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Weanling Training and Handling

Hi Ed,
I’ve finally got my own horse!  I actually just got him last Friday! He’s a 6 month old colt.  I just ordered your Foundation Training DVDs and look forward to receiving them.  I have a few questions if you have time to answer it’d be great!   My husband and I purchased 80 acres near McRae, GA.  We plan to have cattle and fenced off about 1.5 acres for a horse pasture.  The horse pasture doesn’t have any shelter on it and the colt would be the only horse for now.  There are coyotes in the area and other animals.  Do you think the colt would feel safe?  Right now he’s at my neighbors’ house.  She has 15 horses. The colt is alone in a stall but "talks" to the other horses.  I’m ready to bring him home, but don’t want him to be nervous or feel unsafe.  Should I put up a run in shelter for him?  Am I being too human! J  I plan to get other horses.  Would it be best to get a couple more now or wait until this new colt is comfortable? I want to get a couple of mature horses.  Is there anything I should be aware of or consider when bringing in a new horse with the colt? 

Also, my neighbors have had horses all of their lives and they’re giving me advice about how to halter break this young colt.  It doesn’t sound like Gentle Horsemanship but I wanted to run it by you.  They want me to let them force a halter on him and then tie him to a pole and let him struggle until he gets tired and realizes he can’t go anywhere.  For the past 2 days, I’ve been taking my halter rope that I bought from your website a few years back into the stall with him and rubbing him with it.  When should I try to put it on him?  Today, he let me drop the rope over his neck and I was able to grab it from the other side without it bothering him.  I haven’t gained control of his head though so I didn’t try to put the halter on.  Am I moving too fast? 
Thank you,

Hi Jeannie,
Congratulations on having your own horse.  Thank you for ordering our DVDs.  Starting with a six month old colt will give you the opportunity to do everything right with him from the beginning.  Even at six months you can start doing most of the things that are shown on the DVD such as teaching him most of the Six Keys to Harmony ground exercises maybe in an abbreviated form just to have him backing, leading and moving the hips and shoulders away from pressure left and right.  You can do lots of the despooking work by introducing him to plastic bags, walking over tarps, etc. 

At six months he was probably just weaned from his mother so he is now looking for a friend.  This gives you a great chance to bond with him.  You will take the place of his mother to teach him new things and introduce him to the world in a gradual way.  Sounds like you are starting just right by spending plenty of time just hanging out with him and building trust.

Do numerous short sessions of 15 – 20 minutes instead of a long session.  Do lots of rubbing with your hands all over him then introduce the lead rope and halter rubbing it all over him until you can just rub the halter onto his head and have him wear it.  Do not pull on him.  Just let him grow accustomed to having the halter put on and wearing it.  After a while you can circle around him with the lead rope and gently suggest that he turn and follow the rope.   If he takes one positive step toward following the rope then stop and praise him by rubbing his neck.   Try not to pull him to walk straight off.  Colts tend to panic with pressure applied to their head.  Their response is to rare up and fall over backward which could cause injury.  To teach him to lead you can use a rope behind his rump to encourage him to follow the lead rope and you can lead him in small circles so his feet move and he learns to follow your hand on the lead rope. 

Spend plenty of time on his right side because humans tend to spend too much time on the left side of horses.  Do lots of rubbing and praising on the right side of his neck.  Rub your hands down all legs and begin to briefly lift each hoof and put it right back down.  Make sure you can handle his ears, lips, face, inside his mouth, up between his back legs and under his tail.  If he moves away from your touch anywhere just keep rubbing with rhythm until he accepts and is comforted by your touch.    

Before you bring him home, make sure you can easily walk right up to him and put on the halter without him moving off.  You don’t want to have to chase him around 1.5 acres.  He should calmly accept your approach, touch and haltering in the stall then try the same in a small corral or round pen before you turn him loose in a larger pasture.

Do not listen to any horse training, care or feeding advice from your neighbors.   I would not trust anything someone says who would suggest such a barbaric and ignorant halter training technique as they suggested to you.  I’m sure, in your spirit, you knew what they suggested was wrong.  When in doubt, trust your inner feelings.

Will he follow his mother into the trailer?  If so, you can haul them both together in an open stock trailer then unload them and put them in your 1.5 acre pasture.  It would be good if you can keep the mother with him for a few days while he settles into his new home.

I would not have the colt alone in your pasture.  He might be very nervous and try to jump out or run through the fence.   You should try to avoid stressing him in any way or causing him to panic.  Stress and panic as a baby can result in having a spooky horse later in life.  Maybe you could borrow a very nice, old gelding from the Rescue for a while to be his buddy.  Make sure that horse is not aggressive toward your colt.  If so, swap for another one.   When you plan to put a horse with your colt you should keep them separated on opposite sides of the fence for a few days so they can get to know each other before they are in the pasture together.  This is a good idea anytime a new horse is introduced to others.
You might also consider putting a donkey in with your colt.  The donkey will protect him from any coyotes or wild dogs.  Donkeys have an instinct to attack canines.  This could be a problem if you have a dog of your own that runs loose.  The donkey will attack and try to kill your dog if he gets inside the pasture.   Donkeys are fast and accurate with their front hooves striking.  They can easily kill coyotes or dogs.

I like having a 12 x 12, three sided run-in shed for horses that live outdoors.  Horses will use it mostly for shade.  They really don’t mind standing out in the rain and snow. 

Let me know how things go with your colt and if you have any other questions.

Ed Dabney is an internationally acclaimed clinician, presenting horsemanship and riding clinics all over the US and in Europe.  In 2007, Ed was named Champion of the East Coast Trainer Challenge Series by Equine Extravaganza.  Ed was honored to have been selected by the University of Georgia to teach their senior level Young Horse Training course.

His training articles have appeared in many major national magazines.  Ed produces instructional videos and the “Gentle Horsemanship” TV program which has been seen on RFD-TV.

Ed's blending of natural horsemanship and classical equitation has made an indelible mark with students all across the United States and now also in Europe, drawing the attention of serious riders searching for the lightest touch and the deepest connection with their horses irrespective of breed or discipline.