Oh my! Isn't the baby adorable when he/she shakes hands! NO, it is not adorable, it is setting the stage for really dangerous adult behavior! And those 'hugs' with the front legs on your shoulders! FORGET IT! What may be cute when you are dealing with a little foal – can be deadly when that foal grows up and manifests the exact same behavior!
I was told of a 3 year old gelding who was sent to the trainer's for basics – imagine the horror the trainer experienced when after the colt successfully worked on the lunge line and the trainer simply said "Good boy" the colt came charging over on his hind legs and tried to wrap his front legs on the trainer's shoulders! Yes, folks it actually happened – seems the colt's owners encouraged these 'hugs' when the colt was a foal and the trigger words were "Good Boy"! They graciously 'forgot' to tell the trainer any of this and the ensuing scene between trainer and the colt was not pretty. So, do not, I repeat, do not encourage or allow any such behavior! The one who suffers most for it is the horse!
While I am thinking of it, have a few other words to share. These words are regarding the popularity of the new school of natural horsemanship- Parelli, etc. In truth I have no reason to distrust many of the precepts offered by these gurus, but, must stress the importance of training and teaching your youngster the old time, standard things as well! When you sell that youngster the person buying or training may not know the methodology of the natural horsemanship school and a great deal of confusion for the horse can result.
Case in point- a young stallion I know of was sent out on lease. Now, prior to actually using a stallion, especially a young one , at stud it behooves the handlers to work the horse before attempting to breed a mare- this does several things. The most obvious is it burns off a great deal of energy which when combined with raging hormones can be uncontrollable, and it instills respect for the handler, plus it sets in the youngsters mind the difference between breeding and work. Helps him focus his attention on the matter at hand- no matter what that is! In general if worked before breeding- and work can simply be a good session on the lunge line- the actual teasing and breeding goes a lot better. Back to the young stallion I mentioned. He is basically a very sweet young horse, but he had been round penned and free lunged using a method unknown to the farm where he went on lease. Consequently, there was no opportunity to take the 'edge' off his energy levels, nor gain his focus – as a result the actually covering of the mare was an incredible fiasco in terms of his behavior- almost rank one could say. And yes, by the way, he was getting daily turn out , was not stalled till he was nutty!
So remember- use training methods that are common to the horse world, and don't allow dog like behavior or cute little things like hugs. Kisses are another thing- you may know you horse through and through, and you may allow a face to face nuzzle- but youngsters don't have the self-restraint an adult horse has and that sweet, soft nuzzle can turn into a monster hole in a people face faster than you can say "Jack Robinson"! This is more so when it comes to dealing with young ungelded males! Young stallions are very often 'mouthy' and even a little 'nip' leaves bad bruises on human bodies! You do not want to encourage this behavior any more than you want to encourage the hugs and hand-shaking behavior. Again, a loud, open-handed smack on the neck goes a long way for stopping nipping. There are other more drastic measures for sure- I rode out of a barn years ago that was run by an Irishman- his answer to a nipper /biter was to hold a hot , boiled potato in his gloved hand and when the horse mouth came at him open and intent on biting- the man simply thrust the hot potato in the open , lips back, mouth! Sounds harsh, and I have never done it, but I bet it does sure give the horse pause before he ever does it again!
O.K., now that you all have been warned and lectured what can you do with that youngster to create a good relationship? Remember " Do unto Others , etc" ? Sure you do, and in this case and point of time it is very important to the horse's future manners and behavior. I say manners and I mean just that. A mannerly horse is a joy, a neurotic, ill-mannered horse is a nightmare! You don't instill manners by brute force- though many have done that of course- I have found doing by kindness and example to work for me. All my animals understood and responded to " Excuse me please, move over" when I said it to them and wanted them to move over. They all understood "NO", and "Thank You". The came when called by name- well —– 95% of the time unless the grass was really super tasty! They also understood the standard horse commands- stand, whoa, walk on, wait,etc. A young horse/foal can learn and retain many, many more words than they are given credit for! Horses are telepathic- I hear you scoffers- but I have found it to be the case. You have nothing to loose and a great deal to gain by visualizing in your head what you want the horse to do – simply picture the horse doing it! It doesn't hurt to verbalize the same thing either. The combination is a very effective teaching/learning tool.
So what do you do? You can take mom and baby for walks- walks are good. Walk through puddles, over small downed trees, into and through small streams, up and down slopes- over cavalleti, into and out of trailers, into and out of woods , aisles, anywhere you can go safely you can take mom and baby! Walk by round hay bales, hay stacks- all the things you can imagine are 'monsters' in horse eyes. Walk over tarps and paper bags, walk up to and look into mirrors. The mirror thing is always a surprise, and worth video taping! Wear gloves! And please no sandals or sneakers!
Of course grooming and petting are in order, and make great rewards! A good cooling shower- with gentle flow of water- on a hot day is a treat provided mom will tolerate it of course. But is also very useful for later on in the horse's life. Just as bug spray is! I bought a two year old once who had never been sprayed with either water or flyspray- getting her adjusted to either was an experience for sure. For two weeks she daily danced the dance of Seven Devils when I went to put the flyspray on. And she never really did accept a shower of water! So start early , and remember be consistent when you do start to teach something new- doing it one time is not enough- it takes at least a week of daily doing to get it 'set' within the horse!
Herein is the second horse-keeping hint! Who knows how many more will surface– enjoy!
Love and blessings,
Ina M Ish