Horsin’ Around 6-1-09
Fort Collins, Colo.
The other day a friend of mine asked if I would come out to look at a young gelding they had bought. He was having trouble with the gelding, but his wife was getting along fine. (Besides, his wife told me she would fix dinner if I would come.) My friend caught him and led him to the round pen. I could tell the horse led well and followed well, but once in the round pen the horse went wild, running around the pen as if something was after him.
I stepped into the pen and tried to get him to take interest in me, but to no avail. Most of the time young colts like this one are imprinted with lasting impressions in the way they are handled at first. I was told that the youngster grew up on the range in Montana and the only times he was handled was to be run in and branded. Then the next time he was run in and haltered then shipped to the sale barn. Now he was two and scared to death of a man.
So I took my eyes off of him and squatted down in the pen. I could tell from the corner of my eye that he wanted to hook up with me because his ear kept pointing to me. I just stayed there, and let him make the decision. After a while he slowed and then walked up to me from behind. I slowly rose to my feet without looking at him and reached a hand around to touch him. He moved off a little way but did not run.
Then I reached out a hand, and let him smell. Slowly moving up to him and rubbing my hand over his head and neck. Then back along his back and over his hips. But when I tried to move to the other side, he moved away telling me that he did not want me on that side.
When I walked out, my friend’s wife walked in and right up to him with no problem. She rubbed him all over and picked up all four feet. He was telling me that men had handled him roughly, and he did not trust them, but women had treated him, as he thought, gently. I relayed this information to my friend over dinner and recommended that he might never be a man’s horse because of the first impressions.
Remember that working with young horses can leave lasting impressions and mistakes can be devastating to a horse because they have long memories. It is a survival mechanism from when they were wild. Colts do silly, playful things for which they should not be punished since it is quite natural to buck, kick and bolt. Training periods like haltering, leading, tying, grooming and longing should be short, about 10 to 30 minutes total, depending on the age and attention span of the colt. Great harm can be done if his handler insists on lengthy sessions. Mental damage and physical stress can occur to the young animal.
Over dinner, I explained what I had found out from the colt, and the fact that he had been neutered made a large difference.
When I saw them at cow sort, I asked about the colt, and they said, for the both of them, when they walked out in the corral, they couldn’t keep him out of the way. He just wanted to be with them all the time now.
We need to remember that young horses are like young children. For instance, how long can a 2-year-old stay with a task before he or she gets bored and is off with something else, or a small child sit and listen to a story. A good example is a video advertisement where a small boy asks his father how may dimes are in a dollar, and before dad can answer, the boy has run off to something else. Training periods should be broken into short periods several times a day.
Remember a horse’s brain is only about the size of a man’s fist, but they have a remarkable memory that has done them well for survival since the beginning of time.
Prior to his retirement, Roger Thompson was a CHA certified instructor of advanced Western horsemanship and beginning English riding.
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