Leading your Foal, by Clinton Anderson
Before 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 www.downunderhorsemanship.com[This article was published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 3, Issue 8.]
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