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Leading your Foal, by Clinton Anderson



Clinton-AndersonBefore starting this lesson, your colt or filly should be halter  broke and leading well.   As soon  as you make a suggestion for  him to come forward, he readily  respects the pressure from the  halter and lead rope and  responds.   Now that you have his  respect and can control the  movement of his feet forwards,  backwards, left and right, you  can begin working with him outside  which includes leading him  to pasture.

When you first take your foal  outside, it’ll be like you’re introducing  him to a whole new world  filled with lots of unfamiliar  objects that move and make a  noise.   Remember, horses hate  objects that move and make a  noise.   What is an object?   An  object is anything that doesn’t  live in your foal’s stall or pasture.   If it lives in his stall or pasture,  it’s no longer an object because  he’s gotten used to it.   When you take him outside, he isn’t going to  have his full attention on you – he’s going to be  looking at the other horses in the pasture, your  truck parked in the drive, etc.   But if you’ve done  your homework with him, as soon as you move  his feet forwards, backwards, left and right, he’ll  start using the thinking side of his brain and pay  attention to you.   Then he will calm down and  relax.

The key to getting a horse to use the thinking  side of his brain and respect you is to make  his feet move forwards, backwards, left and  right and to always reward the slightest try.   However, if you haven’t taken the time to teach  your foal all the lessons up to this point, and  you don’t have his respect and can’t move his  feet, then he’s going to be worse outside.   Once you have earned his respect and can  control his feet, I recommend leading him to pasture  and working with him outside.   The more you  can get your foal out of the same old boring arena  or roundpen, the more interested in his work he’ll  be.

You’ll need an assistant to help you with this  exercise.   As they lead the mare out to the pasture,  you’ll be free to follow with the foal.   Halter the foal and attach a long line to the  base of the halter.   The 23-foot long line will give you a little bit  more room to work with the foal in case he panics  and tries to get away from you.   If he does,  you’ll be able to let some of the rope slide through  your hand without making him feel as trapped  and claustrophobic as you would if you had the  14-foot lead rope on him.   Following behind the mare, lead the foal  forward by picking up the long line and applying  steady pressure.   As soon as he walks forward,  release the pressure.   As long as the foal keeps  moving forward, keep your hands in a neutral  position down by your sides.   By this stage, the foal should readily lead  forward as soon as he feels pressure behind his  ears.   As long as he is walking forward, your  hands should be in a neutral position not applying  any pressure.   If you continue to pull on the  lead rope even when the foal is walking forward,  you’ll be nagging him and teaching him to ignore  the pressure.   If the foal stops moving forward or slows  down, pick up on the long line and apply steady  pressure to the halter to signal him to go forward.   If he stops, you’ll let him commit to the mistake  and then pick up on the long line and remind  him to go forward.

Resist the temptation to pull  aggressively on the long line and drag the foal  forward.   Even though he may be relatively little  and you can make him go where you’d like,  remember that you’re trying to teach him how to  be a respectful horse.   That includes teaching him  to be responsible for his own feet.   He’ll never  learn to be responsible for his own feet if you constantly  babysit him or try to drag him off his feet.   Ask him to move forward by picking up on the  long line and applying pressure.   As soon as he  steps forward, stop applying pressure and drop your hands down to your sides in the neutral  position.   If he slows down or stops, let him commit  to the mistake and then correct him.

Anytime the foal gets ahead of you, yield his  hindquarters and then walk off again.   When you  get the foal outside, it’s likely that he’ll want to  kick up his heels and have a little fun.   You need  to remind him that even though he’s outside, he  still needs to listen to you.   By yielding his  hindquarters, you’ll shut down his forward  momentum and put him back in position next to  you.   If you yield the foal’s hindquarters every time  he gets ahead of you, with repetition, he’ll realize  that he might as well just stay beside you  because every time he races off, you shut down  his forward momentum by yielding his hindquarters.

Once you reach the pasture, don’t just turn  the foal loose.   Instead, move his feet by practicing  the Sending Exercise or Turn and Draw.   A lot of horses develop bad habits when  being turned out because they know that as soon  as they reach the gate, their owner is going to pull  their halter off and let them go.   As soon as they  feel the halter coming off, that’s their cue to kick  up their heels and tear across the pasture to play  with their buddies.   Pretty soon, the horse half  drags their owner to the pasture because he’s  anticipating being turned out.   Don’t let your foal  develop that habit.   Instead, prove to him that  even though you’re taking him out to pasture, you  can still control his feet and he needs to respect  you.

After you’ve moved his feet, spend a few  minutes flexing his head and neck.   Then take the  halter off and turn him loose.   Every single time you catch your foal or turn  him loose, spend a few minutes flexing his head  and neck from side to side.   You can never flex  a horse too much.   The softer you can get your  foal laterally, the softer he’ll be when you start  riding him and ask him to collect vertically.

Clinton Anderson is an Australian native.   He began his quest  to become the best horseman he could be by  apprenticing under top Australian trainers Gordon  McKinlay and Ian Francis.   In 1996 Clinton moved  to America to continue training horses and  apprenticed under Al Dunning, winner of multiple  AQHA World Championships, before beginning  to train under his own name.   Clinton loves  training reiners and cow horses and has been  successful in both competitive arenas.   Clinton is  the host of Downunder Horsemanship TV.   Find out more about Clinton at[This article was published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 3, Issue 8.]


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