Just because baby horses are little, doesn’t mean you can’t teach them important things. Young horses are super learners. Because they are prey animals, their life depends on moving with the herd immediately after birth. They’re little sponges from birth to age 2, long before most people ‘start’ them. So, soon after they hit the ground, you can begin teaching your baby things you want her to learn for the rest of her life with humans.
Imprint your baby within the first 24 hours after birth to earn their trust- (and it’s fun to love on them!) We can use a gentle touch to give our baby comfort, scratches where she can’t reach, rub downs too. But more than that…
Important lessons: get respect.
Yields, yields, and more yields! Soon after the baby can walk, Momma tells her baby to move! She does it by using her nose, neck, shoulder, legs, and tail as she moves her baby away from other horses and from potential danger. Her pressure is subtle, but can be urgent. It can be steady, as with an ear pin or nip, or it can have rhythm, as with her lifting a hoof or a swish of her tail. And she knows instinctively to keep adding pressure until baby responds; as her message won’t be ignored!
We can get our horse babies to yield to us like they do for their momma. Aurora is a lovely Cremello yearling pony who is very sweet. Handled from birth, she sees people as her loving family. She reminds me of a unicorn, so bright and delicate! Fortunately her owner taught her not to bite or kick. Most of the time she’s a doll, but because of her dominant Horsenality (horse-personality), she sometimes would get pushy with her owner.
The first time I met Aurora, was at her barn. Her owner had not been successful in coaxing her into a horse trailer, and asked me to pick her up. The day started out rain free, but afternoon showers were in the forecast. I began to play in hand, with halter and leadrope, near the barn area to “talk” with Aurora.
Aurora did not want to talk with me. She ran to the left when I asked her to go right. She pushed and pulled on the rope halter. I looked to reward the slightest try, using steady pressure and rhythmic pressure in fluctuating amounts. As she began to understand that I was just communicating in her own language, body language, I was able to then point and send her around trees and back down the fence lines. But the one outstanding maneuver she had perfected over her first year of life, was tugging backwards while rearing. It was very impressive!
We went to a tarp lying on the ground. She slowly stepped forward, then again protested, jerking violently backwards. I was amazed at the strength in her tiny body! Retreating and re-approaching, I focused on getting her curious about the novelty of the tarp. Her fear finally turned to inquisitiveness, then playfulness. She nuzzled, pawed, nipped, pushed and tossed that tarp around, discovering it was not a threat. Soon she followed my suggestion and walked across it.
The trailer was a different story. A light rain started as Aurora took one look at it and said ‘NO!’ Again I moved her around right and left, squeezing her between myself and the trailer. In an effort to reward and make Aurora feel safe, I often retreated, taking her back to the barn. The rain came down heavily, drenching the barnyard and the two of us…
The storm was relentless; Aurora and I danced in deep mud. A huge black puddle appeared at the back of my trailer surrounding the ramp. Aurora didn’t care for water, and strongly protested. It’s not about the trailer or the puddle, I reminded myself. It’s about leadership. Young mustangs in the wild will follow their mommas into a raging river to keep up with the herd. I continued to get Aurora to follow my directions…
4 hours of communication finally paid off, and the wet little yearling walked quietly and confidently into the muddy trailer. She was satisfied that I knew what I was doing, and like momma, I would persist. I had promised Aurora it would be ok to follow my directions. Now she knew.
Horses listen to their mommas; their lives depend on it. Our domestic horse babies will live a happy, successful life with humans, as this is our first opportunity to do something good and right for them: To be their human who makes them feel good and safe, who speaks their language, and follows through with firm determination. Start ’em right, as this is their window as super learners!
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