Halter Breaking

When It Comes To Safety, Training Starts Young

by Cheryl Chernicky
Rainbow Ridge Farm, Novelty, Ohio

Halter breaking very young foals is extremely important for several reasons. Since we live in a cold climate and our horses are kept inside we believe that it is essential that foals are taught to accept the halter within 12 hours of birth and taught to lead within 24 hours of birth. In the event of an emergency such as a fire or flood or any other disaster, it is imperative that the animals in your care are easy to handle. A foal may not always follow the mare if there is a lot of commotion that may make the foal more wary and skittish. It is also easier to move the mare and foal if the foal leads. Not all facilities have enclosed areas that lead from the barn to a fenced pasture or paddock area, therefore the mare must be led to the enclosed area with the foal following. This could be a recipe for disaster. If the foal gets spooked and takes off, it could wind up in a situation that is dangerous. Also, if the mare becomes nervous and agitated because the foal is not next to her, it could put the handler into a difficult situation.

Another somewhat less important reason that is of benefit to the mare and foal as well as the owner is to take the foal away from the mare while she is eating her grain. We take the foal out of the stall within sight of the mare so that she can eat her grain without having to deal with the foal. The foal is haltered and led out of the stall right before the mare is grained. While the mare is eating we tie the foal in the aisle next to the mare’s stall with a slip knot. We groom the foal while it is in the aisle as well as teach it to pick up its feet and any other activity that it needs to learn to be a safe horse. When the foal is old enough to eat grain, we place a bucket of grain for the foal to eat while the mare has her meal. We consider this time to be well spent. These efforts provide a sound foundation for the young horse that ultimately makes it easier to handle, wean and train.

The techniques used for haltering, leading and tying a foal are easy to carry out. We try to be present when the mare foals, so that if there is a problem, we can handle it or get the vet quickly. We spend a lot of time with the mare prior to foaling so that she is used to us being around and comfortable and relaxed. We follow the standard practice of imprinting the foals shortly after birth which includes putting the halter on and off several times. The foal is taught to lead within 12-24 hours of birth. This is accomplished by haltering the foal and then using a soft cotton lead that attaches to the halter ring and is placed around the butt with the end of the lead brought back up to the halter. No pressure is put on the halter or the head and neck of the foal. The halter is used for steering only and the butt rope is pulled to urge the foal forward. We start leading the foal with the mare in front of the foal. Within a few weeks we can lead the foal in front of the mare as well as take it a short distance away from her. This is done gradually until the mare and foal are comfortable and calm when apart. This effort pays off with dividends. The mare learns to trust humans with her foal and makes the foal easy to manage.

The most important aspect of this training is that in a disaster, both the mare and foal can be easily haltered and led from the barn quickly. An added bonus is that the foal is already trained in basic ground handling, making it easier to sell in a market where there are far too many horses available due to the recent enactment of the no-slaughter laws. A horse that is people friendly with good ground manners is much easier to market than a horse that has had limited or no handling. It is important for breeders to limit the number of foals that are born each year to those that can be handled daily and taught basic ground manners. In addition, the quality of the foal is a major factor in today’s world where there are more horses than there are horse owners. This will afford the best chance that these foals will be sold to good homes.

From Dream’s Photo Album:

12 Hours Old


Dreams Desert Knight is a beautiful bay leopard colt born on July 7, 2006. Leading a foal that is 12 hours old is easy to do with a cotton lead that is wrapped around the rump. A small amount of pressure is applied to the rope to encourage the foal to go forward. No pressure should be applied to the head or neck of a foal this young. The halter is used for guiding the foal.

1 Week Old


Giving a well mannered foal a bath is fun for both the humans and the baby. Dream is a week old and the basics that were started shortly after his birth are already paying off in the wash rack.

2 Weeks Old


Dream is a two weeks old and is tied outside of the Cheyenne’s stall during feeding time. He is tied with a slip knot that is easy to release if necessary. Dream is groomed, handled and his feet are picked up. Cheyenne gets to eat her grain while keeping an eye Dream and Dream learns valuable lessons.

1 Month Old


Dream is one month old and accepts the halter willingly. He is very relaxed in the aisle outside of Cheyenne’s stall. He has been handled on a daily basis for 30 minutes a day. He is very comfortable and secure around people and has excellent manners.

2 Months Old

Dream at two months old is sharing a hay bag with his Uncle Gingerman. Dream is socialized with all of the horses in the barn and spends time with them while Cheyenne eats or is being groomed.

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