Horsemanship with young horses
From Elite equestrian Nov Dec 2013
la versione italiana
If the relationship with an adult horse is a widely explored territory, when it comes to foals, relating with them is still a wide opened subject. Difficulties are present on both human and equine sides. By choice or circumstance human beings at times have to relate to foals, which are young individuals still in the process of learning how to live and relate to others or objects. Whether a professional or an amateur, a human being often encounters difficulties interacting with a foal because its actions are most of the time unpredictable and uncontainable. Obviously the problem is that the relationship cannot be based on asking for trained behavior as it happens in horsemanship with adult horses.
Some people tried to solve this situation by going to the roots of it, and substituting themselves to the mare in the first moments of life, giving the foal the chance to recognize the human as self. This intrusion often disturbs forever the natural mechanisms of development of the equine individual. I compare this approach to wiring an aircraft carrier with the circuits of a motorboat and pretend that it can serve its purpose.
Human Horse Sensing in cooperation with Rancho de Los Cielos has conducted a program that combined raising foals in a herd and working closely with them from the very early stages, offering to the foal’s owners the possibility of being actively involved in the process. The foals that were enrolled in this program were all born in 2012 and lived together with some broodmares. Some foals were simply living with this herd and not being actively involved in the program because this is what the owners wanted for them, still recognizing the advantage of a life in the herd at an early stage of development.
The work done with a foal starts with a non-forcing and tack free approach. The foals involved in the active program show very quickly an improved behavior compared to what they displayed in the beginning, in terms of respecting the space with human beings and their attitude in the presence of food, both issues are also relevant with horses of any age. Some of the things that the foals involved in the program first learn are how to get groomed, and to trust us when we pick up and clean their hooves without being contained. At the same time they learn to be haltered and lead properly without being forced. Our goal is to raise well balanced horses that will also know how to relate to people from the get go. By bringing their foals to our program owners that choose to participate will get the chance to learn how to approach the young horse and personally start building their relationship. Later, when the horses will be mature enough to start training, they will be directed to their owner’s preferred activities with a head start on horsemanship that will make working with them easier.
Our approach to horsemanship is called Human Horse Sensing, and is based on a direct and spontaneous communication that happens from individual to individual and works only through the natural senses of the horse, without the mediation of trained responses.
Safety is always a main concern, especially when we deal with foals. In order to interact with a horse “off the line” he needs to be interested in the action and not to be afraid of us. If this is not the case, the horse makes it apparent by staying away and we have to reconsider our actions. This kind of approach allows us to understand the mind of the individual horse we are dealing with, and customize our action to be able to communicate with him properly, and to correct his attitude if needed.
Whenever we had the possibility, we started working with the mare and foal pair since birth, interacting with them without constraints, but in a fenced space, big enough that they could safely get away from our vicinity. Our interaction works through space and reciprocal movements. Because of its nature, a horse would only let another trustworthy individual approach. In getting away from another individual when free to express himself, the horse shows his feelings of uncertainty. If the individual they are trying to avoid persists in his approach, the horse is more and more inclined to get away. In this situation most people persist in their approach because they get frustrated for their inability to catch their horse, not understanding that by doing so they are making the problem bigger and more permanent.
When we work with foals and mares, the mother’s presence is key in giving them a clue on how to interact with human beings. Throughout the weaning process we continued to work with the foal without the mare, sometimes staying outside of the fenced area where the foal was until we have a clue that the foal understands the meaning of personal territory and that he knows to stay away from us or to approach us when we give him permission. The very presence of the barrier gives a sense of security to both human and horse, allowing us to stay close to the foal without having to worry about being pushed over and giving the foal the ability to get away from us by simply moving away from the fence. Safety is a very important factor, given that a foal is not easily containable and that it is still learning how to manage its space and express itself with other individuals.
By simply observing horses, anyone can learn that some of its behaviors, like kicking and biting are absolutely normal between horses, but unacceptable if displayed towards a human being. The best way to avoid being the target of those behaviors is to always be aware of the horse’s behavior while in its presence and to interact with him able to move, keeping the horse away from us when it is “misbehaving” and let it only approach if he is acting in an acceptable manner. Using a stick or a whip, and waving it around us, creating an area that we consider our territory, accomplishes keeping horses away. In case we are dealing with a difficult behavior, a fixed barrier, like a fence, allows us to accomplish this task without any doubt even when we are dealing with a foal.
