BEGINNING GROUND WORK FOR THE YOUNG HORSE
By Christy Mellington Sept. 8th , 2010
TOOLS YOU WILL NEED:
12 foot Nylon Lead Rope
Leather Gloves (as nylon rope can burn your hands)
4 Foot Buggy Whip
Round Pen (Optional)
For this article we are going to assume that our young horse has already been halter broke and willingly leads. It is not necessary for him to know how to stand tied yet, as we will address that issue in a future lesson. A round pen is very handy; however these lessons can safely be done without one as long as our colt has a pretty good idea of halter leading.
Begin your lesson by haltering your colt in the round pen. Rub him all over his body with the butt end of your buggy whip, gently, making a mental note of all the places he is apprehensive (doesn’t particularly like to be touched). At this stage we are trying to teach him that he can trust us and we are not going to harm him. Use the approach and retreat method. This means to start out rubbing where he accepts it and when he begins to get uncomfortable, retreat back to where he accepts it, and then approach the uncomfortable spot again. Repeat this all over his body until he understands and accepts the touch of the buggy whip willingly. Gradually replace the whip with your hands, until you can rub him all over.
Now is a great time to teach your colt how to become handy and confident at picking up his feet. DO NOT REACH DOWN AND TRY TO PULL HIS FEET OUT FROM UNDER HIM as this will ruin all the trust we have developed up to this point. Never forget that TRUST IS HARD TO GET BUT IT IS VERY EASY TO LOSE! Gently rub down your colts front legs, I always like to get my colt handy with his front legs first, as he is not as likely to get upset. Rub him all the way down to his hoof, pinch him above his pastern until he picks up his foot, and then immediately STOP. Do not grab his hoof yet. Do this on both sides until he willingly picks up his feet without getting uncomfortable or fidgety. Now he is ready for us to pick up his feet and begin holding them. Start out just holding them up for a few seconds and gradually increasing the length of time you expect him to hold them up. When he is trustworthy and willing with the front feet, we can safely move to the hind feet.
Use the same method I described for picking up the front feet, however, be careful not to kicked when working with the hind feet. If we have earned the trust of our colt and he respectfully gives us the front feet, he should not be fearful of having his hind feet handled. These lessons will make your farrier’s job much easier, and he will love you for it! Remember that not all young horses can learn this entire lesson in one day. Work on it a little bit every day until he gets it.
Now that we can touch our colt all over his body with our buggy whip and our hands, we are ready to begin teaching him how to yield to pressure. It is important to know that everything we do with our horse, on the ground, and later on in the saddle, is asking him to yield to pressure. I teach my colt to back up first. Facing your colt, place your left hand on your lead rope, 4 inches below the snap (I keep the tail end of my rope neatly folded in my left hand also), with your buggy whip in your right hand. Apply backward pressure, not down toward the ground but backwards toward his tail, if he even shifts his weight back, release. If he does not shift backward begin tapping him in the chest with the butt end of your whip until he shifts his weight back and takes a step backward. Be patient with your young horse, as up to this point we have only asked him to move forward, and he is likely to be a little confused. The moment your horse gives you a step back, STOP applying pressure and rub him gently, letting him know he did the right thing and we are pleased. Follow these steps until your young horse willingly gives you two or three steps backward. By willingly, I do not mean you push him back, but rather he energetically pulls himself back with his hind end.
Our young horse now needs to learn to yield his hind end around his front end in a 360 degree circle. Begin on the left side of your horse, again with your hand about 4 inches below the snap and your buggy whip in your right hand. Focus on his hindquarters and apply steady pressure in front of his flank area (where your spur would be if you were riding him) with the butt end of the buggy whip, until he steps under himself with his left hind foot, swinging his hips away from you. If he doesn’t understand to move away from steady pressure, you may need to tap him instead. Remember to stop applying pressure the moment he yields his hips away from you, rub him gently until he stops moving his feet. He may want to walk forward when we are beginning this exercise, if he does, simply bump his nose by giving a few downward tugs your lead rope and tell him WHOA. Do this exercise on both sides of your young horse (you will need your lead rope in your right hand and buggy whip in your left when working on your horses right side) until he will confidently and willingly step his hind end around his front end 360 degrees.
Remember not to push him too hard or fast, be happy with one step, then two, gradually work your way up as your horse becomes more comfortable with the exercise. You may also replace the end of the buggy whip with your hand at any point after your horse understands what you are asking.
Our young horse also needs to become handy in turning his front end around his hind end in a 360 degree circle. You should not need your buggy whip for this lesson. Begin on the left side of your colt, standing at his shoulder, your left hand 2 inches below the snap of the lead rope. Place your right hand slightly behind his left elbow on his barrel, where the girth would be located if you were riding him. Now straighten your left arm, apply steady pressure behind his elbow with your right hand and walk his front end around his hind end. As soon as he crosses his left front leg over his right, STOP. Rub him and let him know he did the right thing. Change sides. When you are on right side, have your right hand 2 inches below the snap and your left hand behind his right elbow. Repeat this exercise with your young horse, on both sides, until he is handy and confident about yielding his forehand around his hind quarters.
MORE ADVANCED LESSONS FOR THE YOUNG HORSE