Halter Breaking the Foal
What is Our Ultimate Goal? To have a horse which moves quietly beside us at whatever speed we are moving and does this ON A LOOSE LEAD!
**The process of halter breaking a foal begins at or before conception. A mare that is quiet and accepting of her humans sets a good example for the new born foal. Baby’s first and most lasting lessons in how to interact with humans are taught by mom. Halter & gently brush or touch the mare all over every day. You can spend as much time doing this as you wish. One minute or 30 minutes, but the more frequently it is done the quicker you will see calm acceptance.
The moment baby is born it’s halter breaking begins with the initial handling we must do to care for him…… Drying with a towel, treating the umbilical stump and any other procedures which might be necessary. Here at REFLECTIONS we like to give baby time to bond with mom and adjust to the world. For the first few days we don’t do anything in the way of formal training. We do continue to ‘be present’ in baby’s life by spending some minutes just sitting in the stall with baby and mother. Some babies are very curious and will come over and smell and taste of us giving us a chance to scratch on his chest or neck. Some just hide behind mom and appear to ignore us, but those are learning too by what their mother does in reaction to our presence.
**During those first few days it may be necessary for us to restrain the foal for some reason. This restraint is the first step toward halter breaking. We use ‘the hug’. One arm around the chest one arm around the rump. We hug and restrain baby until he accepts that he isn’t going anywhere. Then we can proceed with whatever procedure is necessary. Another restraint procedure is to hold baby between your legs with him facing the same direction you are facing then quickly back up against a wall or better yet into a corner so baby’s rump is in the corner. This procedure is for when there is only one person available to hold and do whatever is needed.
**Once baby is past the first week of life and he is doing well physically we begin the next step. We have a variety of tiny, new born size halters. We restrain baby by one of the two methods mentioned above and quickly and very quietly slip the halter on baby’s
head, fasten it and release baby. The halter must be well fitted to the head. Not so tight as to cause discomfort but snug enough to not get caught on something. We don’t leave the stall. The halter stays on for 5 – 10 minutes then is removed. Do this for several days. Then while baby is restrained by the ‘hug’ or the ‘straddle’ very gently use the halter to turn baby’s head a bit to one side and instantly release. Then the other side. Turn – release. If baby is calm with this you can begin to turn – hold – release. The ‘hold’ should be for a very short time and gradually lengthened as baby accepts it. DO NOT HOLD A BABY’S HEAD THAT STRUGGLES. As you work with baby always stop short of struggle. Never ask more than baby will give willingly.
**At this point let me throw out a very strong warning. DO NOT, NEVER EVER, PULL A FOAL AROUND BY IT’S HEAD!!!!! Or a mature miniature for that matter. The horse’s spine is a big ‘S’ curve with the top of the ‘S’ just behind the poll (just behind the ears) at the top of the neck. This is where our halters fit and it is an area very susceptible to damage. Miniatures are small enough that we can pull them around but it’s never a good idea.
**Now that baby is calmly wearing a halter while in the stall and is allowing us to move and hold their head a bit let’s attach a lead rope. A big soft fat long lead rope. The bigger the foal the longer the rope will need to be. Attach the rope to the halter and gently move the head from one side to the other. If baby is ok with this run the rope around the right side of baby, behind the rump and below the tail, then up the left side to the halter. Hold both sides of the rope in your right hand and gently pull on the rump NOT THE HEAD! Be prepared for baby to struggle and sit back. Be prepared for baby to try to flip over backwards. Again, use the pull – release. Never a steady pull. If you get ONE tiny foot to step forward one tiny bit stop and scratch baby and tell him he was good. Then try for another tiny step. Just before you ask baby to take that first little step give him a voice cue which he will learn means to go forward….a cluck or kiss sound is standard for horses. 2 minutes of this is the maximum time you will spend. Practice every day in the stall until baby is walking forward when he feels the pull on the rump rope.
**Once baby is walking forward in the stall have another person lead mom outside with baby following. Keep mom close to baby and have her stop and wait for baby as needed. Again, only practice for 2 or 3 minutes at this age.
Eventually baby will get the idea and will walk along willingly. At this point the rump rope can be dispensed with.
**Once we are going FORWARD well it is time to learn to STOP! Again, have mom WHOA once or twice during the walking practice. WHOA means STOP. It doesn’t mean slow down or quit pawing, or move over. It means STOP. When you whoa, YOU stand still for the count of 12. If baby moves around ignore him. Then give the voice signal to go forward again. Incorporate 2 or 3 whoas into your leading practice.
**Some months later baby is weaned and ready to begin some serious training. If there has been a break in baby’s training go back to your first basic steps of wearing a halter and giving the head and remind baby of what he learned earlier.
Once the basics are remembered and going well practice leading the youngster alongside a wall or board fence so that if he wants to swing out to the side there is something to prevent that. If youngster is reluctant to go forward sometimes use a whip the length of a dressage whip…or a short driving whip. THE WHIP IS NOT TO HIT A HORSE WITH! It is an extension of your arm and is used to make your arm longer. Hold the whip in the left hand pointed to the back of the horse. If youngster is reluctant to go forward tap, tap, tap on the rump with the whip until youngster walks forward. Sometimes with a really stubborn one I will turn the whip around so that I’m tapping with the heavier handle. It gives a stronger ‘bump’.
**Remember to keep up your ‘whoa’ practices. Begin making circles and turns. Always turn to your right! (it saves getting feet stepped on.)
At this point you can begin walking over polls on the ground and as youngster gets more confident you can even throw in some simple obstacles if you want to, but always remember you are working with a youngster and lessons of just a few minutes are what you want.
**You are also ready, after your ‘whoa’ practice, to begin some ‘back’ practice by gently tapping that whip handle on the front chest as you pull back on the lead and use the verbal command ‘back’ (always give your voice command before asking for any action). One tiny step is all you want at first. Build on that.
**The final part of halter breaking is teaching to stand tied. This shouldn’t be done until youngster is VERY comfortable with standing quietly beside you in the ‘whoa’ practices. There are a few ‘rules of tying’ to be aware of before beginning any practice. Those ‘rules’ are:
There are many ways to train for tying, so I will just mention what we do.
We use a big horse bungee trailer tie attached to a flat wall and run the lead rope through that bungee. We never tie at first, we just hold the end of the rope and give when the horse pulls back then take up slack when the horse relaxes. A car tire inner tube can be used the same way. We brush youngster a little then turn him loose. Over time he learns to like the brushing and doesn’t pull back. At that time we will tie him with a quick release knot, but always tied with something that has some give to it.
**Finally, simply practice these procedures as often as possible and baby will have taken the first steps on the way to being a well mannered mature horse.
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