Monday, December 29, 2008

starting a young horse part 4

While I don't claim to know all there is to know about round pen techniques, I do want to share with you an experience I had with doing round pen work.

We had a man drive into our farm with a trailer and on it was a beautiful black and white spotted stallion. This stallion had been raised to the age of 3 years without ever being touched by a human. The man had herded the horse into a stall, backed the trailer up to the stall and made the horse jump into the trailer, and then brought it to our farm.

We had the man back the trailer up to our round pen and unload the horse. For awhile I just stood and observed the stallion and thought, "what did I get myself into". I had wanted to start a horse with this type of back ground just to see how far I could get with him, but this seemed to be a huge project. The horse did not seem to be afraid of me, and being a stallion I did not expect him to be, so this was a plus on my part, but being a stallion I knew I would not have the attention span I was hoping to get from him either. I had to meet him in the middle and at least be able to obtain his respect, by giving him mine. How was I going to go about doing this?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

starting a young horse part 3

I am not going into the business of teaching round pen techniques. There are far more qualified teachers on this subject than me out there and I suggest you visit their web sites or attend their clinics, and buy their tapes. The round pen is by far the best teaching tool you will arm yourself with, so educate yourself on the technique.

The Mountain horses are easy to work with so yes, you can have someone hold the horse the first time you mount, turn you loose and the biggest part of the time, they will just walk off, but the horse will not know anything. It will be like trying to drive a car with a 6 inch steering wheel! You want the horse to know how to go forward, back, and yield to pressure by moving the back end and the front on command. There is no need to spend the time working with the horse from his back when all of this can be taught from the ground in a much safer situation. As I have said before, the time you spend with your horse is always teaching. You want to always be the teacher! I even tell the grooms that work here, "I want the horse to always behave, even if they are only coming from the stall to the cross ties and back." I want to always see them lead with a halter AND a lead. When they are put in the cross tie, I want them lead in and pressure applied to move the back end over, rather than just pulling their head around to their butt until they have to move it. This will only reinforce the things you have taught from the beginning, and will make your ques (once you get on the horse) easy for the horse to read.

Learn the round pen techniques, because you will be mounting your horse in just a few days, and this will be a tool you will use frequently throughout your relationship with your horse.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Starting a Young Horse Part 2

We have our horse moving around the round pen in the direction we asked for, now we want to change direction. How? I am going to tell you how I would do this by using the stick. Say we are moving clockwise. We have our right arm out (like we are directing traffic) pointing to the right..we have the stick in the left hand and have it toward the back end of the horse....keep your eye on the shoulder of the horse. If we get too far in front of the horse, it will make him stop and turn...if we focus too far toward the rear of the horse, it will get too far ahead of us and not be able to focus on us. The horse is moving and we are moving along with the bring your hands in toward your body...bow your head slightly and step back about three steps. This will have the look of you drawing the horse into you. As the horse turns toward you (because he will also feel the draw) switch hands...point toward the left with your left hand and with the stick in the right send the horse back out on the rail. This all needs to be done with very fluid motion. Practice the movement when you are not working with the horse. It will almost make you feel as if you are dancing a ballet :o) well sort of...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Starting a Young Horse Part 1

Some people start their horses as 2 year olds. Some people think they are not ready for this kind of strain on the body and mind and wait until they are three. There are pros and cons to both sides of this idea, and I will leave that up to you. If you have done the ground work that we have talked about in the previous sessions then you can continue this until you think your horse is ready for the saddle. If you have not had the opportunity to work with your horse from a foal on up, all is not lost. I would suggest you start by putting your horse in the round pen and starting from square one. I have seen (as I am sure many of you have), clinicians start working a totally untouched horse, such as the wild mustang in the round pen and start riding it in a couple of hours. While this is impressive and fun to watch, it is a lot of work and the horse is really getting a crash course. Most people are not able start a horse like this, so we will start working a little bit slower.

The first thing we want is for the horse to move forward. You may laugh at this, but it happens quite often and it is one of the hardest things to work with. The horse for some reason just stands there and will not move. After you have turned your horse loose in the round pen, move to the center of the ring and ask your horse to move forward. Throw your rope (if you perfer the John Lyons method) or use your stick if you are using the Parelli method. If you are lucky your horse will start moving around the round pen. We want him/her at this time to move in the same direction. If they stop and change without you asking, then you will want to stop them and send them back out in the direction you asked for. After you are comfortable with the fact that the horse is moving in the direction you asked and only when you asked, then ask the horse to change directions. How do I do that you ask? Stop by tomorrow, we will talk about that.


