Young Horses and foals
When horses are in the very beginning phases of life, they learn things much faster than humans do. Horses are, by nature, fight or flight animals, so they quickly learn to move in case of a predator. They develop a thought process much faster than humans and learn through repetition. During the first two years of a horse’s life their attention span is undeveloped and very short so any training that I do is in small sections. I will teach a foal or weanling at a much slower rate, practicing each foundation exercise many times before moving on to the next.
When working with a foal for the first time, I will take a mare and foal into the round pen and work with them together. My goal is to introduce and familiarize the lead rope to the foal. I want to teach them that the rope is not going to hurt them. Each time I come in contact with the foal I will rub my hand and lead rope down their neck, back and legs.
The second and third days that I work with a foal I’m looking to be able to put a halter comfortably around their head. My goal in these two days is to teach the young horse to give to pressure. Since I have a limited amount of the foal’s attention I only ask for a small bend, we’re not quite ready to teach them lateral flexion, for now I’m looking to teach them the key to releasing pressure. Once they have mastered the foundation of softly giving to pressure, learning each exercise in the Ground Control method will be much easier.
Working with a foal I look to be able to comfortably catch them and put a halter on, move forward with soft circles, change directions, stop, back up and pick up their feet.
Picking up a young horse’s feet is one of the most important tasks and probably the least talked about. In the beginning of a horse’s life you’ll notice jerky movements; the same part of the horse’s brain that transforms the spastic movements into controlled actions is the same part that controls the horse’s balance. When we ask a young horse to pick up their feet and they willingly give it to us they are knowingly balancing their weight evenly among their other legs. If we forcefully pick up a horse’s feet they don’t learn to balance themselves and will develop the habit of leaning. Picking up the back feet can seem like a daunting task but there are ways to do it in a safe and controlled manner. Just as I rub my hand down the horse’s front legs I will do the same to the back legs. The worst thing to do in this situation is to grab the horse’s back legs. We don’t want them to feel threatened, as if an animal is attacking their back leg, this is how most young horses learn to kick to release pressure. I curb kicking before it starts by running my hand down the back of the horse’s leg further each time until they feel comfortable. Most horses will learn not to be afraid through this process but some colts are more prone to kicking than others. If that’s the case with your foal or weanling, you can use a lead rope, I especially like the Double Dan Horsemanship lead rope, the special connection knot makes it easy to build a small loop to safely pick up the horse’s hind foot.
Back home in Australia, Dan Steers had a foal out of one of his mares, he named her Miley. Within a week, Dan Steers began working with her teaching the basic Ground Control exercises. When Miley was three months old she performed at Equitana, sitting on a bean back in front of thousands. Dan Steers was able to teach Miley tricks at an early age because they began with a solid foundation in Ground Control.