When someone has problems with an older horse, they often ask me if they can “re-start” him. I’ve had lots of people say “Can’t I just go back to the beginning and start him all over again?”
Sadly, the answer is no. Unfortunately, no-one can erase a horse’s memory. You can’t tell any horse to forget what he’s already learned. You can’t tell him to forget about being confused or frightened.
That’s why it’s so important to start every horse correctly from day one. This was reinforced in my mind just recently, when I weaned and handled five foals. During the week that I handled them, the foals were taught to be confident and relaxed with humans. They were taught to lead, to have their legs handled, to step over obstacles and to accept a saddle cloth, saddle and girth. When these foals are old enough to be ridden, it will be a non-event.
From time immemorial, there’s always been debate about how and when horses should be started under saddle. These days, there are even horse-starting competitions. All the debate and all the competitions in the world really miss the point. If every foal was handled correctly from day one, there’d be no problem when the time came to ride him. Accepting a saddle and rider would be just another simple step in his training. There’d be no drama. There’d be no bucking. There’d be no chasing or stress.
And guess what? If every foal was handled correctly from day one, there’d be no frightened or problem horses.
Early handling is crucial for every foal. I don’t see the point of going to all the trouble and expense of breeding and raising horses and not handling them as soon as possible. If every foal was handled correctly, there’d be no problem horses. And there’d be no rejects.
I find great pleasure in handling foals and starting them off correctly. It’s always fun and very rewarding to teach a foal to be confident and relaxed with humans.