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Kindergarten For Colts - Halter Breaking

It's never to soon to begin. A few lessons now, will pay off with great
dividends as your youngster matures. Sure he's cute now, but he could
turn ugly in a very short time. The longer you put it off, the more
dangerous or traumatic training can become.

Things You'll Need

A halter, I prefer to use a Double Diamond rope halter. They are
available in sizes from weanling to draft. You can also use a leather
halter, or nylon with a break -away strap. (Never leave your foal
unattended with the rope halter on, it will not break. Remove the halter
as soon as your finished with your session). A six to eight foot soft
cotton lead rope. A three foot dressage type whip.Patience, persistence
and plenty of praise!

Short And Sweet - Just Like Your Foal!

Keep your sessions short to begin with. Five minute intervals with two
minute breaks to allow your colt to get a comfort suckle from mom. You
don't want to stress him too much, but he needs to learn he has a
surrogate dam that he must respect and take direction from as well. The
sooner he learns this, the better for both of you. The entire session
should last from 10 - 30 minutes depending on your pupil's attention
span, and cooperation. Many youngsters will actually begin to enjoy
these sessions if you add allot of scratching to their neck or rump!
Increase the length of the sessions as you both improve.

You can expect him to try to get away. Push into you, rear, bite, kick,
stomp, strike, and call for his mom. In essence, have a full blown
temper tantrum. Colts that have had imprint training don't always
demonstrate these behaviors, but they may when asked to move off the
pressure from their halter.

What should he expect from you? He should expect you to be patient,
fair, and firm. Don't make the mistake of thinking he is too young to
discipline. It is never o.k. to bite, rear, kick, etc. I know he's young
and cute! Pretty is as pretty does. These are indeed normal foal
behaviors, but they should never be allowed when he's being handled. The
discipline is the same as it is for a mature horse, only toned down a
bit because of the size difference. You should never have to strike a
foal with a whip.


A correction would be a quick snap of the lead rope.
(Not a steady nagging pull.) Timed with the infraction, this will make
far more sense to him than raising your voice.

Let The Games Begin!

If your mare is uneasy, have an assistant hold her. You could provide
hay to keep her busy. It's best to start in a large stall, or a very
small pen to lessen likelihood of your pupil ditching class. Once he
understands the basics you can move to a larger area. With halter in
hand try rubbing your foals neck with it, so he associates it with a
good feeling. Now slip it over his nose. If he backs up just try to stay
with him, scratch his neck till he settles and finish putting it on.
Take your time, try not to scare him. If this is not possible, you may
need to trap him in a corner by placing one hand in front of his
shoulder and one behind his rump, or grasping underneath the dock his
tail and raising it, gently but firmly. Hold him till he stops
struggling then rub him nicely and loosen your hold. You may need a
helper to accomplish this. Attach your lead rope. (Do not try to lead
him yet) You should use a butt rope as well. Stand at your foals
shoulder and apply very light steady pressure to the lead rope, and the
butt rope simultaneously. Now maintaining the pressure, take a step to
the side never letting slack come into your rope. He has to earn a
release by moving a step in your direction. If you step off to the side
you will pull him off balance and he will accidentally take a step,
releasing the pressure from the ropes and earning a nice rub on his
neck. Repeat this several times, both directions. If you keep making
small circles he will understand this in no time. Once he is following
you in circles, you can try to lead without the butt rope. Go out in
front of him to the end of your lead rope be patient with the pressure,
no tugging. Step off to the side just a bit, and wait him out. Continue
in a circle and gradually add straight lines. If you need to go back to
the butt rope that's o.k.. You can break up these training sessions over
many days or weeks. Remember talk sweet to him, tell him how wonderful
he is, give him plenty of scratching. Don't yell. Discipline with your
halter immediately during the offense. (A quick jerk to the lead rope,
followed by steady pressure till he backs up a step and stands softly in
your hand with a bit of slack in the line.)

You Can Steer a Foal To His Dam, But You Can't Make Him Leave!

