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When a foal resists or struggles, he is responding from fear. If we work with a foal in a way that overcomes that fear and teaches him to stop and think instead of react, we will have a more cooperative partner in that foal, and a much more intelligent and physically and mentally sound adult horse.
Begin in an enclosed area such as a small pen or large stall. If the foal has not been weaned, the mare should be with the foal when you work with him. You may want to have someone hold the mare during the first few sessions.
This 3-week-old colt has never been haltered. Linda begins by stroking him with two wands. The wands serve as extensions of your arms. Ideally, you want the foal to be able to move but not run around. Stroke the foal on the underside of the neck and down the chest a few times with firm strokes, then pause and back off. Soften your posture and angle your body so you are not facing the foal. These "calming signals" help the foal understand you are non-threatening.
Once the foal is comfortable being touched and stroked with the wands, turn one wand around and make small zig-zags and then circles with the button end. Next, slide your hand up the wand and begin touching the foal on his neck and shoulders. It is less threatening to lead with your knuckles as you approach him. Soon you?ll be able to do TTouches all over the body.
The next step is usually the body rope. A rope with a lightweight snap at one end and a metal ring tied about 2 feet into it works very smoothly. Drop the end with the snap over the foal's shoulder and snap it to the ring. You now have a loop around the foal?s neck and can easily slide the rest of the rope around his hindquarters and tie it back to the ring. Here, Linda works back to the tail. Working the extremities helps give the colt a clear sense of self-image and reduce tension in the hindquarters and back.
Linda has made the neck loop of the catch rope bigger so it sits around the base of the foal's neck. She then slides the end of the rope around the hindquarters and ties it back to the ring. Now there is a "figure 8" body rope around the colt. The rope should lie comfortably around the foal's chest and hindquarters so it is just about six inches above the hocks. (You might want to practice this on an older horse first, so you?re not fumbling with the mechanics when working with your foal.)
It should now be easy to lay the catch rope over the foal's neck, close to the head, and snap it under his throat. If you can work the foal's mouth, you can probably just slide the nose loop over the foal?s nose. Make sure not to apply any pressure. It takes two to fight; when there is no pressure, the foal will not resist. When a foal is prepared using the catch rope, haltering takes place without any fuss.
To lead your foal, leave the body rope on, and snap a light lead rope to the side ring of the halter instead of underneath the chin. The lead attached to the side of the halter encourages the foal to come forward without raising his head or pulling back. Notice how the mare has stepped away, which gives her foal a chance to get used to the new feeling of wearing the halter, lead rope and body rope.
When working with a foal, remember that you are setting behaviour patterns and teaching the young horse not only to be haltered and led, but also how to relate to people and how to learn. During all these steps, remember that tension and holding in your body will transfer through to the foal's body. Are you holding your breath or tight through the back or shoulders? Take a breath, exhale and soften your body.
You may find that the order in which you do these steps varies with each foal. Be open that if one part of the approach is not working, you have several choices. By using this method, we prepare the foal to realize that humans are trustworthy.
Linda Tellington-Jones? hints for this early lesson are outlined by Robin Hood
Excerpted with permission by Linda Tellington-Jones from TTEAM Connections newsletter © January-March 2006
Linda Tellington-Jones- renowned TTouch approach gives youngsters confidence and trust in their handlers For more information on TTEAM and TTouch, visit www.TTouch.com