When to Start a Foal's Foundation Training?
This time of year, there may be a foal coming into your life and you may be looking for more information on how to go about raising him. This method that I am sharing with you starts with tack rather than at Liberty. Starting with tack is more practical for most people who do not have a strong foundation using the Waterhole Rituals. Also, starting with tack first ensures more safety for the foal if he needs vet support or if you should need to move him to a different location in case of an emergency. In the summertime and early fall, we have fires around Escondido. I have had to move our horses from our ranch three times in 12 years, and I have had to move them fast. A foal that can be contained and led with a halter can be a "life saver" for him.
If you are not already training horses, what I have written may be of great benefit to you by widening your understanding of the process of how to approach your foal’s training. If you are already training horses, you might be able to incorporate some of what I am sharing with you today in your approach to training a foal.
Horses naturally want to stay in a herd
Horses travel together in an amazing flow, following the horses in front of them and speeding up from the influence of the horses behind them that are picking up speed. Horses naturally want to stay in a community with one another. They can also be influenced by the lead horses while staying in unity with the entire herd.
Horses are born with a natural instinct to move away from anything approaching them and to follow anything that is leaving them. This is the herd instinct that they are born with. As a trainer, we want to instill this natural behavior, because it's this behavior that causes them to be trainable. Along with the herding instincts, if the bond and connection are there when riding, our body can influence the horse to move as one with us. The reins can slow a horse down and direct him in where we want him to go and our legs can ask him to move on. A horse can feel pretty natural about being ridden if we can keep him comfortable and not alarm him or cause him to become defensive and fearful. The more a horse feels a bond and connection with us and acts upon his herding instincts, the easer he is to train and ride. When the bond and the respect are there, training only needs to show the horse what we want him to do.
So were do I start the training of a foal?
This is a program that I have used a lot. I have several programs that I use. I chose this program to share with you because it is the most used by the equestrian world. This method is a standard practice with my personal twist.
With my advanced Insider Circle students, we train at Liberty first, even on a foal. I don't share this information on my blog because it wouldn't be applied in the appropriate way without going through my class. You need to know how to train an adult horse at Liberty first before working a foal at Liberty. This way, your leadership will give you the results you are wanting.
Here is the approach I'm going to share with you
This program starts with tack and then melds nicely into my method in the Waterhole Rituals. I start halter training at around 7 days old. It depends on how strong the foal is. With weak foals, I wait until they are stronger and energetic. I keep the mare and foal in the barn at night and then out in a pasture during the day. This way, when I go to put a halter on the foal, the mother does not object because it makes sense to her. If mom is not upset, chances are, the foal will not get upset.
The foal's first lesson is going out to the pasture at Liberty while his mother is being led there. I lead her to the field at a fast pace to keep the foal's attention on his mother instead of looking around and getting distracted. After a couple of times out to the field and back, the foal knows the routine. Before I put a halter on the foal, to be able to lead him out to the pasture with his mom, he needs a lesson on holding still. This is an important lesson; it teaches him not to struggle when he gets frightened. It also teaches the foal to trust that you will not hurt him. After he learns this lesson, you can then easily put a halter on him.
All the baby steps are important to help alleviate the foal's fear. Before I start with the halter lesson, I hold the foal in my arms. I place one arm around the chest and the other arm around his backside when he is standing on the ground.
When he struggles, I keep a hold of him and when he becomes still, I let him go. I do this until it becomes a routine for the foal. I catch him up by leading him from behind, slowly, into a corner or wait until he comes up to me with interest. Then I start scratching him wherever he would like me to. I am cautious not to get him excited in the process of getting a good hold on him; even so, the foal will struggle. Teaching the foal not to struggle can save his life one day, in case he gets caught in something like barbwire or cast in a fence. Then I put the halter on and lead him. I still keep the same pace going out to the field as I did when the foal was at Liberty in order to keep his attention on the fact that we need to travel together. Keeping the pace lively helps to grow the magnetic connection and causes the foal to be brave, naturally forward and easy to train later on. Even though the foal leads easily, because he wants to stay with his mother, it takes a bit of skill.
I use a butt rope and try to keep my foal close to my body with my arm around the foal, or on his withers. I go back and forth between these two positions for whatever gives me the best connection and control of the foal. I use two ropes. The butt rope I run through the halter and then to my hand. When I am walking, I hold it at the withers so I can pull on it to move him forward. I run the extra rope through the halter and then back to my hand. If the foal is moving forward, my arm is extended over the foal to be able to hug him into my body. I also have a lead rope on him, so that I can influence the butt and the head at will.
