Horse Training

Baby’s First Steps: Part 2

August 3, 2010

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

Remember: It pays to halter break when your foal is small.

By Christine Hamilton in The American Quarter Horse Journal

This is the second in a two-part series. Need to review Part 1?

Step No. 3: Introducing the Lead Rope

  • Clip a lead rope onto the halter and let the foal drag it. Play it by ear, and see what the foal does with it. Put a little pressure on it: Slide your hand on the rope so she feels the tension on it, but it’s not a pull.
  • The foal’s going to walk with that rope dragging on the ground, and she’s going to step on it, and it will jerk her head down. That is her first “Whoa,” as far as a “Whoa” command on a halter. After a few times of that, as soon as she steps on the rope and feels that pull, she will just stop and put her head down. She’ll carry her head to one side or the other. The foals learn not to step on the rope.
  • Use a rope that’s short enough to only reach to the back feet. If the mare’s around, she’s likely to step on it, too.

Step No. 4: Taking the First Steps

  • Start with give and release on the head. Standing to the side, pull on the foal’s head and release it, trying not to move her feet.
  • Next, pull a little harder. The logic of going sideways is that you’re pulling her off balance, and she’s almost forced to cross a leg over. That’s the “first step.” When she does that, you release.

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  • Then switch to the other side and pull in the other direction.
  • Don’t stand out in front where she can brace against you. A baby will pull back and can flip over backward. Of course, when she starts to pull back, you don’t let her go, but you let the rope slip through your hand so there’s just enough resistance that she doesn’t pull real hard and you let go and she drops to the ground.
  • When you take off the pressure and put it back on slowly and gently, the foal’s more likely to give to you. If you put on a lot of pressure, you make a foal fight you.

Step No. 5: Moving Alongside You

  • Once the foal is going sideways, then ask her to go forward, alongside you. You could use a rump rope, or, if it’s a small foal, just put one hand on the rump and ask her to move along beside you. Either way, stay at the side and keep the baby’s neck out in front.
  • By the time you get a foal leading well from one side, chances are she’ll lead from the other side just as good, because she’s used to going with you.
  • This is the foal’s first education in body language. You move forward, the horse moves forward at your side, not dragging along behind you. That body language works throughout life, in halter classes, showmanship classes and so on.
  • Anything you do at this point is going to affect what you do with that horse five years from now. You need to avoid wrecks or any disobedience on either your part or the foal’s part; it will all come back to haunt you down the road. Do it right the first time.

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Parting Words

  • The best time to “sack out” a horse is when you’re halter breaking her. You can do this with a lead rope: Drag it all over her body, between the ears, over the rump, on her legs. Again, all slow motions, no quickness. When you’re just standing there with the foal, not doing anything with her, mess with your lead rope.
  • Halter breaking is a short process. It doesn’t take months or weeks. It just takes a few hours: 15 minutes today, 15 minutes tomorrow and the next day and so on.
  • Remember: It pays to halter break when your foal is small.

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