Life Outside for the Weanling
Once the foals are weaned and halter-broke, about all that’s done with these youngsters is catching them for deworming, shots and hoof trims. They live outside until I bring them into the barn as long yearlings and start the breaking process, usually at about 20 months of age.
It’s very important that these young horses get to live outside in groups and have other foals to interact with. The physical and mental growth that this environment offers is an advantage that stall-raised horses can’t duplicate. The young horses growing up outside develop coordination, and going up and down hills and across creeks develops their strength and agility.
The interaction with other horses insures that the youngsters learn early on that there is a pecking order to the herd, so there’s a mental benefit, too. Later, when a person comes along as the trainer, that’s just another dominant player in the pecking order. The young horses also build their abilities and react to different situations and think under pressure as a result of running and playing together.
Potential Weanling Issues
For a stallion prospect, mental development is critical, so I don’t leave stallion prospects by themselves. If they are, they can have some irreparable mental problems from the isolation. Once the fillies and colts have been separated, if I only have one or two colts, I put them in with a quiet old gelding – just to show them the ropes.
If you only have one weanling, he still needs companionship, even if you get him only a burro or another cheap baby horse as a buddy. In his formative time, a weanling needs company. The worst kind of horse to train is a backyard-pet horse. It is very difficult to predict that horse’s actions because he has not developed normal equine responses.
That’s the reason we don’t hand-feed, brush, groom or teach little tricks to our babies. Instead, we allow them to be horses. The goal in handling these horses during their childhoods is to give each baby a healthy psychological foundation.
For a performance horse, those first 20 formative months are incredibly important. If you buy a colt that is nutritionally deprived and has not had proper medical care, you’re inviting failure. Likewise, if you buy a horse that has been isolated or made into a pet, you can’t expect him to have a champion’s attitude.
All these little factors – nutrition, health, care, psychological conditioning – come together to form the raw material that helps determine a winner. If you neglect one area of development and your competitor in the arena doesn’t, he can beat you later.
To win inside or outside the show pen, you’re going to minimize your gamble by picking the right kind of horse, and then doing your homework to make sure that the horse has the best developmental foundation. Overall, your goal is to swing every part of the entire picture to your advantage. With a young horse, if you make sure that you take care of every factor you can control, your odds of success are greater than they would be otherwise.
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This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 8, Issue 9-10