Horse Training Tips – Foals and Weanlings

Dear Friend and Horseman,

Welcome to another Horse Training Tips Newsletter.

If you’ve been a reader of my Horse Training Tips Newsletter for a while, you’re
aware some of my newsletters have really stirred up some controversy.

Especially concerning the handling and training of foals and young horses.

In case you missed those newsletters, one of the controversies was that I basically discourage the “Imprint Training” of newborn foals.

The reason is because a lot of people turn the foal into a horse that becomes belligerent, disrespectful towards humans and difficult to train…

Actually HURTING the colt’s chances of becoming a good performance horse.

I receive a ton of emails asking me what I suggest, as an alternative, to get the foal off to a good start.

I also get a lot of email from people who own yearlings they hope will develop into good performance horses. They want to know what they can do to prepare their baby and give him a head start.

Training Foals and Weanlings

Here are a few suggestions that have worked well for me…

First off, let the foal be a horse!

I know that sounds like a smart-aleck remark but in reality, many people treat their foal like another human or their pet dog. That is a recipe for trouble. For any horse to be mentally and emotionally BALANCED, he needs to know he’s a horse.

And, he needs to be handled like a horse using “horse” psychology NOT “human” psychology.

When a mare is in the process of giving birth, don’t mess with her or the foal until they have strongly bonded as mother and baby.

Here is where the “Imprint” fanatics go crazy. They want to get their hands on the foal “immediately”, before it has had a chance to bond with its mother.

Let me warn you, intervening this way, can and sometimes does lead to problems.

I would suggest waiting a day after the birth before doing much with the baby.
After a day, then it’s perfectly fine to introduce yourself or do whatever you want with the foal.

Always keep in mind though, that this cute little baby is still a horse and should be treated like a horse.

The baby needs to learn that you are his “leader” not his “playmate”.

It’s good to teach the foal that you are there to care for him and protect him but that you also expect him to “behave” in a certain way.

All horses need to know that when a human is handling them, there are rules, boundaries and limitations. Horses NEED and EXPECT this guidance.

Their mother sets the rules when they are interacting with her. They expect you to set the rules when they are interacting with you. If you fail to do this, you’ll create a juvenile delinquent that is disrespectful and pushes you around.

Ideally, by the time the baby is a yearling, you should have taught him to lead well and stand tied to be groomed. He should know how to be lunged on a lunge-line.

He should be good about having his feet trimmed and so on.

When its time to start the colt under saddle as a 2-year-old, things will go much better if he is well mannered and respects people but is not afraid of them.

Sending a colt that is afraid of people to a professional trainer, will be more stressful for the colt and will take the trainer more time to get the colt started.

On the other side of that coin, sending a colt to the trainer that is bad mannered and disrespectful will also slow down the training process.

These are just a few of the things I recommend for your baby.

If you would like to see how to do this training, I strongly recommend getting my video, “Training the Foal and Weanling“.

Take care and good luck with your babies.

Well, this wraps it up for this newsletter. I hope you liked it.

Until next time, have fun training your horse.

Larry Trocha

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  1. Rebecca Walton says

    I disagree with imprint training as well, a mare will teach her foal how to be better than a human will. Before starting on lunging make sure it knows how to give to pressure.

  2. Becky says

    Respect is the key. I have raised many foals. I handle them enough to get them to pick up their feet and be comfortable with having ears touched, etc., but let them run in the pasture with their dam so that they learn to be a horse. Their mama wouldn’t put up with any shenanigans, and neither do I. Since I can’t lay my ears back, they might need a little smack sometime so they know they have to stay out of my personal space. Being with other horses also teaches them respect for their elders. ;-) The more free time they have outside to run & play, the less stressed they are. I don’t have any horses that I have to longe for 20 minutes before I get on them, either.

  3. says

    I agree with the imprinting theory that if done incorrectly you are messing with nature at it’s finest. I am but a humble horse owner that enjoys these majestic creatures as the next person but stepping in between mother and foal is not the best course of action so early in the foal’s life. I believe that having the mother create the first necessary bond teaches the foal that in fact they are a horse ultimately and our job as the owners are then to take the many steps into creating a healthy and respectful relation a day or two after birth. I have seen personally a few breeders step in minutes after birth and make such spoiled little brats who honestly think they are just part of the human pack instead of the horse herd and it ended with the horse being extremely dangerous and disrespectful. Now was some of it due to lack of training on the owners part? most defiantly yes but I think it also was that initial imprint that set that stage into motion. There are so many opinions on this matter but the proof is out there for all of us to observe and decide for ourselves. It is ultimately our obligation and duty to walk the path of countless hours and sweat by raising these animals and maybe to even take a financial step and seek out respected and proved trainers since some (not all) have dedicated their lives into fine tuning their techniques that best suite horses and riders alike. If there are doubts seek them, if there are opinions listen (doesn’t mean they are always right but it never hurts to listen), and in the end you will find what is best for you. After years of riding myself and training my fair share of lovely horses I have found one thing to be true.. No matter how good you may think you are you can always be better if you would just listen to the advice given. Larry has overall changed MANY methods of my riding and training that I will forever be grateful and always looking for more advice.

