It isn’t uncommon to have a foal that tries to fight the pressure of a halter when they’re first getting used to wearing one. In fact, most foals will show resistance when they’re first adjusting to the pressure and learning how to follow it. Wearing something tight around their face and feeling the pressure of it pulling against them is completely foreign to a foal, so it’s understandable that they might be confused or resistant at first.
If you get your new foal used to the pressure of a halter early on, it shouldn’t be a big deal for him or you—but it takes time and patience. As with most things in horse training, you need to start slow and not push your foal too fast. You can’t expect your foal to wear a halter for the first time and immediately know how to follow the pressure of you leading him. So, if you’re willing to put some time and work into it, he’ll adapt, and eventually it’ll be like second nature to him.
Being able to follow the pressure of a lead rope and halter is one of the first steps in teaching a foal to lead and will be a building block in the rest of his training. Keep reading to see one of the methods I use to help my foals understand the pressure of halter.
Get Their Attention
You’re going to start with your foal in a confined space, like an arena or paddock, where he can roam freely around you. You’ll want to use a flag to help get his attention on you without spooking him. It’s natural for him to be afraid of the flag at first, but eventually, he should be interested in it rather than afraid. The goal of this step is to get his attention on you even if there are other things around him that he might be interested in.
So now that you and your foal are in a confined space, let him wander and focus on something other than you and the flag. Start to move and wave the flag very slightly, paying attention to his ears. If he flicks one of his ears in your direction, even without looking at you, that means he’s noticing you. When he flicks an ear towards you, stop waving your flag until he starts to focus on something else. Doing this isn’t asking for his attention, it’s attracting it. You’re letting him know that you’re aware of his thoughts and what he’s focusing on.
Repeat this process a few times until he’s fully aware of your movements and turning his head in your direction.
Reel Him In
Now that your foal is aware of you in his surroundings, he’ll likely start paying more attention to what you’re doing. Next, you’re going to stand still and wait for his curiosity to strike. He’s probably wondering why you’re not trying to get his attention anymore and will be focused on you.
Since he’s now paying attention to you with his ears and eyes, his body will follow. Your foal will most likely walk up to you and try to get your attention. This is exactly what you want to happen and is part of the connection you’re building with him. The goal is to have him want to pay attention to you, not force him to.
Once he loses interest in you, start to get his attention with the flag again. Just like before, as soon as he gives you any interest, stop moving the flag. This time, you’re also going to take a few steps away from him when you see his attention change. When he sees you step away, he’ll know you saw his attention change. He’ll then start paying attention to you again and will walk towards you once more.
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Keep repeating this step until he’s consistently paying attention to you and following every time you start to walk away.
Add In the Pressure
Because you have your foal paying attention and following your body, now is a good time to put his halter on and introduce him to following the pressure of a lead rope. Hold toward the middle of your lead rope so you have an arm’s length distance between you and him. When you pick up on the lead rope to pull him in a certain direction, put the flag out in front of his nose and move it in the same direction as the lead.
He knows that he is supposed to pay attention to the flag and follow it and your body, so he will do this while following the lead. After practicing this method several times, he’ll start to understand that he should be following the pressure of the lead rope just like he did the flag.
Start to walk circles and change directions so he really gets used to the feel of the pressure on his face. Once he has completely adjusted to the feel of the halter, you can drop the flag and practice leading with just the pressure of the lead rope to guide him.
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Note: When a horse is bracing against you, he’s mentally somewhere else. You aren’t going to get anywhere in training if you don’t have his attention, which is why getting his attention is such an important part of this exercise.