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How to Train a Young Horse

Foal NO-NO
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Horse Training – start your young horse early will make it easier down the road. Working with your young horse can be challenging and a lot of fun. If you start him early, your will have a horse that will trust you and will be well mannered. He will not mind standing still, having his feet picked up, getting groomed, being cross tied, trailer loaded, and will not be scared by noises or objects. You can build a strong relationship and trust with your young horse by handling him daily.

Foal NO-NO

Horse Training 

Start out early and make frequent contact after he is born. He will quickly realize that humans are not a threat. After he is weaned from his mother, slowly start him on Ground Manners. Weaning can be dramatic for foals, so give him time to adjust. Contact with you may ease his anxiety of being separated from his mother. Have patience. Your horse will need to learn patience, so will you. The calmer you are in your approach, the more relaxed he will be. A relaxed horse is easier to teach than a frantic, spooky horse.

Things You Can Do 

Expose him to different objects and noises in a playful way to eliminate fear of the unfamiliar.

  • Playing with a ball is a great way to get him used to moving objects. You will be amazed how curious he his and what he will do. On the first day I introduced my yearling to his 40 inch Beach ball, he worked up a real sweat playing with it. Because they get big so fast (my yearling is already close to 17 hh), we forget that they are just like any other young animal and love to play.
  • Use a large tarp. Let him smell it, touch it, walk over it. Pick it up and shake it. Watch his reaction. Try to put it on his back after he gets comfortable around it.
  • Put a large piece of plywood on the ground and let him to walk walk over it and stand on it. This will lay the ground work for trailer loading or stepping on to a mat in the wash stall. You can jump on it to make noise.
  • Walk him around and through water puddles. You want him to get used to water in case you like to go out on the trails one day or you ride on a rainy day.
  • Put up obstacles inside the arena like plastic cones, barrels, poles etc. and make him walk around and over it. Creating an obstacle course will get him moving in different directions and will keep his mind busy.
  • Let him play with a water hose. Let him examine it. Turn it on slightly and let him play with the water coming out. Turn it on more and spray his feet and work your way up so he can get used to getting a bath.

Working on Ground Manners and Grooming

  • Don’t accept and reward behaviors like pushing on you, stepping on you, nibbling on your clothes, or snapping at you. Give him a good scratch if he is respectful, move him away slightly if he it naughty (it is important to move your horse not yourself, or he will learn how to get you out of his way).  Some horses become pushy if they are fed treats by hand. It encourages some of them to get into your space. If you horse starts pushing you around for treats, start putting the treats into his food bucket instead.
  • Get him used to a halter and teach him not to back against pressure. Apply light pressure to your lead rope to make him move towards you and immediately release your grip when you get a reaction. Be patient and don’t get into a tug o war. Even a foal is strong enough to win this war. Trying to pull him towards you will teach him to back against pressure. You want him to learn to move towards you when he feels light pressure.  This exercise will lay the groundwork for walking on a lead rope and with a bridling later.
  • He should learn to stand still when tied up to a post or tree and when cross-tied in a grooming stall. He needs to know how to move on command.
  • Introduce him to a blanket, even if you live in a climate where blanketing is unlikely. You may run into situations in the future where you need to use a blanket (transporting, showing, bathing when it is cold, when he is sick, if you ever move to a different place with colder climate, etc.).
  • Teach your young horse to walk beside you on a lead, to stop with you and to turn on command. Slowly introduce him to being lunged around you in a circle.
  • Get him used to being groomed and having his feet picket up and cleaned out. You may introduce him to your farrier and let him do some work on his hoofs. Brush im all over, under his belly, and down his legs. Make it fun, be patient, and let him enjoy the pampering.

 When he is a little older and knows the basics you can

  • Introduce him to objects being placed on his back. Take a blanket and rub him all over. Lay the blanket across his back and walk him around. Get an elastic girth (i found mine at the local tack store) and tighten it to keep the blanket on. This will get him used to having something tightened around his belly once you get ready to introduce the saddle. Run a rope over his back, hold it in a loop and move it back an forth all over his body, let it slide down his legs.
  • Introduce him to the bridle. Start by getting him used to having things in his mouth. You can use a rope and run it softly through his mouth. Choose the right bit (I use the “Happy Mouth Plain Mullen Loose Ring” for my yearling and just changed to a “Happy Mouth Shaped Mullen Eggbutt” for my 11 year old).
  • Introduce him to the saddle. Let him see it, smell it, touch it. Slowly put it on his back and move it slightly back and forth until he relaxes. Leave it on for a few minutes. When he is accepting of the saddle on his back, start tightening his girth (my yearling did not move an inch when introduced to the saddle because I laid the groundwork with the above mentioned exercises).
  • Lead him around with his bridle and saddle on. Slowly start him on the lunge. Lower the stirrups and let them tangle.
  • Reward him for being good. Give him a good scratch or a yummy treat. He will soon learn that following your lead and commands will please you and get him a reward.

And remember: You did not learn things overnight, neither will your horse. Patience is the key to success. Some horses catch on quickly, some horses need more time, repetition and encouragement. Keep the Lessons short, fun and interesting. Add new things “one at a time”.

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