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Skittish Colt

Dear Franklin:

I own a 9-month-old colt. He is very skittish in that in order to catch him, I must keep a halter and a 20 foot lead rope attached to the halter 24/7 which I know is an unsafe practice, but otherwise I'd spend hours trying to catch him. I work with him on a daily basis picking up his feet, brushing him, feeding him treats, leading him around, but it's almost like starting over every day - he seems afraid of me and I don't know why as I haven't abused him in any matter. He is currently living in a round pen separated from my other horses, as they were very aggressive towards him.

Do you have any suggestions on helping me convince this little guy that I'm not going to hurt him?

Thank you. Diane

Hi Diane,

Thank you for your question. Your horse is still a baby and acting like one. He may have not been handled well before he came to you. His weaning process may have been unusually traumatic. It's hard to tell the baggage even a young horse comes to you with. It's a shame you have to keep him on a line. I would not ply him with too many treats from you hand. He will begin to get very mouthy. Your other horses are aggressive because this is the baby of the group. He may just be fearful generally as the other horses have been aggressive to him. He has not had enough good time with humans to view them as trusted leaders yet.

As you do have a round pen, I suggest you begin to use it and I mean a lot. It is not to tire your horse out with. It is to help you forge the relationship you are looking for. Basically, turn him free in the round pen. Stand in the center for as long as it takes for the colt to stop running around. If he comes to you aggressively or in a manner too forward, shoo him away. You can allow him to approach you quietly and passively. Do not touch him much at this time. Use a lot of soft verbal praise when he does something you like. Once he approaches gently, out of curiosity, invite him to walk with you by backing away from him and saying for him to come to you. Once he turns towards you consistently, you turn forward and invite him to walk quietly with you. Make every little thing you want a conscious and precise request. Simple things like stopping (Whoa), coming this way or that and backing are great opportunities to begin to put verbal cues on the horse. Also, this allows you to set up a 'winning cycle' for him of you requesting something simple, he complies and gets a "Good boy". Once this begins to happen regularly, you could start to free lunge him in the round pen and you'll see he will already have a verbal stop. When he does stop, he should turn towards you and perhaps come to you quietly. Once he comes over to you consistently, begin to touch his body all over and handle him everywhere. Be sensitive to his responses and back off and back up if he even leans away from you a little or turns his head away. If you back away he will appreciate that and turn to you again and probably follow you. This is how you begin to develop trust.

This process takes some time. Do not rush things. Patience, compassion, quiet strength, confidence in attitude and intention and consistency are the ticket with training horses. Remember it's all about TRUST. Keep me posted as to your progress. I am most interested.

Sincerely, Franklin

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