When Horse Breeding Evolves Into Horse Training, Part 1

Four exercises to start your foal’s training on the right hoof.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

A great foundation is key to make foal training an ease. Journal photo

With these first four exercises, you’ll provide your new foal with a solid foundation. Keep in mind, these foal-training exercises are done after a foal has already been through the imprinting process. Check out “Postpartum Impression” on America’s Horse Daily for more information on imprinting a newborn foal. But be sure you start these exercises while the foal is still small. Especially with the restraint exercises, you wouldn’t want to try those on an older, stronger foal who might put you in harm’s way. You’ll also want to make certain that your mare is OK with you handling her baby. Check back soon for five more training exercises you can do with your young foal. 

Haltering You Young Foal

The foaling stall should be safe from anything that might injure the foal. It’s important that the halter fits properly, so you might have to get the smallest adjustable foal halter available. Add a few holes for a proper fit. A standard lead rope is too heavy, so you can use a nylon dog leash.

Is your foal hesitant to accept the halter? Are you unsure if your foal’s ready to start the halter-starting process? AQHA can help you answer all of these questions and more. Download AQHA’s FREE Halter Breaking Your Foal e-book for a handy resource as you venture into the special experience of training your own foal!

With the initial imprinting in place, the foal should be curious and easy to approach in the stall. Approach from the left side and let the foal inspect the halter. Then, slip the halter on and off the foal’s nose. He has a natural response to jerk up against foreign pressure on his nose, so it’s important to get him accustomed to handling of his nose, face and ears during the initial imprinting prior to the halter lesson. The halter going on and coming off gives the foal trust in the halter and seems to encourage acceptance.

Teaching to Give to Pressure

When the foal is comfortable, put the halter on and buckle it. Do not, at any time, leave the foal alone with the halter on. This might be an invitation for serious injury or even death.

Stand on one side of the foal and take up the slack on the lead while applying pressure on his hip with your hand until he moves away from the pressure. This is the beginning of a turn on the forehand and will discourage him from turning around on you in the stall. Repeat on the other side. If the foal gets frightened and pulls back during the lesson (which he probably will), apply gentle, supportive pressure to keep him from hitting his head on anything. It’s important not to jerk on the lead during this time because he is very sensitive to injury. If he pulls against the pressure, go with him, maintaining light pressure, and release as soon as he gives to the pressure. You will have to develop a very light and sensitive touch.

Tracking to the Left and to the Right

Within minutes, the foal will discover that giving to the pressure allows a release reward. Move slightly off to one side - but still in front of him - and slowly, gently ask the horse to come toward you using light, constant pressure. Release-reward as soon as he moves toward you.

Halter starting your foal is a rewarding and sometimes challenging process. Ensure that your young foal gets the proper start with AQHA’s FREE Halter Breaking Your Foal e-book. Download the e-book for critical information about fitting a halter on your foal, introducing the lead rope, leading techniques and more.

Tugging will not teach him to give to pressure. Just use light and constant pressure, maintaining the pressure as he tests the halter and releasing as soon as he gives to the pressure. Then “tack” to the other side. This exercise lays the foundation for successful leading, tying and trailer loading as a weanling. It’s important to do both sides evenly on all these exercises.

Praise and Stroke the Foal During Lessons

Stopping and praising the foal after he successfully gives to pressure is very important. It will teach him to recognize and look for praise, and this positive reinforcement will stay with him forever. It builds trust. If you found these tips helpful, you'll love part two of this series.

Come back next month for five more foal-training exercises.