Yearlings are just as fun as the weanlings and you will really enjoy seeing how quickly they will learn. The yearlings are very proud of their independence and really show nicely. The only problem I have had is about the time the World Show and International Shows are scheduled is about the time the colts are realizing they are "pre-stallions" :o). Now is the time all that ground work will pay off. Attention spans are a little smaller for the colts, but if they have been taught right.. from the beginning they will hit that show ring like they own it and you will love "showing off" the new up and coming breeding stallions.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

part 6 training your foal

Patience and Persistence, I can not say this enough when you are working with your foal. Remember...they are babies! The first thing a foal will learn is flight. This is really their only source of defense. Even though our foals are not endangered in anyway by predators, it seems the mothers know the foal still needs to learn this defense. When foaling season is in full swing and we are expecting 10 babies in one month, the first thing we do in the morning is look out the window into the "maternity ward" to see if any new foals have come in the night. One sure thing that will tell us there is a new one born, is the mares will be running around the field. We think the other mother-to-bes want to see the new baby and the new mom is just not willing to let that happen yet. However, I also think it is instinct to get that baby up as soon as possible and get it moving. With all the "new and improved" monitoring of foaling that so many people do to avoid all the calamities that we can, it is comforting to know that a horse still knows how to be a horse.

O.K. back to where I started, patience and persistence. This is what it takes to work with a horse, particularly a foal. For a long time all they can think of is getting back to mom and if you restrain the foal from flight, then they are going to give you all the "fight" that they can. This by no means is an act of aggression but done out of fear only. I will stress again... do not try to "out pull" the foal (you will not win) and you will cause a lot of physical damage if you are not careful. However, you will not want to let the foal get away from you. You don't want the foal to learn that all he has to do is pull on the lead and he can get away. A couple of times doing that and you will have some real trouble on your hands. I suggest you keep the foal in a closed area such as a round pen until they learn to lead without really getting away from you. This way you can give them some line, but you always have contact. You usually do not have any problem with foals that you have worked with from day one, but if you are starting a foal that is a couple of months old they can be pretty big and strong. Keep safety first always stay to the side of the foal/horse. Don't let them get ahead of you or behind you. Both can be dangerous places to be.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

part 5 of Starting Your Foal

Someone ask that I touch on the training of teaching a foal to load in a trailer. We love to watch Larry work with the little ones. He is very patient and animated in his training. He walks them around and talks with them and sympathizes with them. He says they (Larry and the foal) are constantly looking for the foal's mother, and he is helping them. He takes them over the bridge and over the logs, around the barn and through it. All the time he is asking them, is momma in here, or is momma over there?" What he really is doing is making a game out of it. By talking to them he is constantly reassuring them that if they keep looking they will eventually "find" momma, and they always do. So, up on the trailers they go, looking around in different places. Why would a trailer be any different than looking in a stall, or crossing the logs? After they have gotten comfortable with being on the trailer, he will take them for a short ride and then always back to momma. Never tie your foal up in a trailer. Allow them to find their balance in the trailer without having to deal with ropes/cross ties. This even goes for yearlings. We never tie our horses in the trailer until they are totally comfortable with crosstieing, and being away from the mother and other horses.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Winter on the Farm

You really have to love your horses to go out in the winter weather to take care of them. They are totally dependant on you so don't forget them. I could not believe how the snow hit us last night! We went to bed thinking all would be fair today and then boom, all this wet, cold snow was on us. Like I tell everyone, when I am asked if Kentucky gets much snow, I say, " yea, but it is usually gone by noon", and so it goes the same for today. It was pretty while it lasted, but I am not a winter person, so all I want to do is go home and get back in bed. I really don't care how pretty it is! I hate being cold, I hate the mud, and I miss the sun! I did get a chance to take a few pictures of horses outside running and playing, (like the one on the front page of our website).

Make sure your horses have plenty of hay (that will generate body heat) and plenty of water, and then go home, turn on some nice music, make a fire and curl up with a good book. Yea, right!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Part 4 of Starting Your Foal

After a few days, the foal and the mare will get used to you coming and removing the foal for a few minutes and seem to actually look forward to being with you and the mare seems to like the "baby sitting service". This is a step we also use in weaning our foals. Each day we remove the foal for longer periods of time letting them go back and nurse three times a day and spending the night with the moms but staying in a paddock or stall with other piers when they are not with the mom. When we finally decide to keep the foal away permanently then it is usually a piece of cake, they are used to being away, and used to eating on their own.