I hold both ropes close under the foal’s jaw and if he has any outbursts and tries to leave his mother's side, I go along with him rather than try to control him at this point. I allow the foal to take me wherever he goes at the height of his blow up. Then when he begins to relax, I can strongly influence and guide him back to his mother. The foal can feel me giving into him and my control, which helps to settle him down and become more interested in traveling along with his mother. He can see that I am not wanting him to leave his mother's side and this helps the foal to connect with me. If the foal gets away from my grasp, he will get to the end of the butt rope line and it will turn him back to me. When this happens, he will stop and I can then gather him up and continue our journey with his mother. In a week’s time, I can lead with just a lead rope because he knows the drill.
If your mare and foal are in a field, and cannot be brought in, I would suggest that you have a corral in the pasture that is 24 by 24. This way, you can contain the mother and the foal for easy handling. Of course, Sharing Territory is essential to starting the bond with the foal and it lets his mother know that your interest in her foal is honorable.
When to begin Liberty training with a foal
I begin Liberty training when the foal becomes rude so I can start his socialization and teach him how to be polite and respectful. Each foal is different. There can be a wide range in age as to when to start Liberty Training; like when a child learns to swim, each child is different. You do not train a child to swim until they are ready.
The day a foal tries to push me around, bump into me or kick me in an aggressive manner is the day I start his social training at Liberty, just like he would receive in nature. At first, a foal does not know he is being rude in this early stage of life, in the first two weeks. I get to play with him, and let him rear up, chew on my clothing or do anything that is sweet and playful.
But when he seems to turn willfully aggressive, I send him packing, even to the point of slapping him on his butt strong enough to cause him to run from me. This act lets him know that his willfulness will get him in trouble. If he comes right back with the same attitude, I send him away again until he gives up his willfulness and stays away. I am stronger on a foal than I am on an adult horse. Three things are gained in sending a foal away. First, it develops his herding instincts. Second, it gives him a gas pedal when riding. Third, it causes a foal to respect my personal space and listen to me in what I will and won't allow. I have found that a foal will want to develop a deeper friendship with me once he learns that there are consequences for aggravating me.
The next training stage begins at about three months, when a foal starts to itch
This is when I teach him to stand and turn towards me and away from me by using the influence of the halter. When a foal wants to be scratched, I scratch him and take this opportunity to teach him to stand for longer and longer periods of time. When I can lead him, and get him to stand still, I can then teach him to pick up his feet. In my book, "Naked Liberty", you can read about my approach on a wild mare named Moonlight. The title of the chapter is "Boulder Rituals" (page 223).
If I have the right opportunity, I teach a foal to pick up his feet sooner than three months. I like to teach this, if I can, around two weeks and I continue this practice on a daily basis. Whether I start this training earlier or at three months depends on the willingness and the nature of the foal.
I also want to add that I am in no hurry to get all the responses of the Waterhole Rituals onto my foal. I let his behavior guide me in how deep I will go with him in the first introduction. I prefer not to handle a foal too much. Once a foal understands a lesson, I do not keep on with it, except for the picking up the feet lesson. As long as I can halter the foal once, send him away knowing he likes me, and pick up his feet, this is all he needs to know. He needs to know these things for the vet and farrier, so that he is easy to handle and does not get mistreated by them needing to do their job.
After these lessons are accomplished in the first four months, I leave him alone until he is one year old. Then I work with him with the Waterhole Rituals to achieve companion waking using the one pile of hay game for 30 days. After the 30 days, I leave him alone again until he is two years old. From the age of two, I will handle him more on a regular basis. I have all these breaks in training so that I do not make a foal too smart to try to outwit me. When I say 'leave him alone,' I mean that I do not add extra training. I still Share Territory and interact with him on grooming and leading to keep the training in place, but I do not add more training or drill over what he already knows.
A very important tip
Too much handing can make a brat out of a young horse and take the horse out of him, like foal imprinting does sometimes. I also want the foal to have a good sense of who he is and have the time he needs to experience the lessons learned from his daily maturing process of being a horse with horses.
In the beginning stages of a foal's life, life and his surroundings look different to him from the maturing process. Each time he learns a new lesson, he sees life from a new perspective. There are many lessons to be learned and I do not want him to miss out because of too much influence from me.
In conclusion, when training a foal, I believe it's important to have the mindset that there is really no difference between what works for him and what works for us as humans. In the beginning of learning something, the best way to approach it is with baby steps. I was a competitive swimmer when I was a child, but I did not learn how to swim until I was 10 years old. I was afraid of the water and taught myself to swim - by taking baby steps. I started by putting my face into a large salad bowl that was full of water. I put my face in the bowl and held my breath. Then I got brave and learned how to blow bubbles when my face was submerged. I told myself that if I could do that in a salad bowl, in the kitchen, then I could do that in a pool. I then tried to float in a child’s pool that was about 24 inches deep and I learned to kick my feet and use my arms. Then I went to a regular pool and tried it there in the shallow end. When I ran out of air, I just stood up and took a breath. I developed an attitude for practice and I eventually became a long distance swimmer.
