By Melissa Brawner
Having a colt is very exciting. You shop for the sire of the colt, research the bloodlines, conformation, temperament, and of course the color. You baby your mare through 11 month, 11 days, giving her all her shots, and special feed, watching her belly grow. Finally the day arrives! Your foal hit’s the ground. Now the big question arises. What do I do now? Do I step back, and enjoy the show while the little fella grows and matures, or do I get in there and handle him? Many folks are proponents of letting the young ones just be horses. I myself like to get in there and handle them as frequently as possible. I desensitize foals to sights and sounds, I touch them all over, and lastly, I begin basic training.
Desensitizing a foal to sights and sounds early in life eliminates much of the spook in the horse as it matures. The colt will have already seen and heard many scary things, his dam wasn’t afraid, and he lived through it! Plastic bags make great grooming tools. They wiggle, make strange noises, and are very “unnatural” in the environment. I use a radio set to various stations to provide unusual noises. The radio is used at odd times, not consistently, other wise it becomes the norm. In addition, horses do need down time to process, and just be. Feel free to use anything that can make noise, and not injure a horse physically to rub on them, or just to have near their environment, such as balloons, burlap sacks, hats, umbrellas, hoses, shawls and table cloths. Some of the most common place things to us look very strange to a foal. All of these things are great for desensitizing a foal, and lessening their future spookiness.
Touching a foal all over is essential to creating a bond with humans, and lessening any issues with grooming or handling in the future. When a foal is born, I allow it to rise and nurse on its own, unless problems arise. This ensures the bonding of the mare with the foal. After this crucial bonding takes place, I am with that foal as much as possible. I rub its face, ears (inside and out), eyes, muzzle, and its gums. I rub down its neck, back and rump. I am very careful not to get kicked while handling the back end! I rub down each leg, and gently lift up the foot. My touch and interaction become the norm. Touching them all over makes future handling extremely easy.
Beginning basic training sounds a bit extreme with a foal, but it is the simple things that are introduced. Introducing things while they are young makes it much easier to train them when they are full grown, and ready for the saddle, or any other specialization. Practicing trailer loading at the side of the mare takes all of the fear out of the equation, unless of course you have a mare that won’t load! The foal learns to jump in, and that it isn’t a big deal. Picking up the feet of a foal makes sure that the farrier will have an easy job, and lessens the likelihood that you will be kicked. Putting on a halter and taking it off is easy due to you touching and rubbing the foal right from the beginning. Walking the foal by the side of the mare is a great way to introduce walking on a lead line. Moving the foal around you by touching or putting pressure on the shoulder, hip, or front end, helps the foal learn to give to pressure. Introducing clippers is a great idea if you plan on going to the show ring with a foal. As you can see, starting basic training is easy, and really makes a difference on the future handling and trainability.
Trying to decide how to handle a colt once it arrives can be a challenge. I have found that it is much easier to start working with a foal than a two year old that dwarfs me and thinks that they are the boss. I still am a proponent of letting a foal be a horse, but that foal will mature with a bit of knowledge and handling to make my life easier and safer. When buyers arrive at our ranch, we always get comments about how friendly our foals are, and how easy they are to work with. I let them know that my secret is putting in lots of time and effort early on, so I don’t have to work so hard later on. I know that when it comes time for teaching the important things, like going for an easy going trail ride, or entering the show ring, I will have a willing partner, because I have built the relationship of trust from the moment that horse was born.
Copyright 2008 © Melissa Brawner