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Franklin Levinson's

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Suckling Foal - First steps to training

Aloha Frank,

I checked your site for info on suckling foals but found nothing.

I am new to foals, this is my first ever. He is a really nice young man about a month and a half old.

He had a bit of a rough start due to a leaking navel and had to have I.V. antibiotics, etc. He and his mom were trailered to the vet and he was held against his will daily for medications. His Mom had a hard time too beginning with a retained placenta and then fevers and antibiotics prior to his vet experiences. (This sure has been a learning curve for me too.) I am still concerned that her system has not returned completely to normal. Anyway now he seems healthy but I am concerned because everyone says he should have a halter on and be able to walk on a line, have his feet picked up etc. We are making progress but after leaving his halter on for 5 or so days I felt that it was not good to just leave it on all of the time so removed it. I havenít tried to put it back on as yet but I was wondering about your opinion of how and when to handle a foal and teach him to lead, etc.

I am going slowly with the baby and he seems to trust me because I have never held him against his will or stuck needles in him but he seems to fight for his life if he feels restricted. He lets me encourage him to back, walk forward and little things like that but my poor fiancťe who has had to hold him for temperature taking, etc. doesnít have as good a response from him. I guess itís all about trust. I clean his stall and paddock and Iím just around him lots so he is used to me, but being caught to put his halter back on just might be a bit of a challenge, he is getting so big and fights violently if he feels restricted. My fiancťe held him (wasnít easy) for me to put his halter on originally. Iím afraid that I did not do any imprinting while he was still down as a new born because this was my mares first foal and she seemed a little upset and with the cord and everything dragging behind her and me trying to tie it up and keep her calm and then her placenta retention he didnít get the initial imprinting. He likes to be scratched but is very hesitant about being petted on his shoulders or legs, canít really blame him after being held against his will and being kind of tortured so many times as a new baby. As I look back I should have tried to work with him more at that time I guess but he was so cautious and he had the I.V. in. Are you understanding this message - - I hope so.

Have you raised a foal?

I saw your ad in the Malama Lio, we live on the Big Island above Kona. I was hoping you lived on the Big Island but it appears that you live on Maui.

Thank you in advance for your response.


Hi Sidnie,

I have indeed raised a good number of foals. They are fun and a joy to work with mostly. But if someone has little knowledge of how to work them, it can be daunting. As there were difficulties with the birth and both mother and foal needing treatment, there will be a few obstacles to overcome with the baby and maybe with the mare. One thing is to understand the principle of rewarding the horse for effort at behavior you want. This is how the horse learns to trust you and to understand it has done, or, at least tried to do as requested. For instance: you want the baby to stand still for you. Horses, especially foals, have little patience or attention span. But this can be developed. If you move towards the foal a step or two, immediately move back a step or two. If you move towards an area that is uncomfortable for the foal, do not try to go right up to that area. But rather take a step in that direction and then a step back. You can gradually move to where you want to go by allowing the horse to get used to your proximity in a gradual way. The removal of pressure (any request or even simply looking at the horse) is the big reward. Offer a few moments of peace and no input of energy (this includes any touching, speaking, or looking at the animal). In other words, simply and totally ignore the animal for 30-60 seconds or so. Become very benign, without giving the animal any attention for a brief period of time. The most important thing to a horse are feelings of safety. Because it is a prey animal, feelings of safety are bigger than food, water, companions, shelter or anything else in its life. Without feeling safe a horse will never relax.

The question becomes how to help facilitate feelings of safety within the horse. Safety=peace! In the wild horses would prefer to be peaceful and lazily walking around grazing. This is their natural state of relaxation and freedom, this is easy and their leader provides the information that they are indeed safe and can eat or rest. Or, the leader(s) will perceive a threat and get moving and the rest of the herd follows. When we become the appropriate and confident leader of the domestic horse, they begin to trust the human as they would one of their own kind who was the good leader. The human leader directs all movement (all starts and stops). He/she steps back a step or two when the animal attempts to comply. This stepping away is the reward (removal of pressure). Another example is asking a horse to provide a foot. I do not expect a foal, or any horse, to simply give one of its defensive weapons or means of fleeing, unless it feels safe enough to do so. What I do is ask, without grabbing the foot, but perhaps touching it gently. If the horse moves the foot at all, which they will do even if trying to get away a little, I reward by stepping back. Or, if the horse picks the foot up and immediately puts it back down, I reward that as well because I recognize it as the animal trying to do it. It may not trust enough to completely provide the foot. But even moving the foot is effort. It does not take long before the animal learns that it can trust the human enough to provide the foot. I like to teach all of this at liberty (no restraints). But that takes skills you may not have as yet. But you can do a lot right now to begin to earn and gain trust.

To attempt to teach this stuff in an email is like trying to teach someone to tango in an email. It is so much easier if it can be seen. The next best thing is to have a conversation about it. I do many phone consultations and they are very reasonably priced and work well (there are comments on my website from past recipients of my phone coaching). Consider this as a viable option for you with the absence of a trainer on site. I can talk you through much of the processes to get things going with the mare and foal. Let me know. I could write a few books on the topic of handling and training young horses. There are not enough of them out there. Anyway, let me know your thoughts and I wish you the best of luck. Remember....less is more with horses. One-step-at-a-time and reward, is the best training and earns the trust of the animal.

