When he accepts your presence and your touch, you can slowly start to rub him somewhere he likes. He is likely to enjoy his wither or under his neck to be scratched. Don’t try to approach his head until he is confident. Often it works best to approach him from behind and to the side. If you are using the Jeﬀrey method, you approach until he shows signs of discomfort, his head comes right up on alert, he looks like he is ready to move away, then you back oﬀ just a fraction to where he is comfortable, then approach again. Another diﬀerent approach is to approach him until he stops, and then reward him by moving away. Release the pressure (move away) when he does what you want (stops). This can work really well too. I prefer the first way, as you won’t find yourself chasing a foal. I don’t want him to have the feeling I am chasing him like a predator. I want him to feel that I am noticing what he is communicating to me and that I will respond to it. In this early stage don’t be greedy and try to catch him, unless you have to for veterinary attention.
If you do need to catch him try to do it in a way that he puts his head in the halter out of curiosity, not you lunging at him. Let him smell it first then remove it. Then oﬀer it again. It can also be friendlier to let him get used to the halter across his back first and then do the neck strap up before you put the buckle across his nose. We have a specially made neck strap in foal size and we can use this instead of a halter for a timid foal. You must be especially careful when handling a foal’s head that you don’t ask too much and frighten them.
Just as you do the groundwork with an older horse teaching yield the quarters and yield the shoulder, forwards and backwards, you can teach all this to a young foal even before you put the halter on him. Already think about the quality of relaxation and suppleness rather than just obedience to the pressure. Don’t force him or frighten him to yield to pressure. Just press on him. Be patient and reward even a little movement in the direction you want. When you ask him to go backwards out of your space, put pressure on his chest. Do not put pressure on his head. You can pinch the muscle under his neck down near the shoulder to get him to move backwards.
When he will accept a halter, you can start by getting him soft and bending his head around to you. When he does this softly you can push the quarters across. Voila! The turn on the forehand that you want later on.
We teach our foals to lead when they are at least a couple of months old by tying them to a roller on their mothers first. An inner tyre tube around her neck and attached to a roller ensures the roller won’t move. A neck strap on the foal helps prevent injuries. A quick release knot is essential, as is a safe place like a round yard or stall. Tie him up to her fairly short. He may fight the restriction, but he will naturally seek his mother’s contact when he is frightened or stressed so he will fairly quickly want to jump towards her. When he jumps towards her, that pressure is instantly released… so, a double reward. In no time he will allow himself to be led around by her. He will also have learned to tie up. And you as the human have not been the direct cause of his discomfort. Nor have you risked rope burn or him learning that he can escape. A couple of lessons like this and he is ready to be led by a person.
A reluctant foal may still benefit from a rope around his rump as well, to minimise the pressure on his head. Always be quick to release the pressure on the rope as soon as he goes forwards. Remember, it is release of pressure that teaches the lesson. I like a foal to learn these things as soon as I think they are strong enough to cope. A larger horse can easily injure himself learning to be tied up, so teach them when they are small and less likely to hurt themselves. Also, one never knows when injury or illness will occur. It’s best to teach them some of these things in case of emergency. It adds greatly to an injured foal’s distress if he is coping with injury and learning how to yield to pressure at the same time.
Enjoy your foal and have fun with them, but don’t let them learn potentially dangerous things like that they can play rough games with you or push into your space. Don’t reprimand a foal by hitting it, especial near his head. Push him away by pushing his shoulder or that muscle under his neck.
Use your voice and your posture to let him know that it is not okay to nip or push you around. Later on, you can introduce him to obstacles or things like umbrellas by hiding treats in them to encourage him to explore unfamiliar things. EQ