One of the most important aspects of early training is leading a foal. Lead training is teaching a foal to safely walk alongside the handler who is holding a lead rope. Below is a step by step outline of one of the many ways the process of lead training can be carried out.
- Introduce your foal to a halter within the first week of life. Make sure that you buy a halter that will fit well, you can usually buy adjustable ones from your local saddlery that can be increased in size as the foal grows. Walk up to your foal and show it the halter, letting it sniff it, bite it and become comfortable with it. Then have someone hold the foal gently while you place the halter on the foal and then allow it to wander around for a while freely to become accustomed to wearing the halter. After ten minutes have your helper hold the foal whilst you take the halter off. Do this several times throughout the day, until the foal is comfortable with you taking it on and off without problems.
- Once the foal is comfortable with you taking the halter on and off, you can attach a lead rope to the halter and hold it whilst the foal walks around. Follow the foal around whilst holding the rope, do not let go or let it drag. Do this until your foal is comfortable with you walking around with it whilst holding the rope.
- When the foal is comfortable with you “holding” them whilst walking, then a rump shank can be used. Stand next to the foal’s shoulder, so its front legs and your legs line up. A long cotton shank can be used to create a large loop that goes over the foal’s rump. The loop comes together at the foal’s withers, with enough slack being present from the withers to the halter so you do not pull on the foal’s head. This loop is used not only to guide the foal’s movements, but also to begin the process of encouraging the foal to walk forward.
- Do not make one continuous pull, or your foal will immediately resist. Instead, always use short tugs on the rope. If your foal does not move forward, give a verbal command of encouragement and a short tug on the shank rope around its rump. Usually the foal will get the idea to move forward. Once the foal is moving, walk around the pen, giving a tug on the rump shank whenever the foal stops. When pulling the foals head to the side to turn, do not give one continuous pull; remember, always short tugs, and stop immediately when the foal obeys.
- After around ten minutes of leading, stop and take the halter off and praise your foal. Only stop on a good note, not if your foal has just stopped on its own, or if it has just resisted and pulled against you. Make sure to stop before your foal starts to get bored. Foals are young and have very short attention spans. Keep lessons at 10 minutes or less to keep this from happening.
- Follow this process a few times a day for as many days as necessary. After your foal will easily lead without having to use the rump shank from behind to encourage it, you have successfully trained your foal to lead.
Written by: Michael-j Goddard