I received a message from someone who works at a breeding farm asking what to do with a baby who is less than an angel. The baby became head shy because it had a halter on too long. The reason it had its halter on too long was it was kicking at anyone who would walk up to it.
This is a common problem. I say that horses are stupid a lot of times, but in reality they are really smart. This foal has learned how to train the people around him to not catch him. And with the halter being on too long (and probably too tight), making his head a little sore, the foal had a good reason to not want anyone to catch him.
Before I discuss what I would do with the foal, let’s talk about safety. If you are in an enclosed area with an animal and the animal is not happy with you, you need to protect yourself because anything can happen and probably will. Always use an extension of your arm (and not your hand) to try and touch the animal. I will use a soft rope or a stick. The first thing to remember about this is most horses will be afraid of the rope, or stick, and you will have to start by getting them used to it. The good news is that in the process you will gain trust and respect with the animal.
Let’s think about pressure and release as well. When I work with a horse in a round pen, I use pressure and release to get the horse to move or to look at me. In a round pen it’s pretty simple. Every time the horse turns his butt to you, chase him away by walking toward him. When you back up (release the pressure), he should face you. If he does face you, reward him by backing up more or letting him rest. If he turns his butt, you chase him more or add pressure. Pretty soon the horse will look at you every time you back away or release the pressure.
Now with a foal that is in a stall, this process is more difficult. I am a big fan of trying a few things and seeing what works. I have found in a stall that if you bend down to make yourself lower than the horse, it is the same as releasing the pressure. Again be careful. Another thing I will do is walk into the stall and swing a rope over my head for a couple minutes, and then squat down and see what they do. Add pressure and then release the pressure, and see if they look at you. Remember to pressure him and then release the pressure and see what happens. You will not get a horse to look at you while you are pressuring him.
The key to getting a horse to want to come to you is to get them to look at you first. Pressure when you see their butt, and release the pressure when you get their eyes. Clinton Anderson is great at this. He always starts with getting two eyes.
With a foal I would be very careful to start slow. If you scare the hell out of a young animal that is already scared of something you will most likely set yourself back and not forward. I would even go as far as to use treats with the release or praise of the exercise. Pressure him and then release the pressure; if he looks at you offer him a treat.
I hope this helps. I try to give you theory and reasons of why and how we do what we do when we train horses. I find it helps people understand the process, and when you understand you can read what is happening with each different situation.
Speaking of lessons, I am not able to ride for a few months. I will be traveling around Wisconsin and Minnesota giving lessons in the day, evenings and weekends by appointment. Let me know if you are interested by dropping me a line at email@example.com.