If you have a young horse, it is often easy to say, “ah, he’s just a baby, I’ll mess with him tomorrow”.

I admit, it is sometimes tough to come up with ideas on what to do with a young horse, and I have unfortunately seen too many incidences where a spoiled horse is born because the owner, with all good intentions, does the wrong sorts of things.

A perfect example is a woman I know who had been around horses her whole life, bought her first baby. It was the only way she could afford to own a super fancy dressage horse. She wanted to work with her baby a lot because she thought it would be easier for her when she got older. She didn’t really know what to do with her, so she decided to start teaching her tricks.

One of the tricks she was most proud of was she got her youngster to jump up and put her front legs on her shoulders for a treat. Now, a yearling is small enough, it may be cute (not in my book but in hers it was). Fast forward 2 years and she was very afraid of this horse. She (the horse) had absolutely no boundaries, would push all over her and interpreted the jumping up as play. Clearly, it was not cute as a large 3 year old warmblood.

I too have been guilty of over-handling my babies (incorrectly) in the past. In the effort to make them tame I would scratch all over them and they would lean into me and I would laugh because it was just so cute…… but fast forward 2 years and I had a pushy colt running up to me and rubbing his face on me so hard it would knock me off my step. Then I found myself constantly shooing off a horse that I had originally told I was a glorified scratching post.


The nice thing about working with foals and young horses is they learn and adapt very quickly. What might take you a week to get a mature horse comfortable with can take you 10 minutes – 1 hour with a foal or young horse.


So what can you do? What are some good things to do with young horses that can’t be ridden yet?


1. Yes, you can give your horse scratches- just make sure if they start leaning into you or being obnoxious, you stop.


2. put a halter on- I catch my young horses with a rope the first time I handle them if they are skiddish. I just make a big loop and they will run into it if they are in a stall with the mare. I then rub all over them so they realize I am not bad (a good scratching helps). I then take a piece of my rope and make loops and put them over their nose and over their ears so they get used to the sensation. After doing that a little bit I will reach over their head and under their chin so they get used to that movement. Once they are good about all of that I put the halter on and off of them a few times while I still have the rope on them. Once I can take the halter on and off of them a few times I leave the halter on and take the rope off and start working on step 3. (NOTE:* If your horse is especially sensitive, this process will take more preparation of each step and you may want to make sure that you keep some movement in both hands as you put the halter on to avoid surprising them).


3. Teach him to yield his head to each side- I stand at their shoulder and with as light of pressure I can, I wait until they yield their head and I immediately give. They may try to lean on it initially or try and move their head away but just try and stay with them until you feel a give. If they try to move, again, just stay with them. They are just trying to work out what you are asking. You can keep you other hand rested on their wither to keep yourself from getting stepped on. Whatever, you do, DON’T PULL! Only use light pressure. They may only give a little bit at first, and that is OK! You give for every bit they give. Pressure, give, try again. Pressure, give, try again.


4. teach him to move his hindquarters & walk forward- Once they yield their head to you on each side, you now can work on getting him to move his feet. if you get him to yield his head first, take your hand or your thumb and put pressure where you would if you were in the saddle with your leg. At first he may try to push into it. Just keep the pressure there and move it around if you need to to make it a little uncomfortable for him to lean on it. As soon as he gets the idea to step away from you, give! Then give him a good scratch. As a side note, do NOT hold his head to the side when you do this. Just get the give of his head to get him paying attention to you. Do that on each side. Once you can get him readily stepping his hindquarters over, see if you can step them over then start walking in a forward direction. This is the best way to give the horse the idea to follow you without pulling.


5. pick up his tail- This is a trust spot test. See if you can get your horse to let you touch the underbelly of his tail and lift up on it. Scratch around base of his tail and see if you can get him to lift it for you. This will take you a long way in the trust factor. Do the same thing with his ears, under the belly, etc.


6. Rub a rope on his legs, pick up his legs- This gets your horse used to things tickling his legs and you working around them. You can also take the opportunity to teach your horse to give and follow the pressure of the rope on his legs. This is a handy skill as it teaches the horse not to panic if somethings gets around his legs. This is a skill you will really appreciate if your horse gets tangled up in something. It is the difference between your horse giving to the pressure and standing and waiting for you to rescue him or thrashing about until he severely injures himself.

The exercises here will give you a great start and will get you better prepared for the young horse exercises I will share with you next week!


Be sure to join us next week for Part 2! 

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