In our experience establishing a harmonious relationship with the foal and its mother has helped the transition through the weaning phase, where the horse will be more in physical contact with human beings than with other horses.
The developmental stage of the life of a horse is fundamental for the part of the horse’s character that is formed through learning by experiencing, and caring about this stage being positive is a sure advantage for both individuals involved in the horsemanship.
In the natural state it is the mother that teaches the foal how to live. She is the first to interact with the newborn, followed by the stallion that often keeps away the other members of the herd, without interacting too closely with the foal. Later it is the foal from the previous year that approaches his mother and the newborn. When the new foal is physically and socially ready to interact with other individuals, the mother let the other foals and adult members of the herd approach.
The base unit of a herd with reproductive purpose is a stallion, some mares and the young horses before they reach maturity. Because of a natural mechanism, when the young horses reach the reproductive age, the lead stallion disperses the colts while the young mares are incorporated in other herds different than the parental one. Sometimes, young horses that break off of their original herds form the “bachelor herds”, groups of horses that are often unstable from the social point of view. The purpose of those groups is survival in the phase of transition from the parental herd to the reproductive unit.
When a horse is born in the domestic state it is still the mother that first interact with the newborn, followed by the farm personnel.
From here and on, the foal’s life is very different than what it would naturally be and the most disturbed factor is definitely the social one. Unfortunately this is a constant fact that will affect the horse for its entire lifetime.
Some breeders aim to keep intact, at least in part, the social aspect of a horse’s life by managing herds in a semi feral state. In this state of management it is possible for the stallion to be within the herd for at least part of the breeding season. The young stock remains with the herd of mares for the first two or three years of their life. The complete structure of the herd makes it possible for the individuals to grow up in a social hierarchy and to learn the meaning of space and how to move relatively to other individuals. After all, body expressions and movements are the base for the natural communication between horses, and this breeding practice allows for the young horses to be raised properly and to develop a balanced personality. Another horse is definitely able to teach a young one how to move correctly and express himself clearly from a natural point of view, while a human being would have some serious problems in this role. It has been observed that in breeding horses in a semi feral state there are great benefits to be gained from introducing foals to the human interaction in the first year of life, and then to release them with the herd and let them grow up. The importance of this time spent with other equine individuals is often overlooked, and this is especially true when people purchase a foal at an early stage. Like it happens with horses of any age and attitude, people tend to loose sight of what is really important for the horse, and instead do what makes the human being who owns the horse feel better. In this instance some people keep foals in enclosures, isolated from other horses, not realizing that by doing so they are taking away from their horse the ability to develop his character, and learn how to move and relate to other individuals.
RANCHO DE LOS CIELOS
Rancho de Los Cielos is a Mangalarga Marchador breeding facility nestled on the hills around Riverside, between organic orange groves and nurseries. Dr Teresa Longo and Jacob Martinez have been breeding Mangalargas for a long time. This is a rare breed of Brazilian horses, middling in size, balanced in build, elegant in carriage, and incredibly hardy and handy. These horses are naturally gaited and also known for their ability to develop a relationship with human beings. In Brazil, given the breed’s versatility and attitude, people ride them for any purpose from working with cattle to dressage.
Human Horse Sensing and Rancho de los Cielos have been cooperating to build awareness for this breed that has so much to offer to the human partner. At the ranch we offer a horsemanship program that covers the entire lifespan of the horse, from the early stages to adulthood, making it possible to learn how to interact with any horse at any developmental stage. www.ranchodeloscielos.com
HUMAN HORSE SENSING
Human Horse Sensing is dedicated to enhance horsemanship potential to support the interaction between human and horse, keeping their wellbeing in mind.
Our method can be taught through private sessions, workshops, online classes and clinics, at our location, or anywhere you desire. You can buy our published book, Human Horse Sensing Horsemanship (Amazon has it), and find videos on Youtube, and bimonthly articles in print or online at EliteEquestrian.us
With Human Horse Sensing solid horsemanship foundation you will have the chance to be successful in any equestrian discipline and to take challenges that you would not imagine being possible even with good traditional training.
With Human Horse Sensing, human being and horse work together freely with or without tack, through how they perceive the situations. Human and horse establish an active and dynamic dialogue, where you and your horse can exchange information or execute without being submissive, and you can become a leader of leaders.