Ina’s Helpful Hints on Horsekeeping 4 – The Long Wait!, by Ina M. Ish

February 20, 2008

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