been pulled down - instead of panicing and the wire slicing her up, she felt the confinement and simply stood as if tied up. There was not a scratch on her.
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Teaching the young horse to accept blankets and other stable items saves much time later. Simple things like spraying with fly spray is a battle to a horse not accepting of it - get a spray bottle and just use water for training until you can spray him all over.
The foundation training can lead to a safe, sound, sane horse - a joy to be around rather than one you can't trust. The horse not only learns good things but learns to trust people as leaders. Use a mix of praise and discipline...expect normal reactions and reassure in a matter of fact way. Remember to expect the right thing. If you expect the horse is going to freak out you almost put the picture in his mind...if you expect the good it's surprising how often he'll do good. Horses never loaded in a trailer - if it's done right the first time - never learn to fear it so there is no fight.
A solid well trained yearling becomes a good prospect for breaking as a two year old. At that time he's already learned many life lessons - as well as acceptance of the strange things we humans do. Saddling and riding is then but a small step continuing his education.