One of the most common questions Clay and I have been asked lately via email and personal conversation is in regards to advice about foal training. Each year we have an average foal crop of about 7-8 foals, therefore it\’s important that we start our foals properly and early on in their lives – otherwise training later on can become a big chore. And that chore becomes really apparent when it comes time to do their feet or deworm the unruly rascals…
Halter breaking is one of the biggest challenges a horse owner may face with a young foal. Done properly, it can be a very positive experience in a young horse\’s life. Done poorly – and halter breaking can lead to head shyness and various other psychological problems later on.
If you are still wondering how to tackle your foal halter breaking issues, here are a few tips from Clay. Please keep in mind that safety for both the handler and the foal should be of the utmost priority. Good luck!
1. Be patient!
When working with foals, you don\’t want to be abrupt in your mannerisms. However, you don\’t want to be sneaking around them and appearing like a predator either. Find a balance between the two and approach your foal with confidence and a calm, cool and collected demeanor.
Prepare the halter in your hand before your approach the foal. (There is nothing worse than the crucial moment when you should be putting the halter on your foal and your hands are fumbling around to get organized!)
Reach under the foal\’s neck with the nose piece and crown piece in your left hand. Then reach over the neck with your right hand, grabbing ahold of the crown piece and slide the nose piece down to the foal\’s nose in an effort to snare the nose. That way you can maintain control of the foal\’s head and neck, while quickly placing the halter on its head. A small area such as a stall is a good place to do this – and it may take more than one person. Your assistant might have to prevent the foal from running laps around the mare and block its path, allowing you to prevent the foal from backing up and evading you.
Always keep in mind that you don\’t want to put yourself directly in front or behind of the foal, where you can be jumped on or kicked. Safety for the handlers as well as for the foal should be kept in mind at all times! Putting the mare in a halter may be very beneficial too, in order to keep everybody safe. You want to keep the mare close in the area so she can help comfort the foal, but you need to keep her from stressing during the foal\’s training.
Once the halter is on, Clay uses a steady, light contact pressure on the lead rope until the foal shows ANY sort of sign of yielding to the pressure. This includes slight cocking or tilting of the foal\’s nose towards the pressure. Or, yielding the hind quarters away from the handler showing signs of thinking about the handler. Or in the best case scenario, taking a step toward the handler – no matter how small that step might be. At the display of one of these signs, Clay will then release the contact on the lead rope.
Horses always learn from the release of pressure, not from the pressure itself. Therefore, consistency of releasing the pressure will allow the foal to understand and process the information quicker. Here are a couple of other pointers to keep in mind:
* The foal has 6 directions in which it can go, as all horses do. These include: forward, back, left, right, up or down.
• If the foal pulls away from you, you shouldn\’t add more pressure but instead maintain the same steady pressure so when the foal does actually make a motion in the desired direction, it is left with only one option of the 6 in order to obtain the release of pressure.
Clay will spend as much time as it takes in the first session – typically 15-25 mins. Every time you release, give the foal 5-10 seconds of release / reward before repeating the step, to allow the foal time to process the information. If the foal is licking its lips during the release / reward do not attempt to add any pressure until it\’s done licking its lips. Licking of the lips indicates that a thought process is taking place.
Once the foal starts to feel soft and responsive to the added pressure of the lead rope consistently, then Clay will start to rub the foal on its neck and all across its body. He tries to retreat away from the foal, before the foal retreats away from Clay to help the baby build confidence. Clay will retreat away from the baby before it retreats away from Clay – this allow the foal\’s question of \”Will this be okay?\” to be answered. Whereas if the foal pulls away first, it will never know if it was gonna be okay because it pulled away from the situation before Clay had the opportunity of simply being able to pet it and leave. The foal in that sense would never realize that it would have survived in that scenario.
When Clay goes to take the halter off, he\’ll often take it off and put it back on as many as 15-30 times, just to get the foal being accepting of having the halter placed on its face.
After this, we\’ve had our first successful foal halter breaking session!