Cool like Brother

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.

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well handled baby stallions grow up into well behaved adult stallions (Cielo B as a yearling)

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.

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This one was a TB but never made it to the track… he was not as easy.

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.

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In case you were wondering, donkey ears ARE genetic

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.

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don’t worry, he’s still very good at biting his friends

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.

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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.

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He’ll definitely be as cheeky as Henry is, at least. That’s one quality I seem to be very good at cultivating.

23 thoughts on “Cool like Brother

  1. Any recommendations for books/reading for raising a foal? We’re considering breeding my mare this spring, and though I’ll be consulting my trainer I want to read up as much as I can since the foal will be at our home stable until it’s ready to be broke!

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  2. I’m of the opinion that babies should be given as much exposure as possible, and should learn how to behave as soon as possible. Horses are full faculty learners at birth and should be treated as such. But keep the work focused on the brain, and leave the body to develop. I hate seeing two year olds in full training and really wish futurities weren’t a thing. I also wish they wouldn’t race as early as they do.

    In my opinion, which is worth bupkis, you’re doing the right stuff with Presto. Exposing him to new things and challenging his brain, but not drilling his body. It’s a real treat to see him grow up and it looks like he’ll be a really honest and reliable horse.

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  3. I love following along on your journey with Presto, and I will totally admit to stealing ideas from you on stuff to work on with my filly that’s the same age. Since this is my first young horse to raise myself, I am a bit terrified of messing something up and ending up with a complete brat, or a horse that I’m not able to handle as she gets older/stronger. However, I tried to set myself up for success by getting a breed that is typically a bit more easygoing temperament wise, and buying a foal from a university program that I was a part of in college. I know they put an excellent start on the foals. So far things seem to be working out well, but I’m sure I’ll find some holes in her training as she continues to progress. Fortunately I’m not too stubborn to ask for help if I need it, so hopefully she’ll turn out to be a solid equine citizen.

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  4. blah. May came to me with the worse ground manners. She would chuck her shoulder into you and GO wherever she wanted to. She broke a pair of cross ties the first week I had her. Why? Because they were feeding dinner. She SAT DOWN and snapped them, and stood right back up.

    Now? I can take her to a show and she stands and sleeps tied to the trailer.

    Point of all this? Ground manners are the #1 important thing for me. I want ANYONE to be able to handle my horses… no matter the situation or the experience level of the person. Things happen. They need to be reliable.

    I showed welsh ponies as a junior and saw a lot of baby classes. Without a doubt, the babies that had exposure and training when they were younger were easier to ride and were better behaved at shows. That was just “life” to them. So I am supportive of exposing Presto to stuff… I think it would be a lot less fair for him to turn 6 and all of a sudden “life” is 100% different from anything he had ever known.

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  5. Hm, I don´t see how anyone would think you´re doing too much with Presto….he would be bored sily if you didn´t give him something to do, to think about, a few times a week…the donkeys are probably thanking you for working with him.
    I think it´s great that your horses are cheeky.
    They don´t overstep the borders, Henry knows very well what he can get away with and it seems Presto is catching on very quickly as well. I much prefer horses with alLittle character to the ones who are always so well-behaved they might as well be robots. Just a personal preference.
    Plus, it is *that* much more fun to read you blog and ig with all the antics your guys get up to.

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  6. Whenever you post about Presto, I see a very happy, healthy colt. So you’re doing something right for sure! I think you’re right, it really depends on the individual horse what he or she may need.
    That’s the tough thing with the internet… So many people who think they know it all and that’s it’s ok to tell everyone in the world how to do things. Keep doing you. Things are clearly working!

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  7. That difference in innate personality vs handling and how the two play together is SO FASCINATING. Frankie isn’t particularly cunning and by all accounts was barely handled until he was 6, but his personality and the quality of the handling after that made a very confident, people-oriented horse. Like you said, there’s a million ways to do everything, and different methods will work better or worse for different horses. Kudos to the people that recognize and act on that.

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  8. I saw your video picking his feet on FB and it made me scratch my head. I think I’ve been picking feet out wrong my entire life. That is a skill I’m going to work on with mine. I wish I could go back in time and kick H’Appy’s owner’s butt a bit. From how he acts, he was treated like a big dog and that doesn’t fly with me. Having to go back and correct him now at 7 is a big pain.

