24 • MAY 2018
TALKING HORSES • SCOTT THOMSON
It Takes More Than Love
Dreams meet reality when considering a young horse C e l e b r a t i n g 1 6 Ye a r s !
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recently had a thoughtful email from a loyal reader of this paper, asking a question that showed she was thinking with her head and heart. The reader had an opportunity to buy a young horse, actually more like a foal. The horse had been weaned, but some health issues with the mare had left this youngster an orphan. The reader had experience with horses and always dreamed of bringing along a “blank slate” to make a horse truly her own. The reader was asking what I thought of a situation like this — would it be a wonderful and rewarding journey or was it absolute insanity for your average horse owner? Obviously, you don’t even consider this without having solid basic horsemanship skills and knowledge. You may have been around horses your whole life, but do you really have what it takes to teach a horse? Do you understand how they learn and how they grow, emotionally and physically? Do you know how to use pressure and release and how and when to reward? Can you be calm but firm without anger? Teaching a young one is very different from riding and handling mature horses.
There are a million logistical questions you’d need to ask yourself as well. Is your property set-up for this, is the fencing safe, do you have a good training area, do you have other horses that may or may not accept an energetic young horse looking for playmates? This list could go on forever. Bringing a young animal of any species into your life always presents certain challenges to the way you live your life, your home and property. Perhaps there are a few not-so-obvious questions that can help make this a more informed decision. My first question is always, “how old are you?” This is not about your level of fitness (although your physical fitness is certainly important when developing a young horse!). This is about the reality of how long it takes to bring a young horse along to the point of being a safe, reliable and trusted riding partner. Given their rate of physical development and the time it takes for emotional maturity — I always say eight years for all this — you need to think about yourself in that time frame as well. Where do you think you’ll be physically, emotionally, or financially in that same time period?
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The second thing I’d ask is, “Do you honestly have the time and patience to develop a young horse?” Forgetting the basic every day care of any horse, do you have the time to work with the horse virtually every day? Young horses need to be taught in small doses at first, sometimes two to three sessions per day, with each session lasting no more than 2030 minutes because that’s the limit of their attention span. This is not like having someone take your dog for a walk because you’re too busy. This is the foundation teaching that determines what your horse becomes, and it must be done. The patience part of this question is equally important. For example, science says a horse isn’t mature enough physically for any serious riding until they’re five. You could certainly be teaching for all the years before, mostly on the ground, but could you accept that the really fun stuff might not be possible for four or five years from now? Would you be sensitive and disciplined enough to end a lesson in 5-10 minutes because the horse did so well, or stay as long as needed just to get a good try? Would you be able to let the horse determine the pace of training, only moving ahead when the horse was clearly ready physically and mentally? The last thing I’d want to know is whether you could resist fallProfessional Foot Massage ing into the most basic trap for youngProfound animals Relaxation and humans. Young animals are adorable. A Malika Crozier, C.R. foal or young horse is so cute you just 575-534-9809 want to hug them. We instinctively see them theCity, sameNM By appointment...Silver way email@example.com we see a human baby and want to Essential treat them accordingly. Young Living Oils Independent Dist. #2107 Compliments Healing Modalities But here’s the allthing with most prey animals, and especially with horses. They are literally ready to start learning the minute they’re born. Instinctively, their survival depends on their ability in the first few hours of life to get moving, to figure out how and where to feed and to start learning about their position in the herd and their environment. This biological fact puts tremendous pressure on the human for building the right foundation from the start, something, frankly, I see messed up far too often. The horse starts learning from day one, so if the human starts off treating the horse one way without understanding that every interaction is a lesson that will become a learned behavior in a 1,000 lb. horse, then everything gets more difficult down the road. In this particular case, I asked the reader to do two things. First, be honest about their ability to be a firm, fair and consistent teacher, handling the horse the way you want and need it to be as a mature horse. Second, carefully look for signs of how this young
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