Sometimes foals are not handled until weanling time and then you have a hefty colt to handle. The method you use will be determined by the size and gentleness of the foal or weanling you are going to work. If you can get your arms around a foal for the preliminary halter breaking, it will be a simple matter. If the animal is too large for this, then the best method is to adjust the halter and place a chest rope in position. Allow the colt to drag this around for a while and quite a bit of the fight and fear will be gone before the handling. Then you may use a come-along. This is the same as the rump rope but run through the halter, and the trainer stands to the front of the animal. Also, a head come-along can be used. A rope is tied around the neck (bowline knot) and looped over the nose so that the rope comes over the loop. A pull on this rope causes it to tighten, and the colt will discover he is relieved when he steps forward. A heavy cement block in company with an inner tube will take the preliminary starch out of a young animal. The tube gives enough to prevent the animal from injuring itself and yet holds enough for restraint. Every day the colt should be subjected to the method that works best for him. Each day the colt should be groomed, feet handled and cleaned, led about, and sacked out.
To become a safe animal the colt must learn not to be startled by anything. This is done by sacking out. Hold the lead rope in the right hand and gently slap the colt about the shoulders with a gunny sack. If the animal is uneasy, rub the sack all about his body. When this is tolerated, slap the colt about the legs, then the rump, and, lastly, the head. Proceed with each part of the body only as the colt tolerates the sacking. When at last the colt can be touched anywhere on the body, in any manner, with the sack, he may be considered quite gentle.
Only the lack of maturity prevents the colt from being mounted at six months of age, because a young horse is capable of learning at any age. Discipline is important at any early age, and much can be done by longing. The purpose of longing is to exercise the animal, and is frequently used on mature horses when there is no time for riding. Longing makes the colt flexible and obedient to the voice of the trainer. It teaches him to stop and turn quietly on command. He learns to circle equally well to the right or left on a walk, trot, and slow canter. You will need a long line, leather, canvas, or rope with a snap on one end. The line should be twenty feet long. It can be made or bought, complete with swivel and cavesson. You will also need a driving whip.
Longing is awkward for the beginner and takes much practice. Some animals will work right out, others will have to be worked from a short distance from the halter, gradually letting out the line as the animal understands what is wanted of him. Some animals will work well from one side and have difficulty from the other. This means that the owner must have a mountain of patience. Don’t wrap the line around your hand. Let it play out as you need it. The whip is held in the free hand and rotated behind the animal to urge it forward. Place yourself nearer the animal’s hip so he will understand he is to go forward. Stop the animal frequently and tell him to come. Start and stop him, using the words “walk” or “trot” as you wish him to change gaits. Most horses learn longing quickly, and the most difficult part is to get the animal to move away from the trainer. Don’t allow the animal to play on the longe. If he kicks up his heels, jerk him down sharply to let him know he is working. Sometimes it is wise to longe a horse before climbing on his back. By this time all the play and buck will be out of him and he will be ready to settle down to work.
The cue for the trot must be firmer than for the walk. Each gait results from a harder forward motion of the body. By posting the trot, the colt can be taught collection and rhythm. To post correctly, keep time with the front legs. When the right leg lifts, rise in the saddle. When the left leg lifts, sit down. When the post is done correctly, the rider will feel the rhythmic moving of the horse’s front legs. Posting is only correct in English riding but it is an excellent way to teach the young horse rhythm in the trot to make it easier to sit the western trot.
By the time the colt is two years old he should be easily managed by an amateur rider providing the rider is instructed to handle the colt the way he has been trained. A rank amateur, pulling and tugging on the reins, can ruin the best-trained colt in a short time.
When the colt is put into the canter, he should lead out with his inside leg. For example, if the colt is going in a circle to the left, he should lead out with the left front leg. The leads have been explained in a previous chapter. Always keep the colt at an even, easy canter. A colt can be made “speed crazy” if he is run at a dead gallop all the time. Frequently retrain your horse, stopping and starting and reining as you did in the beginning. It acts as a refresher course and keeps the animal alert.
Don’t go from the trot into a canter. Bring the colt to a walk and then cue for the canter. If this is not done, the colt will always take a few trotting steps before breaking into the canter. To experienced horsemen it gives the impression that the horse has not been well trained. Should you enter a Western Pleasure class at the horse show, you will be marked down for this. Even though you want your horse just for pleasure, never allow yourself or your animal to become sloppy in riding habits.
There will be times when you want to travel a distance with your horse, either for shows or for trail riding. This means that your animal should be well acquainted with a trailer. It is better to train the foal with the mare. The fact that the mare goes into the trailer readily will cause the foal to accept it. If the foal is used to nibbling or eating in the trailer, there is usually no problem. Don’t lead the foal in and then right out. The foal will begin to think this is what is expected and will not stay in long enough to close the ramp. Leave the colt for at least twenty minutes with the ramp closed, then before removing the animal reward him with grain. Take the colt for short rides so he will learn to balance.
Practice stopping and starting, a few sudden stops, as might occur unexpectedly on the road, so the animal will learn to adjust and accustom himself to different trailering conditions. There are many ways of loading if an animal balks at the prospect. Loading a foal or young colt can be done by two men with locked hands behind the rump. The animal is boosted into the trailer. Here again the chest rope may be used. Sometimes a rump rope, fastened to one side of the trailer and the other end drawn across above the hocks, will gently urge the animal forward. Many times an animal may have to be walked in, a foot at a time. Someone holds the animal by a halter rope and the helper lifts first one foot and then another until the horse walks into the trailer a few inches at a time. Most horses, after overcoming their fear, enjoy riding and will walk right into the trailer by themselves when it is time to go.
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