Throughout the course of my life I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with a variety of different horses. They have represented a wide range of ages, backgrounds, disciplines, and general temperaments. My time working at a breeding farm, and raising my own foal, showed me just how important it can be to get the manners installed early. All the OTTB’s I’ve owned have demonstrated how useful a lot of exposure and handling can be later on down the line. Others have shown me just how much the horse’s natural temperament can come into play, and how much it can be improved upon with proper guidance.
Henry, while no doubt one of the weirdest and cheekiest horses I have ever met in my entire life, is pretty excellent on the ground. He’s reliable, and he’s smart, and for the most part he can be trusted not to be a moron in a bad situation – if he does anything “naughty” it’s usually completely deliberate on his part (see earlier remark about cheeky). He’s good for the vet, he’s good for the farrier, he comes up to you in the field, he ties like a champ, and he self-loads. He’s an easy horse to own, and I want all of my future horses to be like him.
Most of the horses I’ve had that have been on the track or in race training for any decent amount of time have been similar to Henry. Some more nervous than him just in general, or some with particular issues (generally caused by a person’s stupidity or temper), but overall they’ve been exposed to a lot and been handled extensively.
Presto’s dam Sadie was the first foal I raised on my own, from birth all the way up. Working at a breeding farm meant that I was familiar with handling foals, but most of them ended up sold before they were actual adult horses, being ridden and shown. I had never been there every step of the way before. Because of that, a lot of Sadie’s life was a little bit of trial and error on my part. There are the people who say to leave the young horses in a field with other horses and leave them alone until they’re 3 or 4. There are the people who extensively handle and show their horses, going somewhere every weekend and racking up points and miles. I kind of took the in between approach, leaning more toward the “leave her alone” side of things. She wore tack a few times, she knew the basic idea of how to lunge, and she mostly tied, and she kind of loaded (ish). I did something with her somewhere between every 2-4 weeks, although usually it was just grooming. I didn’t take her places or tie her much, or make an effort to expose her to a lot of things. I figured we could do all that stuff later.
What I didn’t take into account with Sadie was her general temperament. She was a busy-minded horse, smart almost to a fault, and with her, inactivity led to bad things. She got herself into trouble a lot, and had the staples, stitches, and scars to prove it. She also didn’t know how to properly respond to pressure, and had a tendency to panic when she felt stuck.
I came to realize that I had done her a disservice by not taking her temperament into account. I absolutely should have done more with her, kept her brain engaged, and done a better job of teaching her how to respond in situations where she was unsure or felt trapped. Some baby horses do just fine with the “less is more” approach. She was not one of them. She wasn’t difficult, she just needed more guidance from me than what I gave her.
It’s not a mistake that I’m going to repeat with Presto. Some people think that I do too much with him, mess with him too much, and should leave him alone to just be a horse. I would argue that he has 24 hours a day to be a horse, so spending 30 minutes a few times a week learning to be a good citizen is not exactly infringing on his social development.
I’m lucky that Presto’s natural temperament is much like his mother in that he’s naturally pretty easy, he’s smart, and his lessons stick. Since the day he got here I’ve been teaching him how to properly handle pressure and how to think instead of react. It is 100% a quality that you can teach, and I try to always be aware of what he’s thinking and doing so that I’m molding his brain properly. As a result, he’s a much more confident horse at this age than his mother was.
I go out of my way to put him in situations where I think he might be concerned or confused…. not unsafe, but mentally challenging. Each new experience builds his confidence, every time he doesn’t get his way builds his character, and every time he looks to me with a question mark in his mind and I provide him with an answer, it solidifies our relationship more. This doesn’t mean I baby him, because I definitely don’t. His lines for acceptable behavior are very black and white. But training horses is a constant series of praise and corrections, and in order to make said corrections, I have to put him in situations where he doesn’t know the answer. It starts here on the ground, but the same type of thing will continue once he’s under saddle.
Henry is a pretty easy horse because he’s confident in himself and he trusts people 100%… I want Presto to be the same. I want him to feel comfortable in his surroundings, no matter what’s happening, I want him to trust that I’m “safe harbor”, and I want him to look to me for guidance if he’s unsure. He only learns those things through experience. Whether it’s something big like standing tied by himself while I ride Henry in the next pasture, or something small like learning how to pick up his feet all from one side, I think that all of these things put together help make him into the horse I want him to be.
Having a big brother like Henry means that Presto has some pretty big shoes to fill. But having both horses together, and being able to directly compare the things Henry does to the things Presto does… it’s a big advantage for me, I think, if I use the opportunity to it’s fullest. Also having made the mistakes I did with Sadie definitely showed me that there is no such thing as one right way – just that I need to do what’s best for me, and take the horse’s temperament into consideration. They’re the ones that should guide my decisions, not anyone else.
Raising Presto in such a public way does leave me open to a lot of opinions, but if anything it’s really just shown me how important it is to go with my gut. He’s my horse, and I know him best, and I also know what’s best for me in my own situation. That’s a big part of blogging and having horses in general, really… considering the opinions and ultimately doing what you feel is best.
Time will tell how all of this works out. Presto already comes up to me in the field, he ties pretty well, he stands for the farrier, he self loads, and he uses his brain pretty admirably for an idiot baby colt. I’m happy with what I have, mostly because I see a horse that is happy in his education and knows what is expected of him. Will he be as good as Henry? Who knows.
He’ll definitely be as cheeky as Henry is, at least. That’s one quality I seem to be very good at cultivating.