Training your Foal: the First Attempts at Leading

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training your foal

If the horse is used to the headcollar at this stage and seems to let the trainer handle without a problem, the time has come for halter-breaking. For this purpose, a strong lead-rope is attached to the headcollar. The leading lesson is one of the most important in the life of a horse, because it is a task the horse is expected to perform every day of its life, and because it is one of the key tasks in making the handling of the horse easy in the future.

The horse must learn to follow humans trustingly and obediently on the lead-rope. The foundations for this have already been laid by accustoming the young foal to be touched and to have a headcollar fitted. With these pre-requisites, it should be no problem to teach the foal to be led. The easiest way is to initially use the dam as a “magnet”, to teach the foal what you want it to do. Therefore an assistant who will lead the dam would be of an advantage. The foal will be eager to follow its mother. By initially using this inborn urge you can now move the foal in the direction you want it to go. The person leading the foal should grasp the lead rein about eight inches below the headcollar fitting.

The end of the lead-rope is taken up by the other hand. Beware! Even when leading a foal, it is important never to wind the rope around the hand. If the animal is startled and tries to pull away, it is better to let go of the rope than be dragged along the tarmac. Even foals are stronger than humans and are quite capable of doing such a thing. A suckling will never run very far anyway but will stay near its mother. Nevertheless, leading lessons should always take place in a fenced-off area in which mother and foal feel secure and have as few distractions as possible. This is the only way to work quietly and with care in a trusting atmosphere, and thereby minimize the possibility of accidents.

The person leading the mare walks on a few meters ahead and the person leading the foal also starts moving, following the mother. Some foals will follow straightaway, others, however, stop as if rooted to the ground and merely whinny for their mother but refuse to lead on. If this is the case, the person leading the mare must

ensure that he/she does not move too far away, in order not to frighten the foal. Pulling at the lead-rope is not the correct way to induce the foal to move forwards. Instead, the trainer should place one hand on the thigh of the foal and gently push it forward. This encourages most foals to move forward.

If the foal jumps away in high spirits, let the lead-rope run to its full length and try not to exert too much pull on the foal’s head, but rather try to bring the boisterous foal under control gently. Overly abrupt pressure, especially on the foal’s poll, can have negative consequences. The bone structure of the youngster is still very soft and the poll region, in particular, has several sensitive nerves running along with it which could be damaged. This is why certain trainers condemn leading lessons of horses at this early age. However, I think that responsible handling of the head- collar and rope will not cause any damage. However, very young foals should not be tied up at this age, to prevent this type of injury. Pulling hard on the rope is another no-no, to eliminate the occurrence of any unpleasant experience or injury.

The foal trainer must deal with the headcollar and lead-rope responsibly, to eliminate the occurrence of injuries and unpleasant experiences for the foal.

The foal will understand the hand pushing it forward on its thigh better than it will a pull on the lead-rope. Soon it will learn that a gentle tug on the rope means that it should follow its leader. A little patience is needed, as the foal is fixated primarily on its mother and initially notices humans only superficially. This means that it isn’t yet fully concentrating on the person leading it. Therefore, not obeying the first request has nothing to do with any unwillingness on part of the foal but rather with a lack of understanding and/or concentration.

Of course, it is necessary to gain the foal’s attention so that it will be able to hear the commands, but care should be taken not to overdo things. In any case, at this stage, the foal can only concentrate for a few minutes. Also, it is of great importance that the youngster does not lose contact with its mother.

Therefore, you should only demand the attention of the young horse while the mare is close by and the foal can see her at all times. Only after the young foal is reassured that its mother is nearby will it be prepared to transfer its attention to the human trainer. Frequent verbal repetitions and gentle signals with the lead-rope will encourage the foal to start following the trainer step by step. It won’t be long before the animal understands what it is supposed to do. Even once the “all legs” little horse leads well from the lead-rope, never consider taking it too far away from its mother. It is important to avoid uncertainties even while teaching the foal to be led. The foal receives its feeling of security primarily from its mother.

Special care is advised if the foal tends to jump away forward. If the urge to move forward is halted too abruptly with the lead-rope, the youngster will throw up its head and will often rear on this occasion. This presents a real danger that the foal will fall over backward. Such a traumatic experience, which can also all too easily lead to injury, should always be avoided. If even after sustained efforts the foal fails to understand that it should be following the lead-rope, the trainer can try using the “Come-Along- Rope”. For this purpose, a sufficiently long lead-rope or a second separate lead- a rope is crossed over the foal’s back and passed under the tail to lie over the foal’s thighs (figure of eight).

This method is also suitable for older foals, which are already so big that it is difficult to put your hands around them. The second lead- rope applies gentle pressure and will encourage the young animal to move forwards. A pre-requisite of this type of lead-rope training is that the horse permits the trainer to touch it all over and will accept the lead-rope around its hindquarters without resistance. If the foal becomes restless or afraid, however, it should initially be adequately desensitized to all forms of touching before using the “Come-Along- Rope”.

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