Horse Talk


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Starting Young - In My Opinion

By Tora Troop

It never ceases to amaze me how many different methods there are to training young horses in the horse world. There are many well-known trainers with developed methods; John Lyons, Pat Parelli, and Richard Shrake, to name a few. The methods taught by these trainers and many others are popular and used by many; some even swear by them. However, I wonder if developing your own method, built around the individual aspects of your horses personality and build, isn’t really the best way. 

I have had the opportunity to train two young horses, both of them from birth. I had never done any type of training before, and so it was all very new to me. I had the guidance of my barn owner, who is a trainer and horse show judge herself. It started at birth for both of my foals. First step: imprinting. This is the process of getting the foals used to human contact in general, but also taking the opportunity to get them used to touch, especially their feet, ears, nose and mouth. 

   At 12 hours old, I had done most of the imprinting with my filly, Sky. This was on her first venture out.
   By a month old, she was willingly picking up her feet and loved getting human attention. I want to stress that no harsh or "quick training" techniques were used.
   And now, a year later...

Imprinting was done for short amounts of time each day for the first 2 weeks or so of the foals’ life. Then came the halter, teaching them to lead. After they lead well, there was tying, standing for grooming, clipping, bathing, and some trimming of their feet. This was all done within the first 3 months of the foals’ life. 

This method worked well for both of my babies. They have entirely different attitudes, the colt, my first, being much more independent and really no interest in humans, and my filly, preferring human company to that of horses. The flexibility of developing my abilities and well as my foals’ worked well. If it was obvious that we were moving too fast for one or the other of the babies, we would slow down. I constructed the training around the horse, not around what had been “proven” to work. 

There are many methods out there, some including leaving the baby out to pasture until it’s time to saddle break them, some starting from the beginning like I did. I am sure for some horses, turning them out to pasture for the first 2 years of their life works well. For mine, it wouldn’t have. My filly is much easier to work with, and I think it is mostly because she was started young. I have never pushed her into something she wasn’t ready for, but I was able to teach her the things she’ll need to know for life in her first year. She is now 16 months old and is doing great. She knows how to lead, bathe, clip, trailer, tie, lunge, and is learning how to ground drive. She approaches things with an open mind, doesn’t blow things out of proportion, and is mentally prepared for what is to come. I believe that the best thing for a horse is to formulate a plan that is formed around that one horse, not other people’s experience.

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  Copyright © 2005. Tora Troop resides in the Bay Area and has been working with horses for about eight years. In that time she has owned five horses.  She currently owns one of the foals she's trained, Sky, and an Arab mare, Harlee.  

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