Halter training is best done on young horses, either while they are foals with the mare or more often, at the time of weaning. Doing so correctly will help all future training ventures.
Halter training should start when a horse is young, ideally with its mother, or when a foal is first weaned. It is important to note that foals are sensitive and should not be pushed to extremes, training sessions should be kept short, and fun. Read here on how to Halter train a Foal.
When the foal is young and with its mother, the owner should try to find time to get close to it. If the mare is stabled this is quite easy. If she is in a pasture and is a friendly mare, she will teach the foal that people are okay. If she is the type that tries to avoid being caught, she should be contained in a small pen, ideally tied up. Spend time grooming the mare, there the foal will be forced to be near people and may be curious, and can be offered foal treats. Touch the foal all over, and especially on its ears. Never allow a foal to bite or nibble you, in colts this can be more of a problem.
Ideally a halter can be put on the foal when it is a week old. You can do this one of two ways, sneak it on them, or corner them physically with a helper and get it on the foal. Make sure the halter fits snuggly. The halter should not be left on the foal or it risks it getting caught on a fence post or even putting their foot through it when grazing.
The following halter training method can be used whether or not the foal is with its mom, but if it is still with the mom, you can have somebody lead the mother and this will help, because the foal will naturally want to follow the dam.
The first time the foal is haltered it should be in a stall or small pen. Standing at its side ask it only to take a step by pulling it gently off balance to the side. This works far better than standing in front of it and trying to pull it ahead as it will react by pulling back and if its a large, strong, foal you may not be able to get it to budge. Some people find it easier to wrap a lead line around the foals rump and also pull it forward.
As soon as the foal takes a step in the right direction, you must release the pull, as such it is rewarded for responding. Continue working the foal in this way, moving yourself from one side to the other asking it to step forward in response to your pull, but pulling it off balance to make stepping forward the natural response anyhow.
The first lesson should be brief. Stay in the small pen and don't expect too much. Finish on a positive note. In this way the foal will enjoy the time spend with you, and learning in general.
Each foal will progress at its own speed. Some will be ready to be lead out of the pen on day three, others may require more time in the pen (which can be a box stall or outdoor pen).
When the foal is walking well you can teach it to “Whoa”. Do this by saying whoa and stopping. If the foal does not stop then give it a quick jerk on the lead rope. Continue, but always allow the foal a chance to stop on its own. Eventually the foal should stop at the sound of you saying “Whoa” even if you continue to walk.
Foals with their moms should be trained for no more than a week or two, and then allowed to grow up and be a foal, with the lesson reinforced at weaning time. Below we list what to do after the foal is weaned.
The next step is to teach the foal to tie. This can be tricky and dangerous as they may not understand. Be sure that the place you tie the foal is safe and strong. If you tie the foal to a post, or rail, that breaks when they pull back, not only may they get hurt, but will learn a bad habit of pulling back. Use a secure halter that will not pull off or break.
Tie the foal and if it doesn't test the system, you must give it a bit of a scare so it learn. Otherwise it may never realize it is tied and get a scare when you least expect it. This may need to be repeated. Again keep the lessons short, but finish on a positive, when the foal no longer pulls back, reward it. If you find it pulls back too much you can tap it on its rump to get it to step forward.
Continue to expose the foal to new things while it is tied up over the next few days, start brushing it, putting towels on its back, and so forth. Start working with its feet, asking it to allow you to pick them up.
Ground Tying and Trotting
From here the next steps are to teach ground tying and to have the foal trot on the lead. Ground tying is done by using your voice saying “Whoa” and moving away, a bit at a time, stepping forward and rewarding them for standing still when you moved away, and correcting them if they moved. Trotting is done by getting a training whip and reaching back with your left hand and tapping the foals rump while saying “Trot”. Neither should be attemped until the foal is fully obeying "Whoa".
As you, and your foal, grow in learning, take it for walks in new areas and show it that as it learns it gains new experiences. Remembering always to keep the lessons fun and positive.
*Photos by Author, not for reproduction.
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