  4. Ritchie Schriever says

    Hey Larry,

    To keep it short/ You are right. I got a weanling from a friend and they didn’t mess with mom when she had her colt. But after they were up and moving about and back with the rest of the horses they went out and played with him. Mom is a horse that likes people and she transfered that to her baby by showing him not to be afraid of people.
    When I got him I put him in the barn and got him used to me. Played with his feet and he and did a short lead training then turned him out with my horses. Guess who is the first horse to greet me when I go into the pasture.
    Seams that a good mare is invaluable.

    Thanks Rich

  5. says

    “Imprint Training”, i think that is a wrong term for being with the foal from day of foaling. It is like being with your human baby. All creatures will learn depending on surrounding environment, on its own, if you give them chance to engage their brain. I have 5 foals from 1 week old to 23 month old. 4 fillies and 1 colt. All of them are extremely friendly and well behaving including a colt. I think trust will create responsiveness in a good way. So how a growing up with the trust to human from beginning can be bad? You buy adult horse all ready “imprinted” by someones training. Horse may have training to do things but his personality is not “trained”. My first two fillies, now almost 2 y old are the same as the babies. They come to me when I call them. They would stand touching me gently to cuddle them and mess up my hear with the nose. They standing still when I brush them and touching everywhere, no kick nor bite. 11 month old colt is the same. No halters with ties.
    My first horse was 7 month old filly. She was a bundle of problems when I got her. Her mother and a stallion was the same. It took a years to be with them for them to learn to trust me and be good with me. They are good but not AS good as their offspring I have RAISED FROM DAY OF THEIR FOALING. I would not say anything if my foals would not be ALL OF THEM of same goodness and quality.
    I understand what Larry is saying, from the point that he is performance horse trainer. That reminds me of GLADIATORS. They were also trained to perform. They had to be a winners at any cost to be. I think is up to us what kind of horse we want, for what purpose and what kind of relationship. On the end the most important think is not to get hurt by the horse. Unfortunately many owners do made their horse to hurt somebody else by just passing away a bad mannered horse made bad by somebody else.
    On the other end what ever good and positive you do at the starting life of the foal to raise/create a good horse for life is a good way to do it. Isn’t nice to get a good horse right a way when you pay for him and he will kiss you? And mind you… my horses are not wussies.. they chase away my cows and spend good time with them too, running around together. It is interesting how they pick the time to chase and time to play..

    Cheers, Branka

  6. Collins says

    Exactly why are you against “imprint training?” I’m not saying your wrong but when my mare had a foal I did handle him to get him used to human contact about 15 minutes after he was born.. I don’t really see what’s so wrong with that. He turned out to be a stellar horse and was very easy to handle/train. I’m just wondering why “imprint training” is frowned upon by you?..

  7. Sylvia says

    Hi Larry,
    Just had my first foal (bought a riding mare in July that wasn’t supposed to be pregnant). I didn’t do imprinting but held him & rubbed him all over at about 2 days old. He is still a little wary of me touching him but will come up & sniff me when I’m in the barn looking after his mother. Today at 4 days old he started treating me like another foal, rearing up, pinning his ears, kicking out with both barrels. I didn’t have a stick with me in the barn so I couldn’t reach to smack him when he kicked out but when he was rearing up, pinning his ears, or pushing into me I sharply whopped him on the neck with my finger tips. After that he settled down but I’m sure he will try this with me again. What else can you suggest to stop this behavior before he gets bigger & stronger?

    • LarryTrocha says

      I can suggest getting the DVD that is recommended on this very page.
      It shows you exactly what to do.

