HOW TO HALTER BREAK YOUR FOAL
By Christy Mellington
The best time to halter break any horse is shortly after he is born. This creates a bond of trust and communication between horse and human for the horse’s lifetime. We must remember that gentle handling is of utmost importance when handling a foal and short consistent lessons are most easily understood with a youngster.
I like to start when the foal is approximately one week old, by then he has figured out how to balance himself fairly well, and should be ready to begin the process of halter training. I begin by bringing the mare and foal into a stall, 12 by 12 is a good size. If you do not have access to a stall any small enclosure will work, just make sure it is free of any hazards.
You will need an assistant for your foals first few lessons to be as safe and stress free as possible.
Begin by having the mare tied securely inside the same enclosure as you, your assistant and the foal. The first thing we need to do is to have your assistant gently as possible wrap one arm around the foal’s chest and the other arm around his hind end, preferably on his right side, as putting the halter on from the left will be easier. He will probably be a little frightened so speak softly to him and pet him as your assistant calmly-but firmly-holds him. Gently slip the halter on and fasten it. Take your 10 foot cotton lead rope (this is the safest, as cotton will not give him any rope burns), snap it to the halter and take it around his right side, over his hocks, and back up his left side to the snap and just hold it securely with your right hand. Now pet him and let him know that everything is ok and he’s doing what you want.
Now it's time to begin leading your foal. Have your assistant move to the foal’s hip on the right side, being careful not to get kicked. Now take the slack out of your lead rope, pull it snuggly against the foal’s rear end. We want to make sure that we are NOT pulling on his fragile head and neck, keep all the tension on his behind. Now take a step or two and ask him, gently, to follow you. If he doesn’t step forward, and he probably won’t, have your assistant tap him on his right hip with their hand until he does. The moment he moves forward STOP pulling on the lead rope and tapping him. He will quickly learn that when you apply pressure with the rope and he steps forward that he will be rewarded by you releasing pressure on the rope. It's important to always remember - when working with horses at any stage of training - that horses learn through RELEASE. Your foal will more than likely bound forward after just a few times of asking him to give you a step or two, this is ok because we want him to move forward and follow us, if he gets ahead of you just firmly say WHOA and tug downward on the lead rope. When he stops and settles down, gently pet him and reassure him everything’s fine.
Repeat this lesson, with help from your assistant, until your foal is following you willingly from the pressure of the butt rope, and you no longer need your assistant to encourage him from behind.
After catching your foal with help from your assistant for a few days, and building the bond of trust between you and your foal, catching him without an assistant should become easy. REMEMBER TO NEVER LEAVE A HALTER ON A FOAL WHEN HE IS NOT BEING HANDLED. If your foal is hard to catch keep him and the mare in an enclosure and use the help of an assistant, until he is no longer difficult to catch. You should see the results you want fairly quickly with gentle, consistent daily handling.
Once your foal is leading nicely, you can remove the rope from around his hindquarters and lead him like any horse. A few fun things to do with your foal at this stage are to take him to see new things. Again, find yourself an assistant. Have your assistant lead the mare and you can lead your foal. Follow the mare with the foal, as he will be much more likely to gain his confidence in exploring new places.