If we are going to show a foal, we continue their training through show season. We consentrate more on getting them to lead (staying in step) and standing still while people walk around them and even touch them. We enforce them to do this by asking them to do it for longer periods of time each day and rewarding them by moving on to something more "fun" when they do it until we ask them to move on. We always give the foal a seperate signal to move on from the "show stance" than we would by just pulling on them. Pulling on them would be to tell them to "park" so you would not want to use that signal or they would just keep parking further and further. I have had people try to lead our babies by standing in front of them and pulling and they will not respond, but just stand still. When I tell them to go the foal/horse's side and ask them to move forward then they step right off. Everyday, no matter what you are doing with your horse or foal you are training. Good or bad it is training.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Part 3 of Starting Your Foal

How do I remove the foal from the mare without the mare or foal going crazy on me? That question is asked very often, so I will let you know how we start doing this. In the beginning, after we get a halter on the foal someone will lead the mare and someone will lead the foal. Basically, the foal is just following the mother and we are just following the mare, along side the foal. You need to stay in step with the foal, walking along side of his/her shoulder. This is the safest place for you, and should be a consistant part of the foals training. Always keep the foal between you and the mare. The mare will not kick her baby, but you are fair game. After we have done this for a few days and we have gotten the mare and foal accustomed to us, we will confine the mare in a stall or paddock that is safe and one that she is not able to push her way through. We walk the foal far enough away that she will not be able to hear the foal call for her. This is a good time to give the mare some hay to keep her busy while we are gone. If you will loop a long lead rope around the rump of the foal, it will give you a little more leverage to urge the foal forward. When you pull on the halter and get resistance you will also be able to pull the "rump rope" and this will give her a nudge to move forward.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Part 2 of Starting Your Foal

O.K., we talked about getting our new babies started in a halter and for how long. Most of the foals will only be handled 8-10 days until the mare/mom is starting to come back into her foal heat. They will then be moved to the pasture with the stallion we intend to breed her to. Since we breed most of our mares by putting them in the field with the stallion this makes things a lot easier on our part by using a lot less man power. Our stallions have always been very considerate of the foals and we have never had any problems by doing this. After the mare is confirmed in foal, usually a couple of months later...we will then move them to a field where the confirmed mares and babies will be kept until time to deliver. The foals that we think will do well in the show ring will then start their training again. We will teach them to lead from both sides, reinforce the obstacles and teach them to stand still in order to be judged. They will slowly become introduced to the cross ties area, water for baths, and standing still for the farrier. Never cross tie a foal. The one thing I will caution you about is to never try to out pull a foal or confine them to where they feel they have no way out. Nobody wins by doing this. I have heard of foals rearing and falling over backwards and causing permanent and even fatal injuries. You will really enjoy working with your new foal and spending about 30 minutes a day with them. If you live on a road that you feel safe walking on, take a trash bag and pick up the garbage on the way, this introduces something new to the foal and makes you feel really productive too.

How do you separate the mare and foal while you do the foals training you ask? Stop by tomorrow and we will cover that.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Starting Your Foals

Here at Van Bert Farms, we start working with our foals the day they are born. We have a nice pasture we have dubbed as "our maternity ward". We are able to watch the mares from the barn and each of our houses. The mares that are within 45 days of delivery will go into this field. After the mare has her baby, and after the mare has had time to bond with the baby, we catch her and the foal. We iodine the foals navel, and worm the mare with ivermectin. This gives us the opportunity to "handle" the baby, picking up the feet, and rubbing all over the body. Mare and baby are then moved to the "nursery". There the babies are handled every day for about 9 to 10 days. We start for short periods of time (5 minutes) and moving up to about 15 minutes. We introduce the foals to a halter, but we never leave a halter on the foal. I will give you some ideas on the things we introduce to our foals and how we teach these things on a different day.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

December 2, 2008

Welcome and thank you for visiting our blog. This is a first for us, and we are so excited over another form of communication and camaraderie between Mountain Horse enthusiast. Many of you know us here at Van Bert Farms, but for those who don't please read our introduction and know that even though we have been in the business of raising horses since 1965, we realize there is always something new to learn. We will bring to you news from our farm, other farms and other Mountain horse enthusiast. We are asked many questions about training, breeding, and other horse related topics through email, but we have not been able to get the news out to everyone that is interested this way. We want to reach as many people as possible and that is why we are excited about starting this blog. So many of your questions are very interesting and we believe that many people will be interested in the answers we have for you and the interesting thread of conversation this will bring. Please feel free to "ask a trainer" questions. I will be starting this blog with ways that we start our horses and will be including pictures. Some will be used as a learning/teaching tool and some will be for the beauty of the horse. Enjoy!
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