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  9. Apologies for my long winded response here 🙂
    I’ve taken a very similar approach with my 3.5 year old, Piper. Experience that will challenge her brain and make her a good equine citizen, without over exerting her body. I ride her older half sister Gia who by no fault of her own just a high volume of horses in our barn at the time, didn’t have nearly as much consistent attention until she became my project around age 3.
    Their innate personalities definitely have some differences (their dams are both OTTB event horses but have very different personalities), Piper is both naturally more confident and quiet, but also with more consistent handling is doing great at looking to me for the answers and thinking through situations. She is so easy about the vast majority of things (but is still a character), and is a joy to work with. She has generally been very easy to start under saddle as well.
    Gia is also a joy to work with most of the time and is the most talented horse I’ve ever sat on, but because of her lack of exposure it’s taken a long time to have her be confident hacking and conditioning, and she’s still always going to have a good spook in her. Luckily, she is very comfortable and a natural in the show ring and on cross country-somehow jumps are typically not scary. She also has some separation anxiety that I think is both nature and nuture induced.
    Piper has just started trail riding a bit and has taken to it like a fish to water and is incredibly confident. I have spent lots of hours ponying her off of Gia which I think has helped both of them immensely.
    Also-frankly I find working with young horses incredibly fun and rewarding, especially with Piper’s brain, so I consistently spend that time with her because I love it. She is just fun and I know I’m setting myself up to hopefully have an easy transition to her showing whenever she tells me she’s ready for it.
    I love watching what you’re doing with Presto-I cannot wait to see how it pays off in the coming years!

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  10. I think as long as you take into consideration the physical limitations of young and growing horses along with their short attentions spans you really can’t “over handle” them. You can over work them, or over-face them sure. But over expose or over handle? Nahhhh. 🙂 I think it is fine to let em sit too, but it never hurts to get a jump on learning how to be a good equine citizen.

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  11. Props to you for handling your horse now before he’s the full-blown giant he’s going to be! I made extra money in college taking horses in to break or tune. I sent home more than one before their time was over because they had sat in a pasture and “been horses” until they were five or six and thus had no work ethic and no ground manners. It wasn’t worth it when I could get on horses fresh off the track that were well-mannered, easier to live with, and ready to work for a living. I love the babies – they’re living, breathing, knowledge sponges.

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  12. Philosophically speaking, I think there’s risks either way, but only one set of risks is able to be managed.

    Leaving them alone if fine, so long as they don’t have an experience that ‘moulds’ a behaviour that we don’t want – eg caught in a fence and panic. Working with horses all the way through opens them up to human error – they learn bad stuff from not being handled well. But that is totally within our control, and means we as young horse owners need to make sure we have prepared a young horse to react the ‘right’ way to experiences they may have. Thus, you can leave educating to roller and saddle til they are ready to be broken in if you want, as they are unlikely to have a bad ‘belly band’ experience in the paddock. The flip side is it doesn’t matter how early you do roller/saddle stuff so long as it’s done right. But leading and tying and travelling? Don’t do that early and you’re risking a bad imprint the first time you need to urgently take the youngster to the vet and the horse learns to associate those things with bad stuff happening to them.

    TLDR; teach them the right way before they learn the wrong way for themselves. Timeframe irrelevant but as long as it’s taught before it happens outside a controlled situation. There is no downside to early education if that education is done right.

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  13. I think Bast is a good example of why these lessons are important when the horse is young. Some basic lessons seem to be missing with him (like giving to pressure). I’ve taught those lessons, but it’s a lot scarier and more dangerous to teach a muscled adult horse that fighting his tie gets him nowhere. There are so many lessons that should be taught when the horse is small enough to learn without reacting poorly and hurting himself (or running his dumb ass through a fence).

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    1. Also, teaching and building that relationship is key. That’s a thing I feel like many OTTB’s don’t necessarily learn. I’m talking the trust in the handler that results in a horse looking to the human to help guide in difficult situations. It’s so important for a sport horse.

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      1. IME it depends on what their experiences have been at the track. I’ve had some that were super human-oriented any time they got worried, and others that were definitely mistrustful. You can always tell which ones were in good barns and which ones weren’t.

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  14. Three cheers for teaching valuable life lessons and how-to-be-a-good-citizen as a youngster! Griffin is the most fun to ride and work with thanks to all the work I did with him when he was young.

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  15. Watching you raise Presto gives me lots of ideas of things I want to do for my next horse. You aren’t physically challenging him past what his baby body can handle but his mind and manners are really going to benefit him later. Plus, horses are herd animals. You’re part of his herd and he likes spending time with you. You did look for a pasture to throw him in for a year but couldn’t find one, if I remember correctly. I think you are doing a great job with the situation you have. (Not that you need my validation. XD)

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