Training a foal to
lead can be approached in several ways. You should always start by leading
the foal alongside or just slightly behind the dam. This gives the foal
confidence and a reason to go forward. A butt rope is often helpful in encouraging
the foal to move forward. Later when you lead the foal alone, you might
need to carry a 4-5 foot whip in your left hand so if he "gets stuck"
(balks) you can give him a little pop on the hindquarters. Never pull the
halter to try to get a foal to move forward. This will only teach him to
set against halter pressure.
For folks who need to avoid the wear-and-tear often involved in halter training
a large or feisty foal, you might consider letting another animal do the training
for you. I've seen pairs of colts tied together with 18 to 24 inch lead
ropes between their halters. This "buddy system" is designed to
let the foals train each other. It can show them that they must yield to
halter pressure. To be effective the colts must be pretty evenly matched
or one will learn to be a puller and the other a follower. (That's why some
ranchers prefer to attach their haltered foals to a mature donkey who will definitely
be the one in charge.) It varies as to how long to leave the colts attached
to each other. I purchased a previously untouched weanling filly that had
been "hooked up" to another filly for 5 days. I found her halter
training to proceed very easily with minimal trauma to the foal and my shoulders
and feet! Since she was over 400#, it would have been tough to wrangle her
using ordinary means. However, I've also seen foals that had been "hooked
up" too long (3-4 weeks), and became injured or very dull. So, it might
be a useful method for a few days in certain situations.
Another way you can teach a larger foal to lead is using "ponying".
The foal's lead rope is dallied around the saddle horn of a solid, steady, reliable
pony horse. As you ride along, sometimes your pony horse will be towing
the youngster along and other times the foal will try to zoom ahead. Eventually
he'll find that spot where he receives no pressure on his halter. It will
be a place somewhere near your right knee and your pony horse's right shoulder.
All the time
you are leading a cold or warm blooded horse, you need to keep sensitivity enhancement
in mind. If the foal leans into pressure and you react with counter pressure,
you will compound the problem. With the less sensitive horse, especially,
your goal should be correct responses to light, intermittent cues. Design
the training sessions to that end.
For example, when you press the chest of an inexperienced horse as a request for
a back, it is likely that the horse will not move at all or will instead move
forward and push into your hand. The temptation might be for you to apply
more pressure to the halter and to push into the horse's chest with the heel of
your hand. I've even seen some people lean their whole body weight against
a foal to try to get him to move back. Generally, heavy steady pressure
such as this will cause the horse to push something like a horse does when he
leans into a collar. So, if you want to position a horse and need him to
step backwards a few steps, you will need to use light, tapping cues, preferably
on the bony prominences. In the case of backing, tap the sternum with your
fingers. If you want him to move his forehand away from you, press the point
of his shoulder. If you need him to swing his hindquarters away, press at
the ribcage or the point of the hip.
All horses should stand
quietly while tied without pawing, swerving, chewing, or whinnying. How
do you get there? Usually when a foal is several weeks or months old, it
can be tied for the first time in a place close to its dam. Of course the
dam must be exemplary about her tying manners or the foal will learn the wrong
lesson. First choose a level, safe place. A solid wall with a securely
mounted tie ring is best. If you are forced to tie a foal to a fence or
a hitch rail, tie to the posts only unless the horizontal members of the fence
are welded or bolted in place. Never tie to the horizontal boards of a nailed
fence. Boards and rails can become dislodged or break if a frightened animal
pulls back and the boards, splinters or nails can cause injury. All horses
should be tied at the height of their withers or higher. This decreases
the leverage they can obtain with their front legs and makes serious pulling difficult.
Use a quick release or manger knot to tie a horse to a post.
Foals should not be tied to a solid object the first few times. Rather,
an inner tube should be incorporated into the tie ring so that the lead rope can
be attached to it. The elastic effect of the inner tube is much less stressful
to a foal's skeleton and muscles than would be a solid post. If a foal pulls
back and sets, you'll need to get it to move forward or it might develop a bad
habit. Usually a loud clap will make the foal pop forward. Once the
pressure is relieved on the foal's poll, it will likely stand there quietly.
Once a foal has learned to accept the restriction of tying, it should be tied
regularly to a hitching rail. Start with a few minutes at a time, four or
five times a week. With the dam nearby, a level place to stand and the help
of fly spray, the foal should have no worries. Stay nearby so if the foal
starts fussing or pawing you can tell him "NO". That way there
won't be the chance for him to develop a bad habit. Increase the time every
week or so until the yearling horse will stand for an hour or two at a time.
This makes for a patient horse.
Now you have a foal that can be haltered, led, and tied. Practice all of
these things on a regular basis and you will have a solid foundation on which
to build future lessons.