CAN A HORSE BE TOO YOUNG TO BEGIN NATURAL HORSEMANSHIP TRAINING?
When it comes to young horses and their training, there are two schools of thought. The first school leans toward leaving the horse alone with the exception of the most basic halter training and feet handling. They believe that the horse should learn to be a horse and learn herd dynamics. Then when the horse is 2 – 3 years old they can be gentled and started.
The second school of young horse training begins the horse's training very early in life. Beginning with imprinting at birth, the process of building a foundation for a future partnership grows day by day in a logical progressive manner.
While both schools are correct and each has their place, I subscribe to the second school of thought concerning young horse training. I believe that a horse is never too young to begin their training…..HOWEVER….training should be progressive, logical and performed in a slow manner. I am talking about dealing with very young horses here. Foals, weanlings and yearlings. 2 and 3 year old colts fall into another category that I will address later on.
I am the biggest proponent of TIME . As I have stated elsewhere on this website, TIME is the single most important training principle AND tool in natural horsemanship…especially when dealing with young horses.
There is a myriad of tasks to accomplish with young horses long before they are ready to be mounted. Below, are some pics of Desdenada Sorpresa
( “Desi” for short ) Desi is a Paso Fino x Spanish Mustang filly. She came to us at 5 months of age. She had been imprinted using natural horsemanship methods and we have continued her natural training to this very day.
6 mo old Desi being introduced to the saddle blanket
Rubbing the blanket all over her body
Going over obstacles while wearing blanket
Desi's training has included the following…
She is halter broke, will lower head for haltering, will pick up all four feet for handling and has had the farrier trim her hooves, you can touch every inch of her body including under the dock of her tail, she has completed all groundwork with just a halter and lead, will lead up and back up with ease. Side-passes from the ground, trailer loads by just sending her into the trailer, has been ponyed on the trail, has been driven on the trail with driving lines, crosses the creek (she loves the water) , accepts bathing from a garden hose, accepts fly spraying from a spray bottle, has been desensitized with plastic sacks, tarps, ropes, etc.. Stands tied. She will circle and lunge on a 12' or longer lead line. Disengages her hindquarters with ease and performs lateral flexion with a minimal amount of effort. Can be wormed and vaccinated without any problems. She has been saddled with a very light weight English saddle and a light weight synthetic saddle. She has been exposed to rabbits, deer and blue herons out on the trail.
Standing quietly while having her feet picked up
All these tasks were completed at her own pace. A young horse will tell you, if you listen to your horses, how far and how long they can be pushed daily in their training. You don't always have to stick by the hard fast rule that you can only work a young horse 20 minutes at a time…although that is a great general rule to follow. The main thing is that you keep the lessons very very simple and very short and always keep engaging the young horse's brain.
As the young horse ages, you can begin to add other things into their training. When the lesson is over, I may not turn the young horse loose. Instead I may just have them stay close to me on a halter and lead. As I work other horses, clean stalls, work on fence, go on a trail ride, whatever….I will have the young horse with me. This is a variation of the vaquero way of horsemanship from California and northern Mexico . This is what they used to call “Colgado” which loosely translates as “hanging out”. What the vaqueros would do is take a young horse, just before, and right after, it is started, tack it up and then pony it along on their daily work routines. This gradually accustomed the horse to having a job and a daily routine. The thinking here was that somewhere in their mind, when it was finally their time to go to work, they would be more accepting of it because they had been doing it for months now. The vaqueros essentially built in a conditioned response, habit and relationship.
Learning to stand quietly while being bathed with the garden hose
So by keeping my young horse with me close by as I work and play with other horses, or by keeping him with me while I work on fence for an hour, I am teaching him several things. Instead of making him just stand tied, I may keep him on a lead next to me. As I work, let's say cleaning a stall, I will ask him to back so that I may have more room to negotiate my wheelbarrow. Or I may ask him to side-step over a few steps so that I can get closer to an object that I am working with. Instead of having him move completely around me, I may just ask him to disengage his hindquarters for me to allow me space. I refer to this as “incidental training” .
After he completes each task that I have requested from him, I will immediately offer a reward of the release of pressure…physical, mental and emotional. In this way we create a working relationship AND partnership which directly translates into their foundation and eventually their future with me.
Loading on a box - preparation for trailer loading
There are some very simple rules to young horse training. These include keeping the lessons SIMPLE. If you can break down each lesson until it is at its smallest component, your young horse will be able to absorb it faster and retain it better. These are small building blocks that will eventually build that great foundation. You must also be very concise in the way you ask so there is no confusion. Consistency is a must when working with young horses. (any horse for that matter) Never proceed to the next step until he has mastered the previous one. Regardless of how well he is doing now, take the time it takes so that there won't be “holes” in their training that will pop up later on. Always stay this side of exhaustion. If you train your very young horse to the point of exhaustion then he will be reluctant to be with you next time and will avoid you when you enter the pasture, corral, etc. Don't use force. This only causes the horse to become braced and fear your presence. Reward…Reward…Reward…Reward…Reward… get the picture?
And finally….Always end on a good note…( please read my 12 Training Principles of Natural Horsemanship) always look for a stopping point in your lesson where your horse is relaxed and confident. This will ensure that he will be relaxed with future lessons. You DO NOT need to complete the entire lesson and reach the ultimate goal….you may stop the lesson at any point as long as you end it on a good note.
Learning to quietly stand tied with the big girls
Riding bareback and ponying Desi along through the creek on a trail ride
Desensitizing her ears and head.
2+ years old - First Sitting Under Saddle !!!
Janessa helping Grandpa train Desi.
Desi is still too young for me to ride her. She needs another
year of growth so we enlisted our Granddaughter Janessa to help with
some foundational exercises. Janessa, at age 4, is quite the accomplished
horse girl riding our other horses bareback and in halters.
Janessa working on lateral flexion with Desi
Everything Janessa is doing, she is doing on her own. I am here
just as a safety precaution. Remember, we are starting Desi. She is
NOT a "kid broke" old horse. Janessa also helped Desi disenage
her hindquarters along with the lateral flexion teaching a perfect
Teaching Desi to offer a "soft feel" and
back up smoothly.
Note the slack in the reins as she is backing. We teach that
we NEVER pull back with two hands at the same time. One rein / one
foot and release with the movement of each foot.
May 16, 2004
Ponying Desi on the trail.
Here we are just relaxing in the creek. Desi loves the water and has
no problem crossing creeks or ditches.
May 16, 2004
Relaxing in the creek
This is another of those times where we do some "incidental training"
with Desi. While we are just relaxing, I pick up her lead rope and begin
spinning it over the horse's heads. Just another little thing to do to
desensitize and also to strengthen the bonds of trust
we are August 7, 2004. Desi is not quite 3 years old yet.....I have started
sitting her and asking for just a few steps at a time. At times, when we
go out to the pasture to spray the horses, I will just put a progress string
around her neck, or just tie up the halter for reins and then slide up on
Desi's back. If she chooses to walk that is fine...if she decides to stand,
that is fine as well. I just lean in and rub her neck and then slide off,
give her a treat and turn her loose again.
January 24, 2005
- Growing up to be quite the young lady!!!
LEARNING TO DRAG / TRAINING WITH
5 - 30 - 2005
6 - 13 - 2005
to fly, girl?! Do you want to?"
little play time together in the pasture