The introduction of a halter to a new foal and the entire halter education is a process that is the first and most critical of ingredients in their overall education that will last a lifetime. If that part of their education is missing or done incorrectly, they will lack the foundation for safe and secure handling by humans and may influence the rest of their life. Many issues associated with what are commonly referred to as problematic horses can be traced back to their halter education. This can manifest itself in problems such as pulling back, head tossing, and the list goes on.
The fact is that many times foals get their initial halter introduction from a person that isn’t very knowledgeable on the subject. In situations where there has been no foal imprinting then the foals’ first educational experience will be when halter training begins. This needs to be stress free for the foal and the mare to prevent injury to them or the human and to avoid future training problems. An hour after birth (I am referring to uncomplicated births) is an appropriate time for a newborn to wear a halter.
I recommend the figure eight design halters which are commonplace due to their easy adjustments and the fact that the figure eight places pressure on the cheeks of the foal rather than on the nose. That allows the pressure to be distributed over the more developed areas of the horse’s head. The entire concept of placing any pressure on a halter will make the foal feel restrained which is not natural for them. Herein lies the importance of practicing the approach and retreat method. That is accomplished by using movements that are slow and methodical.
Allow the foal to experience the smell of the halter and then rub the halter with soothing type lapping motions, like licks of his mare’s tongue, on their neck, the sides of their face, cheeks and over the poll. You should slowly slip the noseband on and off the muzzle rewarding with rhythmic rubs. Repeating the process will provide reassurance to the foal that the movements of the human as well as the halter won’t hurt them. When the foal accepts these movements with a relaxed demeanor place your right arm over the foal’s neck grasp the crown piece of the halter and with a rhythmic and slow movement draw it up onto their poll. Then slowly and methodically buckle the chin snap. Avoid movements which would resemble an “Ah I got you!” You may need an assistant to keep the foal from retreating and slipping out of the halter.
Keep the mare a safe distance away either held or tied providing yourself enough room to work. Once haltering is accomplished peacefully always place the halter on them before they leave their stall. After repeated times we will begin applying pressure to the halter, this can be termed Halter Training 101. I always begin by having a handler lead the mare and I handle the foal. I may also have another handler prompt the foal to move forward by placing a slight amount of pressure on their rump as encouragement. Most foals will move forward instinctively because of the mare moving on. Avoid pulling on the foal so that you will not harm their neck with any excessive pressure or strain. If you have steady pressure on the lead rope with your request for forward movement, release the pressure as soon as the foal yields to it. Use patience, quiet hands and movements when working with your foal to help instill confidence in them. It is the release of pressure that teaches them to give to pressure rather than to resist it at all costs and prevents them from becoming reactionary.
As with all education and training of horses, whether foals or mature horses, repetition is the mother of learning and the key to success. Never force, create an environment of cause, and allow. Make the wrong things difficult and the right choice easy. Horses and humans are alike in that regard, we both tend to choose to take the easy way out of a task. Be supportive with your endeavors and the positive changes you bring about will last a lifetime. If you create an environment of stress for the foal, that will last a lifetime as well, so the choice on how you proceed has a direct correlation on all future training of your newborn.
Provided by Dan Kuhn Natural Horse-Man Services