Weaning is behind you, the new weanling has adjusted to being an independent horse, mom is completely dried up – now what do you do between this four or five month old stage and at least the age of two when you can begin to train for future career?
Well, you do more of the same! You walk all over creation with the foal, you groom, you bond, you are constantly training and creating – be aware of this it is important. You are building trust of humans!
Water crossing may be one of the hardest things to teach- I am told horses cannot see through the water to the bottom – I know there are places I sure can't! So, they are cautious in extreme about what they are putting their feet into- for this reason water training at an early age becomes more important than ever. If you don't have a pond or a stream – lay a blue tarp down weight the edges with rocks or dirt, and make a depression in the ground under it, fill it with some amount of water- it will serve as a 'pond' adding a little dirt to the bottom wouldn't hurt and will cut down on the blueness of it- creating a more natural look. That should go a long way in terms of helping acclimate to natural water bodies.
Some folks teach the youngsters to Pony off mom or auntie or uncle- while in theory this is good and I sure can see how it is useful, it is something to be undertaken with great care and only after the youngster is thoroughly halter trained to lead! It is very, very easy to damage the neck, back and hind legs of a foal. If you do decide to pony the foal, keep the duration short! And be sure you pony from both sides of the horse you are riding! Like work on a lunge line what is done while going in one direction must be done while going in the other or uneven growth and development is promoted. By the way, since you are walking the foal all over you should have been doing that while leading with it on your left as well as on your right side! The right/left rule applies to just about everything you do, and later will apply to putting on tack- it doesn't hurt to get the young one used to being led with another horse in tow either! This differs from the initial leading days- no butt rope, but times arise when it is needful to get more than one horse into or out of a barn or pasture FAST- and if your foal has not ever been led as part of a multiple it can be very difficult when you need that cooperation- such as Heaven Forbid – in a barn fire or into the barn during a storm. So it behooves you to consider all the different circumstances that arise in a horse life and plan accordingly.
Seriously, think about it! Don't assume that cause every horse you have ever known reacts in a certain way about stimuli that such behavior is natural! Chances are it was learned at one point in time. I knew a farm when I lived out in Oregon that used to send their yearlings to a boarding/lesson barn with an indoor ring- simply to get them used to the hustle and bustle of such a place- and believe me those first few days made for lots of super white eye in the yearlings! So do give some thought to a horse's future life in this day and age. The time to expose horses to many different things is best done when they are young. Trailers, cross ties, being hosed off, being body clipped, farriers, vets, leading, water crossing, even trees are all new experiences . I say trees cause in the Mid-West or even Texas area- trees are virtually non-existent in pastures! And face it, walking under a tree can be pretty scary if you have never seen one- light gets distorted, branches move, sounds etc.
That brings up something else to mind- the horse's vision. Make it a point to stand to the side ( not far but on the side) of a horse rather than straight in front of it- they don't see directly in front it seems. A horse may have perfectly "normal vision" but still act as if it can't see very well- it may possibly have a slow adjustment to light and dark- I had a mare like this once- nothing clinically wrong with her sight, but she needed more time to adjust going out into the day and coming in from pasture- took me the longest time to figure it out- but once I did it was fairly simple- I just visualized all the surroundings in my head- letting her see through my eyes in effect AND I did not rush her in or out! That stopped the shying and bolting behavior right away!
So, walking all over, water, vision, all of these things do as I said, build trust. And trust is one of the most important things you can have . When a mare trusts you , you can enter her stall and assist in foaling or with the foal itself. When she doesn't trust you it is mayhem at the least, and dangerous most commonly. When a stallion trusts you and respects you – handling him at stud is not nearly as difficult as it could be. When a gelding trusts you – you can ride or drive him places and past things that otherwise would invoke resistance- violent or not. I put water training in here cause I doubt I will ever forget the first time I rode my five year old mare. She had been in training for saddle work and I went to the trainer's farm. I had not planned to ride that day, but the trainer convinced me it was time- so off we went, me delighting in finally being up on my mare, the trainer on an older, experienced mare who had seen and done it all. We went all over the farm, and came to a pond- into the pond goes the trainer on her mare- all the way up to the mare's belly! My mare stood at the pond-side and shook- literally trembled and shook. It was a first for her, and a first for me! I urged her forward and slowly, ever so slowly she went into the pond- she even relaxed far enough to start playing in the water- spending huge splashes up and all around. This is an example of trust- she trusted me, she trusted the trainer, and perhaps most of all she trusted the older mare! Had I had access to water and had known then what I know now, I would have done the ersatz pond out of a tarp when she was a baby!- so save yourselves some future grief, and save you horse some future trauma and do the training early on.
As the foal gets older you can invent more interesting things to do, I mentioned the mirror in an earlier Hint, and it is a good one. Who knows someday you may find yourself riding in an indoor with mirrors on the walls! There are numerous ways to arrange ground poles to make it interesting, star shaped, L shape, circles, any geometric shape you can think of. Leading over these is good for the horse, they learn to pay attention and pick up their feet. Later on, ground driving over these poles is great training. Raising them one brick or cinderblock off the ground is super muscle development exercise, but not for weanlings as a habitual work-out!
So, put on your thinking caps and have at it!
Ina M Ish