Baby’s First Steps: Part 1

Tom and Margo Ball share their method of halter breaking, based on good, old-fashioned horsemanship.

Most foals are a little hesitant to come to you. If you work around your foals on a daily basis, such as cleaning stalls, they'll start coming to you.

Tom and Margo Ball use old-fashioned horsemanship in their halter breaking, approaching it with patience, an earned trust and the belief that every foal is an individual. The steps Tom and Margo go through might take one day or three weeks, and they might spend longer on different steps with different foals. The Balls might start a foal at 30 days of age, or they might wait longer. It all depends on the personality and needs of each foals.

“We wait until our babies are ready to break,” Tom adds. “We don’t want to fight with them.”

The Balls like to start working with the foal in a roomy run, with the foal’s mother close by.

Step No. 1: Wait Until They’re Ready

    • Most foals are a little hesitant to come to you. As they get used to you being around, then they will start coming up, and they’ll get curious. And as you pet or scratch them, they become more “humanized.”
    • Work around your foals on a daily basis, such as cleaning stalls.
    • The key word is trust. When a foal comes up and starts nosing around you, that means he trusts that you’re not going to do something to him that will hurt. So when you do introduce him to something new, like the halter, he trusts that it’s not going to be anything bad.

Want to learn more about what Tom and Margo Ball have to say about halter breaking? Download AQHA's FREE Halter Breaking Your Foal report.

    • If you take a foal and try to put a halter on him and start pulling him around, you’re going to spook him. Then he’ll lose trust in the halter, lose trust in you, and you end up with a horse that’s going to fight you, and maybe one that will get hurt.

Step No. 2: Putting On and Wearing the Halter

    • Practice patience before you start. It takes a lot of patience and slow movements. Try to use little resistance with the foal, so you don’t spook him in any way.
    • When it comes time to put on the halter, it’s often better to have two people or a box corner to do it in.
    • The trick, when you use two people, is for the rump person to just stand there, letting the foal brace against the back person. You don’t want to apply pressure or grab the rump. You want just enough pressure that the foal stands still. The back person just gives support.
    • If you’re up against the foal, he’s not going to kick you, other than with his hock. You’re better off touching the foal than standing back two feet, where you can get hurt.
    • Stand back and watch and just let the foal wear the halter a while. Foals are individuals; they’re all going to have a little different temperament. Disposition is the key factor in that. Depending on the individual, the foal might just wear the halter for a few days, and you do nothing else with it.

Halter breaking a foal will be his first experience learning to respect you, to give to pressure and to handle new experiences. Thankfully, the AQHA’s FREE Halter Breaking Your Foal report will guide you through the process.

    • A leather halter is the safest for a foal. If the foal does get into a bind and gets really caught on something, the leather will break.
    • The halter needs to fit the foal. If you have one too big, and the foal reaches up to scratch, the foal could get into a real wreck. 
    • Don’t leave the halter on the foal at night. You don’t have to stand there and watch the foal the entire time, but on the other hand, you do need to be around in close proximity so that if the foal does get into some kind of bind, you’re there.

Click here for the second part of this series.