If you want a relationship with your animal you have to address the problem of approachability. One of the best ways to achieve it, is to have patience and devote the time. An old ‘horsey’ saying is, ‘never put a novice owner with a novice horse’, however it all depends on the willingness of the novice owner to accept help and guidance and in my experience, it can work.
Young horses have a very poor attention span and can only be ‘worked’ for short periods of time. This includes both physical and mental training time. You must never loose your temper as frustrating as it can be. Learning can be a very complicated thing for a young horse. Everything you do must be exaggerated and all signals clearly given. It’s a good idea to get verbal commands established as early as possible. Use them in every day tasks whilst handling.
When entering a young horse’s stable, remember where their eyes are situated. Horses, although having increased fields of vision over man, cannot see directly behind them. Make sure you talk to him/her to reassure them as you enter the stable. Being scared to death by a jittery horse first thing in the morning accompanied by flying feet are not recommended! This will upset both you and the horse and will require a period of time to recover. Settling time for your horse may be needed, and usually a coffee and short break for the owner dissipates the adrenaline! Near misses, or should I say near hits! have caused me to literally shake for minutes afterward. Remember that most young horses will also lie down during the night, but they are capable of sleeping standing up. Approach them with caution, talking softly as you go.
Make it a part of your daily routine to run your hands all over your youngster; they are born not knowing about touch, this is something they have to learn. Do not be surprised if they don’t take to kindly steel bite pro to it in the early stages. This is where your voice is one of the best tools of the trade. Speak quietly, emphasis how good they are verbally and become your own horse whisperer! Try not to give titbits from the hand, as a youngster will see this as a food supply, and will be anxious to nibble at every opportunity. Bites hurt, and body/leg contact is painful too. Those legs are built from mostly bone and tendon and in the eagerness to obtain food, the slightest knock from even a young horse on the shin can render you incapacitated for a good few minutes. Be aware! always feed from the floor, that’s where the pasture normally lives!
Young horses will go through a period of nibbling & biting, this will sometimes coincide with teething, A sharp verbal “NO” should be used if this happens. If the animal insists on biting, you should ‘smack,’ usually a gentle tap, under the bottom jaw, do not do so to the side of the face as this will make the animal “head shy” and will cause you problems later on. Personally, I prefer the “NO” with a slightly raised voice and a stamp on the floor as the animal goes to bite. Horses naturally stamp the ground in nature to convey disagreement. This biting phase is one that they will quickly grow out of, so patience again, is the key to success.
When you are leading your youngster, always try to have a loose lead rein. Your horse will become dependent on you, if you’re constantly ‘hanging off his head’. Show him that it’s OK for him to walk under his own speed. This is where voice commands can be taught, ‘Walk on’, ‘Whoa’, ‘Stand’ are common. The more you use them, the quicker your horse will associate the command to the behaviour. Once again, a kind encouraging voice should become a habit for you too. Never make harsh or loud commands at this stage (not until later on anyway!). Allowances must be made for the age of the animal. Young horses never seem to know where their feet are. I always think they would make great break dancers, so always wear a good pair of steel toed boots if possible, you will get trodden on at some point, so please accept it and protect yourself. Riding hats also. You only have one head!
You will need to teach your youngster how to pick his feet up, I know they do this naturally but they will also have to learn how to do it on command. Stand at the horses shoulder facing the tail, gently slide your hand down the front leg to the fetlock joint and squeeze and pull upwards, putting a little pressure behind the knee with your elbow. With larger horses you may also need to apply a ‘lean’ with your hips to take pressure off the leg your trying to pick up. Pressure will be needed. The first few times your youngster will do everything in his power to make you let go. Try not to. If you do have to let go, do the process again, you want him to accept the fact that you have his foot in the air. Cradle the hoof with your left hand, if your right handed, and pick his feet out with a ‘hoof pick’. The rear legs hold a little more danger, and you will feel like you’re on the end of a short bungy rope the first few times you attempt it! Always try to stand as close as possible to the horses leg, there is less distance for the momentum to build if he does try to kick you, and he probably will. Again, use the soft tones of your voice to calm him (even though you will probably want to scream at the top of your lungs!). This should be done every single day, sometimes before turning them out and definitely when you fetch them in from the field. This is essential as you will be able to remove stones, thorns, etc. that he/she may have picked up. This is also good training for when the farrier comes to trim his feet, you don’t want the reputation of having a horse without any basic manners. Personally I would not put shoes on a young horse until he is about 4-5 years old. This enables their feet to develop & grow naturally. Your farrier will advise you on this.
There will be days when you think that nothing seems to be going to plan. That the ten steps forward you have achieved seem to have high tailed it out the back door. Don’t give up. It’s the ‘learning curve’, we all have them, animals and humans alike. Some horses learn quickly, others seem to take an age, “it is just one of those things”.