by Joe Pallas
Newborn foals capture our hearts and inspire visions of the potential they represent. Whether we love dressage, hunters, jumpers, reining, team penning, trail riding, or any other equestrian sport, foals carry our dreams on their tottering legs.
Thoughts of horse training seem premature as we watch a baby wobble around his dam. Yet this time period is key in a young horse’s development. He is a virtual sponge: his mind explores and absorbs all the information he can take in from the world around him even as he explores the limits-and the potential-of his body.
Any time we interact with horses we are training, for better or for worse. If we approach the first few days of our precious foal’s life as the foundation for an incredible future, we can achieve amazing results.
This is not to say we will be longeing our foal by day 2! I’m recommending a simple shift in thinking that will turn casual time with your newborn into positive training experiences.
Approach every encounter with your newborn foal with the thought that EVERY action you take will enforce two vital horse training fundamentals:
Humans are safe, even fun! Initially foals’ curiosity outweighs their fear. It can take only one scare to lose that precious trust. Move slowly and keep your body language non-threatening. Find their itchy spots and scratch, scratch, scratch. If they are sensitive, find where they enjoy being rubbed. Be a source of enjoyment and fun. Smile! It makes a difference!
Humans lay boundaries that are to be respected. Think of every visit with your foal as a horse training session. Think ahead about how the foal can “win” (remember in horse training, winning means the horse figured out what you wanted.) Set situations up where you are in a position to enforce your boundaries without being rough or abrupt.
For example, many horse owners approach their foals just hoping to touch that cute soft bundle of fur before he bounds away, which teaches the foal that humans can be evaded. Instead, approach casually, in stages. Go up to the mare and scratch her favorite spots. Turn to the foal only after his curiosity is greater than his fear. Give it as long as it takes, eventually he’ll come to investigate you. If his body language tells you he’s thinking of bolting, turn away before he does. If he starts to get pushy, gently back him a few steps to enforce your leadership. Humans are fun, boundaries are enforced.
Training is a lifelong journey for horse and human alike. Learning comes faster and lasts longer when you build on success rather than punish failure. Create horse training success right from the start!
Kirsten Lee produces extraordinary results for horses and riders!