Ina’s Helpful Hints on Horsekeeping 5 – Yearlings!, by Ina M. Ish

Yearlings can fly!  Did you know that?  No kidding, I have had   yearlings both colts and fillies clear a four foot fence from just  about a total standstill.  And why is that?  It's cause for their body weight , the muscles are far more than  capable of providing a great deal of 'lift' to the critter.  So, make  sure your fences are tight, and it wouldn't hurt to have a good,  strong, high strand of electric on the top of them!
Aside from their airborne capability- yearlings are – plain and  simple- a trip!  The fillies and the colts are coping with newly arisen hormones and  cycles- which in many ways makes them just like adolescent human  teenagers- subject to all kinds of mood shifts, about minus zero  attention span, and bizarre behavior.

I have had fillies that seem to have terrible cramps when they  cycle for the first few times- manifested as colic.  Oh joy.  Colts  seem to from time to time- coinciding with the filly/mare cycles-  have air blowing from one side of their brains to the other-making  them " airheads"  and that is the good stuff!  If not air-heads,  colts can assume that THEY are the farm's top breeding stallion- one  with few manners at that.  This is the time when all those walks and  all that patience, and all that instilling of the basics comes to be   worth it's weight in gold!

Yearling stage seems to be when colts especially decide to rear  when leading- not all of course, but quite a few actually.  This must  be stopped immediately.   The cure seems harsh, but having a colt or  youngster dance on your head is more dramatic.  I had a colt at the beginning of my horse breeding program , who   decided one day he would rear as we were on a slight downhill slope  leading into the pasture.  Scared me near silly.  After consult with  a very experienced breeder- whose words of wisdom I will never forget  " YOU pick the time and place of a fight with a horse if a fight is  what must happen- don't let them do it!"- I made my plans.  The next  morning, wearing leather gloves, carrying a lunge whip, with a chain  over the colt's nose we set out.  Now I did not routinely use a chain  over the nose- so this was new to the colt indeed.   Off we went to  the spot where the rearing had occurred- sure enough the colt started  to get ancy- so I took the whip and lightly laid it on his side and   moved him over, switched sides and moved him back – did that a few  times and the rearing behavior ceased!  IF  he had indeed gone up, I  was mentally prepared to smack him a good one right across the  genital area!  And believe me, getting to that state of mental prep  was not easy!  But it was not needed , for which I was grateful.  By  the way, that colt never again even attempted to rear.

I have had yearlings go airborne out of fright which is a  totally different thing, but always be alert and pay attention when  handling yearlings- their real life experience is somewhat limited,  despite your hard work, and accordingly their behavior can be  unpredictable!

Now the good things you can do with the critters.  You can  actually begin to do things besides the walking, and grooming!  You  can introduce the yearling to harness- if you have it- and teach them  to ground drive.  I do not suggest lunge work -too easy to create  muscle imbalance yet in the youngster.  And no need to bit the  yearling either.  At the most a simple hackamore is plenty- most  often you don't even need that if "Whoa" is already instilled in the   yearling.  The long lines attached to the halter will suffice.  If   you don't have harness you will need as a minimum a surcingle with  rings – a very inexpensive biting rig will do- made out of fabric,  not leather.. Mind you, forget all the doohickeys for things like  setting heads!!  Just forget them…That of course applies to  anything resembling a Check rein- or a running martingale. Or a tie  down!{mospagebreak}

Having gotten the yearling used to wearing the equipment, which  is not hard to do at all, and doesn't take but a few times of slowly  putting it on – do not simply slam it onto the back of the horse!   Instead, first let the horse see it and smell it, do this   introduction on both sides of the head, left and right eye must be  able to see the thing!  Gently lift it over the wither and slide it into place.. Wouldn't  hurt to do this both from the left and the right side of the horse-  you do have to teach both sides!!!

If you like you can use a crupper, keeping the backstrap just  tight enough to hold the crupper in place without it sliding around  and rubbing under the tail.   This is an important step- putting on  the crupper.  Lift the tail straight up- slowly do not yank it up,  and put the unbuckled crupper into position- making very, very sure  no tail hair is caught under the crupper.  I do not recommend those  monster thick cruppers  you see on the show grounds- nope a standard  crupper with a piece of fleece on it does beautifully.  If you have   no intention of ever using the horse in harness- skip this step  altogether !   An surcingle  alone is fine!!

I am not about to give detailed instructions on how to ground  drive a horse!   But carrying a driving whip and wearing gloves is  important- you want to teach the horse that the whip is a tool for  guiding and cueing, not beating!   The gloves will save your hands  indeed.  It also helps to have another person at the head of the  yearling to lead it forward as you cue with the whip and give verbal  "Walk On" command- you should also visualize what is going to happen  in your head!  The colt will move off according to the person heading   him/her and after a few session will associate the moving off with  the verbal and non verbal cues you have given.

I would hold off on biting till the yearling is at least 16 or  18 months of age, and after you have had teeth checked.  I used to  just hang a bit- with keys or not- from the halter rings using bit  hooks – and let the yearlings mouth and play with it in their stalls-  even munch hay- never for a long time at all.  I would stand with the  yearling and apply gentle pressure to the bit from either side – and   from both at once- just to let the horse know what that strange thing  can do.

Now is a fun time indeed.  You get to ground drive over all the  obstacles you led over, and you should remember to keep your circles  and turns wide- don't make these sessions prolonged, but be  consistent in this as in everything you do with a young horse!  Is  good exercise for you and super for them to learn and have fun while  doing so.  Figure Eight's, big circles ( in both directions) straight  lines- all kinds of stuff can be done.  And don't be too surprised   the first time that critter turns around and faces you !  Those lines   are long and take a bit of getting used to and you will- you will get  the feel of the horse through them and be able to head off that 'Here  I am face to face   with you' move.   Have fun!

Ina M Ish
iish@earthlink.net