So I've been working with young Gracie (Graciela NS) since yesterday. Keeping it all nice and slow and friendly and doing my best to spare her too much stress. It is nice to see her progress and after wearing a halter for only the second time today, she was just starting to turn her head and make a few steps in response to my request.
As with all my horse training, I'm seeking to find ways to make it easier for the horses and keep it relaxed and as playful as possible. Of course, especially with a foal, there are moments of fright, unless it is one of those naturally boisterous and outgoing foals we occasionally see. The more timid ones simply need to be given more time and reassurance. In the very early stages it is often necessary to restrain them a bit and let them get used to the touch, sound and smell of a person.
|Graciela's second experience with people - photo by Yvonne Lehey|
I've found that the best way is to maneuver the mare such that the foal is between her and the wall. That way the mare is close but I can get my arms around the foal. The most tricky bit are the little hard hooves :-)
A few very brief sessions of that, including rubbing the head to desensitise the foal in preparation for the halter, and then haltering isn't much of a problem. If they are ok with being touched on the back, neck and bum, they can be guided and helped once the lead is attached. It's generally better to attach the lead to the side rather than the bottom ring, but it still requires a lot of diplomacy and experience to avoid and manage mini panic attacks. It is surprising though how quickly a foal learns to cope with all these totally alien concepts.
The idea of yielding to pressure does not appear to be built into foals, which is why they tend to panic when they bump into something that won't yield. A good example: when I moved the mares a few days ago, the filly bounced into the electric braid. Instead of backing out, she tried to escape by running at it harder, until it broke. The same can be felt when handling foals for the first few times. They just don't know how to deal with it. So it is really important to introduce the handling and leading carefully and thoroughly, as it provides the basis of vital understanding of the world the little horse has to live in. It also lays the foundations for all later education.