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Colt Handling Blues

Approximately one week ago, I purchased a beautiful 5 month old stud colt. He supposedly was imprinted at birth, but after that initial contact, the previous owners did nothing else with him. He was still nursing on the mare when we got him. We are currently housing him in a 70 foot round pen. Every afternoon I've been feeding him some sweet feed out of a bucket that I'm holding. He greedily eats up the sweet feed, and he does allow me to stroke his upper neck area while he's eating, but gets nervous if I try to stroke him any place else and forget trying to get near him if there isn't any feed being offered. Am I doing the right thing as far as gentling him goes? I'm extremely anxious to be able to halter him and start brushing him and working with him on allowing his legs to picked up. I also intend to geld him, but of course that can't be done until he's halterable (is that a word?) and allows to be led on a lead rope. I've raised up a couple foals that my mares have thrown, so I've gotten experience with babies, but not with one that is a touch me not, as I was all over my babies from day one. Any words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you so much - Diane

Hi Diane,

Thank you for your question. Here is a good example on the need for consistency when bringing up babies. Imprinting is great but needs to be followed up with regular handling and conditioning to really get the youngster used to being handled by and in the company of humans. All you are doing now is feeding him and using probably too hot a feed (sweet feed only is not what babies need generally). This is going to work against you. There are diet restrictions for babies that I would consult your veterinarian about. It takes more than feeding to train and gentle a colt.

If you are timid, unsure or fearful around the colt, he will take on the role of leader and push you around and it could get dangerous for you. Do you have a small paddock or round pen you can get him into? If the paddock is square I suggest you rope off the corners. You need to be able to ask the colt to move with you directing the energy and movement. Until you can begin to do this, your problems will escalate. The movement has to be directed precisely, confidently and without wavering on your part. Youngsters need a loving, compassionate and quietly strong parent (leader). This is true for all young ones I think.

You are to ask the colt to move around in a circle. Your job is to keep him moving. Don't worry about anything else other than keeping the colt moving. At first if he changes direction on his own or runs here and there, no big deal, just keep him in motion. After he warms up, do not let him change direction until you request it. Occasionally, ask him to stop and give him a break, but only when you decide it is time for a break. Do not use so much energy (push) as to scare the colt. You only want him to move around, to yield ground and space to you. At some point, when the colt is nice and warmed up, stop him and he may come to you. If he does come to you pet him a little on the withers or neck and say "Good Boy!". Rest a minute and do it again. When he gets used to standing by you nicely (which shouldn' t take too long), begin to touch him all over, confidently and gently. This would be a good time to halter him (after touching him all over with the halter and lead rope).

To teach him to lead you could put a rope around his butt (butt rope) and run both ends through the halter ring and also have a lead rope attached normally to the halter ring. You hold all ropes and ask him to take a step putting a little pressure on the butt rope and a little on the lead rope at the same time. Praise each and every little step. If he were buddied up with an older horse, have someone lead that horse and you lead the colt right behind it. Is there an older horse or any other horses around for him to play with? This would probably help your situation also as older horses sometimes teach younger horses manners.

Once you can get him to halter and to lead you can really begin to get him used to all sorts of thing like having his feet handled, grooming and more. If the colt gets rowdy or nippy, put him to moving again ASAP (immediately). So I would always have your 'round' space there to train him in for a good while. If you have him go to work when he acts up, you will be making what you don't want (acting out) hard for him. Then when he comes and stands quietly with you, what you do want, that will become the easier thing for him to do.

This technique is non-abusive and works. Remember, you are trying to develop a relationship based on mutual trust and respect. It would be the same with a human child. To do this; respect his personal space by not over-inputting him, be clear and precise in your requests to him, begin to develop your own sense of feel (what is too much or too little energy) to a higher level, develop a high degree of consistency, direct his energy into movement when he gets distracted. These should help you get him rolling.

Let me know how it all goes. I am very interested and I thank you again for your question. If there may be interest in your area for the kind of training I do, it is easy to host a clinic. I am based in Colorado for quite a while and am free to travel. Please consider this possibility....Good Luck!

Sincerely, Franklin

Dear Franklin,

Guess what?! It worked! Mister Man - that's what I've named him - and I are doing much better - thanks to you! I am now able to walk up to him and stroke him without him moving away from me, and, a couple evenings ago, I was able to put a halter on him, just like you said would eventually happen. So thank you so much Franklin - you are truly a wonderful person and I appreciate you're advice very much. Patience and more patience and repetition is definitely the ticket when working with these babies.

Take care and I'm keeping your website handy for future advice!
Sincerely yours, Diane

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