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Training a young (7 month) filly which is putting her ears back

I have recently acquired a 7 month old filly. She is 1/2 mustang, 1/2 quarter horse. We are getting along pretty well. She lets me touch her all over, halter her, and she is beginning to lead. (She goes well in circles, but straight forward is a challenge).
The main concern I have is that she lays her ears back most of the time we are working. Is she unhappy or just not relaxed yet? A friend of mine says horses that age go through a stage where they lay their ears back all the time, kind of like teenagers.

How much can I expect her to learn at this age? Should I ground drive her or simply get her leading and then turn her out till she is two years old?

Thanks for your help.
Finn in Texas

Hi Alice,

Thank you for your question. 7 months is pretty young to be doing too much training. However, you can handle her a lot and make it fun. I think she is too young for ground driving yet. Imprinting, then halter breaking, leading, general handling for grooming, trimming etc., clipper training are certainly in order. You could also get her used to tarps, raincoats, things flapping around her and certain noises. Additionally, you could put a saddle on her at about a year old, w/o riding her. Just let her carry it around and a light snaffle. By the time you do get on her, a saddle and bridle will be no big deal.

Consider ground driving at one year. Have someone lead her as you drive her. Then slowly wean her off someone leading her. Do this in an enclosed area first. The closer she gets to a year old the more you can do with her at the end of a long lead line. Do you have a round pen? If you do, I can give you some fun things to do in it. They are a great training tool.

When practicing leading it is very helpful to have someone lead the mare while you lead the baby. Everyone will be more likely to go in a straight line if you do. Training sessions should be numerous but relatively short, about 10 minutes maximum and always end on a good or positive note (where the baby gets praise for doing something that you have requested). I like a verbal stop, some folks don't want that though.

My feelings around training a horse this young is to make as much of your interaction with her pleasant and fun and always end with a 'feel good' outcome. The baby should look forward to seeing you and 'playing' with you. I don't 'work' horses any more. I play and dance with them. Once we make the horse's feelings of safety and peace paramount for us, their ears usually stay forward and their minds interested and joined with us in a unified vision.

As far as her pinning her ears, watch the baby interact with the mare and other, older horses if she is around them. Watch and see when she pins her ears doing certain interactions with them. Observation will tell you a lot about her developing personality. As people develop different personalities for various reasons, so do horses. Her ear displays could be a bit of youthful attitude or merely response based in her personality somehow. She could be reacting to pressure that way. Make it more fun for her somehow. Less pressure. Release your agenda on what you are trying to accomplish with her and make her good, peaceful feelings a regular part of your goals for your sessions with her. Less is more with horses a lot, with the babies too. I would think you always want that baby to be glad to see you. You can train her to do as you want w/o a lot of pressure. Do all you can to attract the baby to you and not push her away too much. You can still have her respect your boundaries, that is very important. Remember, even though they are babies, they can unintentionally hurt you. Keep yourself safe, that is rule one.

I appreciate your question and hope that I have helped a bit. Please keep in touch and let me know how things are going. Where are you, may I ask? I travel a lot now to do seminars and clinics. Perhaps I'll be coming to your area sometime.

Many Blessings to you, your family and horses.

Aloha, Franklin

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