Another way would be to use the dressage whip. With this method, you are
standing at your foals shoulder facing the same direction he is. Your
holding the lead about eight inches from his halter. The dressage whip
is in your left hand and your arm is extended backwards so you can tap
your foal in the behind. Ready! Say his name, tap him repetitiously till
he takes a step. Don't walk out ahead of him, don't pull on his face.
Your lead should remain loose. (If he still does not understand to go
forward you can cheat by taking the slack out of your lead rope apply
pressure to the halter while tapping his hindquarters, that should jump
start him) It sound's like this. "Buddy, walk on." Tap tap tap till he
moves. "What a good Boy!" Now for the whoa. "Buddy" You're raising your
hand that's holding the lead a few inches higher than normal, (This
gives him a cue that he'll pick up in no time, that you are going to ask
him to halt.) Now say "whoa." Say it softly and drag it out, like this;
Buddy, w-h-o-a. When you get to the "a" in whoa apply a quick jerk of
the lead. Scratch his neck, repeat.

Trouble Shooting

He rears up when you apply pressure to his lead to come forward. -
Correct him the entire time he's off the ground. (Very light taps to his
face using a shanking motion from your lead rope). Try again. If he
comes close to falling over backwards, give him some slack, BEFORE he's
at the point of no return he needs his head for balance. As soon as all
four feet are back on the ground, gently pull his face toward you with
your left hand and with the pincher's on your right hand use a biting
motion at his flanks to drive his hind quarters away from you. In His
language he will understand this as a reprimand, and probably let you
know he's sorry by settling down. Tell him how wonderful he is, by
giving him a good rub.

Butt rope keeps slipping . - After looping around the hindquarters, lift
loop, twist the loop so there's a X in the rope at the withers. Try the
other method below.

Forges ahead, or picks up a trot. - Correction, then apply steady
pressure on his lead to ask him to back up. Start again.

Swings his head, bucks, strikes, or kicks out. - Correction, then ask
him to back up from a distance, wiggling rope as your stepping into him.
You can also make a kicking motion to him, as you back into him, no need
to connect. He'll understand what this means.

When leading, he shoulders into you, steps on your feet. - Aggressively
step into him, raise both hands up in his face, with a soft jabbing
motion, your left hand is just in front of his head, your left hand at
the side of his neck, (Don't make contact yet). if he doesn't respond by
moving away, then use your pincher's to pinch the top of his neck, until
he does move.

Bites. - Make sure your not holding him right under his chin. This is
just too much temptation for your youngster. You don't want him mauling
your hand, don't maul his muzzle. If he comes into your space, and you
are quick enough, make a fist, and pop him in his muzzle. (This action
is a quick motion, your fist moves no more than two inches, to meet his
bite. He runs into it, when he enters your space.) DO NOT swing at him,
or go into his space to do it. If your reaction is too slow, refrain and
be ready for the next one. It's all about timing.

Afraid of the whip - Rub him all over, start at his shoulder with the
butt end of the whip. Go toward his hind quarters, but stay up high,
scratch his neck so it feels good to him. You can lay the whip against
his hip till he stops walking away to avoid it, just stay with him, when
he comes to a stop, take the whip off. Repeat till he stands as you rub

Won't walk forward. - Are you tapping a few times then stopping? He'll
keep waiting for you to stop.

Some seem to enjoy it. Keep tapping rapidly getting progressively harder
till he takes a step.

Don't feel your hurting him, if you were he'd be trying to get away.

While leading at his shoulder, he backs up without being asked. - Stay
at his shoulder and back up with him. If you never gets away from you,
he'll quit trying that route.

Keep your lessons short and simple. Soon your youngster will be looking
forward to taking walks with you!

Cathie Hatrick-Anderson is a professional trainer residing in Upton,
Massachusetts. She specializes in starting colts and rehabilitating
problem horses. She has volunteered in the NICU department at "The
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine" in Grafton MA for four
consecutive years helping with the care of the foals.. She was also
asked by Dr. Carmel to teach classes in horse behavior to 1st year vet
students. Cathie has been working with clients foals since 1990 in
addition to the foals she and her husband Robert have raised.

For more info about Cathie or her training methods, go to www.bobcatfarm.com

Cathie Hatrick-Anderson

CMSA member
Bitless Bridle Instructor

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