As a side note, from my experience of being afraid of swimming, I love to work with people who are fearful because I get to approach them as I did with myself. I am able to work in a thorough manner, teaching the most intricate steps that are not too big for the student or the horse. Some of the best trainers that I have made in my life were only interested in overcoming their fear, and from focusing on the details, horse training became their calling.
Any good books?
You might like to share a book that you like about foal training here on my blog. If you want to add “your program,” please feel free to share it. It might be just what another reader is looking for. I see there are a lot of books on foal training. I looked around on the Internet and found a foal training harness to teach a horse to lead that looks interesting. I can see that just getting the harness on is a good training for the foal.
Be on the lookout for new horse and human sightings and may the horse be with you and have a wonderful weekend.
For those of you following my mother's progress, here is another childhood story:
I was never as adventurous as my mother. However, I was more adventurous than most children because of my riding in the desert alone at the age of 6.
I might have looked extremely brave, but I wasn’t. I felt at home on the back of a horse and I loved the desert and the freedom it offered. I felt closer to the source of all things. There was nothing to be brave about. If I fell off my horse, I would land in the desert’s soft sand. I felt that I knew what I was doing when I needed to make good judgments for me and my horse’s safety. Like this boy on his tractor, I felt highly qualified.
My mother was at home with things that would scare a normal person to death. Many times I was worried for my mother’s life because of the crazy things she would decide to do. I would rather face up to a wild stallion and tame his wild nature because he made sense to me. I could leave him alone until he was in a mood to connect and I could recognize when I needed to give him room. But my mother would jump in, with both feet, and do dangerous things that she knew nothing about. She is a thrill seeker.
One time, I was at the fair with my parents and they where intrigued with a sideshow of a motorcycle guy who rode a motorcycle around in a large empty water tank with very high walls. When I got to the top of the tank and peered in, I was already a bit nervous as they explained what he was going to do. We were then told that he would ride his motorcycle right along the rim of the tank. I hid my fear because the rest of the viewers did not seem to see how dangerous it was for us to be standing along the edge. I thought he could easily misjudge the barrel's edge and fly out right where I was standing and this could be the end of my life. As it was, it turned out that his tire was half over the edge most of the time when he clover leafed around the walls. He traveled at high speeds making loops up and down the walls in serpentine patterns.
As the Daredevil was cranking up his bike, they asked if anyone would like to ride with on the back with him.I thought this was a joke and then my mother said she would. I was shocked again and just stood there petrified and concerned for her safety. I did not believe she would go through with it, so I stayed quiet, and then she did! It was the longest two minutes of my life. The barrel vibrated, rocked back and forth, and creaked and moaned as if it would break apart as the bike roar was amplified by being inside the barrel. I would not do what she did for any reason, except if it would return my mother’s mind and her ability to get around on her own today.
Another time, she decided she would like to wing walk on a friend’s biplane. She had no lifeline attached to her. She was told she did not need one because there would always be a cable at close range that she could grab onto on her walk out to the wing's tip. She did it and showed off on the way! I was panicked, but I lived through it and so did she. As I got older, I started to admire her fearless ways, although none of it rubbed off on me; it makes me more cautious.
Today, we walked around the fountain four times (a nurse, Apollo, myself and my mother, using a walker). Apollo is now so glued to my mother that he is always by her side and sleeps with her at night. I am the tour guide on our walks, pointing out the sky, birds, flowers, and the sounds of the fountain on the way, and still reminding her to be careful!! She takes off in her walker sometimes as if she is in a foot race. We pause at our roses that are as big as platters and a little past the top of their bloom. It reminds me of the time that my mother first showed me a rose bud by walking me out to her rose garden. She wanted to teach me the meaning of a new word, "beautiful," by showing me a rose. I remember that she said she wanted my full attention because what she had to share with me was very important.
Between my dad, my mother and my grandmother, they all explained things to me in a reverent way to keep my attention. I naturally put deep meaning into the things I focused on and my family caught on to my nature and helped develop my tendency further. My family looked deeply into the meaning of life, nature and empathy. My focus these days is on keeping my mother in that space of comfort and safety and to keep exercising the connection we have right now.
Again, thank you all for your interest, warm wishes and emotional as well as financial support.
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