Ina’s Helpful Hints on Horsekeeping 2 – Opps!, by Ina M. Ish

February 20, 2008

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