Sincerely, Franklin

Thank you so very much for taking the time to respond to my questions. From your response it sounds like I am definitely on the right track. I have never had a foal before but have had horses for over 50 years. You are right about all that you say and I am doing it just right by your explanations.

My mare I have owned for 7 years. She works well at liberty all the time, understands or seems to understand everything.

I have to share with you Frank, this foal is so in tune with what is asked of him that I truly believe that he came with knowledge of the English language, or he is unbelievably intuitive. If I ask him to back, for instance, and put the slightest, I mean slightest, pressure on his little chest, he backs. If I ask him to Woha, (donít know the spelling for that) he stops immediately. No pressure.

Yesterday, as he was running and playing in the garden and pasture around his Mom, I told him which plants to avoid, Verbally, and he did so. Running to find something else of interest. Later in the day he looked as if he could be in danger when his Mom went away from him and there was a rock wall, short on his side, long drop on the side where his Mom had gone, I talked to him from the deck of my home, having seen his predicament, and said to him, ďno, not there, come here and when he came to where the walk way and step down was, I said ok, go there, and I swear to you Frank, as God is my judge, the colt listened to me give him directions and immediately followed them. There is a huge connection and trust in our relationship even though he had a rough start.

I expect it from his Mom because of the years we have been together, she will do things like that all of the time, but I am in [awe] of his knowledge and responses. If this was a one time incidence I would not be sharing it with you, but it happens daily with him.

His Mom is a lovely Friesian mare and his Daddy is a full Egyptian Arabian. I donít know if that has anything to do with his connection to people but perhaps. I am sharing this information, all of the above information, with you because I feel that there is a chance you can identify with it, I donít feel that most people can.

Looking forward to your response.


Hi Sidnie.

Sounds like you have a winner there for sure. Here is something to try re: the halter. When the foal is with the mare and gets himself into a corner on his own, you hold it there with your body. You can tie the mare near the foal if possible, preferably not allowing yourself to get between the mare and the foal. But holding the foal in one spot with your body language as gently as possible is a good thing to practice. When the foal is where you want, step back and be quiet and donít do anything. The goal is to get the foal used to being held in one place/spot without being touched. After you do this a few times, the foal should be relaxing into it. Once you sense that happening you can begin to approach the foal and begin to give a scratch on the bum or neck, withers and shoulder. Have the halter in your hand and when you can begin to, very gently rub the halter on the foal like you are scratching or stroking the foal with it. Be very gentle. If it all goes well you should be able to get the halter on the foal in a reasonable amount of time. If you do get it on the horse, take it right off as a reward. repeat the process a lot and gradually increase the time you leave the halter on the foal. Let me know if you understand. I love your email. Good luck.

Sincerely, Franklin

I think I do understand. I love it. I have been putting the halter on his neck a little but I love the rubbing him with it as you are suggesting. What you are suggesting really sounds like it would work, just kind of confining him, not really but just sort of. He has been held for painful things so seems like he fights for his life if confined. Of course I must say that he did fight for his life when the Vet assistant was holding him. Gees. But he was quite a bit smaller then. A few days old as compared to a month and a half is a big difference. I have not tried to ďholdĒ him against his will. Iím not sure that I could. Iím nearly 65 and while building a new enclosure for he and his Mom, Iím afraid I kind of wrecked my back with the jack hammer. That was weeks ago and Iím still not 100%. Wonít try that again. This getting older thing is a bit rough.

Iím terrible at computers but Iíll try to send you a picture of our ďBoyĒ and his Mom so you can put some faces to our emails. Do you happen to do any training of full grown horses? Like his Mom? Iím afraid that all she knows from me is a few tricks and stopping and turning and going, and a bit of lunging. Itís sort of a crime to have such a lovely mare and never have taught her anything much. I donít have an arena or round pen, although I have visited friends with both, but I have no formal riding or training and didnít want to goof her up. I read a lot of articles on training, etc. but just between you and I, I love the ground stuff. I only ride bare back, when I do ride and that is how I am most comfortable. I have an English saddle for my mare that seems to fit her well but never having ridden English really, it feels to me like I am perched up there. At least with a western saddle I feel like I am in it as opposed to on it. One of the few times I did ride the English saddle I didnít tighten the girth enough and it slid a bit side ways. Thatís part of my problem. I really donít want to make my horses uncomfortable, I like peace. My mare knows the rules and knows when I am absolutely serious and falls right into place. But most of the time she is free to graze and not much is asked of her.

My Mother always said, you have to be the boss, and I am, but I still like to think that my Mare is my friend.

I realize that I am taking your time and that this is a business for you. I do not wish to abuse that, but surely have enjoyed your emails.


Donít be the boss.... Be the great leader!! Lead the dance of movement rather than boss over a slave or employee. Being a boss is gruff, rough and rather uncomfortable for the boss and the one being bossed around. Being the good leader should be smooth, graceful, skilled, precise, calm, sometimes appropriately firm and feel good to both parties. Being the boss just lets the boss feel superior.

Thatís BS.....Aloha, F

I love what you are saying. Exactly how I feel but could not find the words. Thank you for your words, they are really quite eloquent. It certainly is a pleasure and a blessing to be able to communicate with you.

May you have the best of days,


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