      Larry T

    • says

      Hello Sylvia

      I have 4 foals and all of them did behave the same as your and that is normal. They are playing. Is up to you to teach him not to do that with you, from the first try. He/she will try few time to play with you this way but if you gently smack his/her but, nose or push away, foal will soon learn not to do that. My first foals , fillies are now raising to two years of age and they has never kick me or bite me or rear at me or do anything bad to me. They did learn how to lead in 5 min without any problem. What I want them to do they do. My second pare of foals, now 9 months old, is filly and a colt. The same. With colt only difference is he did like nibbling. His mouth was always working on other fillies.. and he tried on me but he did learn he can’t do that with me.
      I am not calling my contact with foals from their birth “imprinting”. I am just introducing myself to them so they know from the start who is the boss without a fear. So they can trust me and respect me. And that is what they do. It is a wonderful time for you to be with a little one and teach him trust you and respect you. You know last winter one night I went out to check my horses, 7 of them. Two mares, stallion and 4 young ones. Everybody was at the barn but two older fillies and young colt were missing. I went into dark and start calling them by names and they answer from the dark. Yes when I call my horses they answer and they come to me… I found them in the dark stuck on the side of the long dip ditch with bushes on the side. Pilled in a group they were looking how to go through the bush brunches..didn’t want to jump over . I told them lets go, come on, wave my hand and they started following me lined up behind me. It was so nice feeling walking in the dark with flashlight in hands followed by young horses behind, trusting you that you will take them out. We came to the area where they could jump over the ditch and they did runing to the barn and waited there for me with the rest of the heard to let them in.
      That’s my horses. It is easy and fast to get their trust and respect when they are properly handled early and daily. No problem with leading, halter, picking their feet, touching them all over. This is my experience. I did hear lots of advise but I just went with the flow of a parent. How you said to your kid,: “you can’t do that”, you say that to the young foal too. I say that to my stallion waiving my finger in front of his nose and he listen. Don’t fear, enjoy time with your foal. You can’t treat the foal like a puppy simply because horse is not a puppy. You don’t play with the foal you only teach him.

      • Sylvia says

        Hi Branka,
        Thank you for the information. I think it will be O.K. to treat the little man like another member of the herd would when he
        gets too roudy. He may be a little worse with me because he has no other babies to play with, only his mother and an older
        gelding. Do you think I should use a stick & string to tap his rump when he kicks out? I can’t reach with my hand because when
        he is kicking he is also running away. When he was rearing up & getting pushy I just popped him on the side of the neck
        with my fingertips & that worked for the time being. When he reared & I tried just pushing him he thought I was playing & kept
        doing it so I had to get a little more assertive. I would buy Larry’s video but by the time it gets to Canada he will be too far gone if I don’t do something right away. Plus I don’t know what I’d do with the video when I was done with it because I don’t have any more foals in my future.
        I usually like to leave the training to someone else & buy them when they’re saddle broke but this was an oops & I want to give
        him the best start possible whether I end up keeping him or selling him.
        I also have a large light toy plastic bat that I use with my Belgian gelding when he is getting pushy. It doesn’t hurt them but the sound it makes when it hits makes them pay attention. I plan to start halter training him this weekend, then pick up his feet, yield fore & hindquarters, lower his head, flex, back, etc. in short sessions. Hopefully that will help his manners a little also.
        Anyway, thanks again for your input & I welcome any & all feedback on this subject.

        • says

          Don’t play with him and use stick when he wants to kick or go on you. The best is if he try do that in a pen or stall then he can’t run away and you can smack him right away. Just one smack and make him move away from you and tell him loud no. They understand words by sound. It is good to have a stick with you any time you approaching bad mannered horse. It is extension of your hand and they do walk away from the stick. Also they don’t like when you use stick on their lover part of legs. If you have a long stick with a short rope on the end and move swift right to left in front of their legs on the ground they will back off. You just have to be persistent and move him around instead him moving you around. If you see that he want rear just lift your hand with stick and say loud no and smack if you need. Only if you need. If he back off and stop then you reward him by telling him… good boy and tap him gently anywhere. They actually like caressing and your talking. You have to show him that you are the boss and in same time that you will not hurt him. He will understand that soon and he will start trusting you. It doesn’t happen over night or in couple of days. But it will come. Be patience. It is easier to deal with small horse than with fully grown. Any hungry horse in a stall after few days of feeding him will calm down and start thinking. They are smart but we are smarter. We should be.. Take your time every day to be with him few minutes and you will see the difference. Just remember not to give him a minute of feeling that he is your boss. Your word is always last one.
          Cheers, Branka

  8. meg says

    Larry I believe it is way too eairly to be training a horse too lunge at the age of a yearling! otherwise I agree with your methods

    • LarryTrocha says

      Yearlings tear around the pasture at a dead run, jump on each other, wrestle each other to the ground, bite, kick and do all kinds of other stuff when playing.

      If 5 minutes on a lunge line is going to hurt your yearling, he has very unusual problems.

      Larry T

    • Rachel says

      Most breeds have a yearling lunge line class- I know AQHA and apha do. Also in 4-h there is also a yearling lunge line futurity. No body is saying wear them out on the lunge line, just teach them what it means to be controlled at all gaits. My rule is never longer than 10 minutes, less if they do it right the first time.

  9. Jeff Coley says

    Of course, like so many other things “imprint training” means many things to many people.

    The original recommendation was to handle the foal only as much as necessary to establish familiarity and compliance with normal human/horse activity – largely what most of the folks describe. Being touched, picking up feet, and so on.

    The touchy-feely folks mis-interpret this to mean treat a foal like a puppy, which of course is a good way to ruin a horse.

    • LarryTrocha says

      No… “Imprint Training” is a method laid out in a book written by a veterinarian/clinician.
      It suggests handling the baby and training it the INSTANT it is born.

      I strongly disagree with this course of action.

      Larry T

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