Unlimited access >

Training a weanling

I have a colt of 10 months old. And I have a question that i would really like an answer to.
When I try to teach him to be in his own space and not be in my face, he will keep pushing. When i tell him to walk away from me he tries to run and kick. How can i tell him in the best way that I won’t have him kicking at me without scaring him? One of the reasons i think he does this is because he doesn’t understand and is frustrated. I don’t want to react negative to his behaviour. It would really help to get some answers. Thank you very much in advance. Best regards, Sophie

Sounds like you are a poor “lead mare” in your herd of 2. Directions and reinforcement of your directions is not clear to him. Lead mares punish, bite, shove, kick sometimes, to get other horses doing what they want.

Have you got a lead rope on him when requesting space? You and he need that rope to allow you to control his body, punish quick and done, when he barges into you. Guess I have never tried teaching a horse to move away, on command at such a young age. I do demand “my space” out in a field or paddock. I hiss if horse gets too close, followed by a long whip (always carried out there) touch to emphasize the hiss command. Kind of a “laying back my ears” warning. Any kick towards me earns a sharp whip flick as discipline! Still much less than a horse lead mare would do to him!!

Young horses are mentally made to run to his herd for protection/defense, when frightened or want someone to play with. Being alone in a field is SCARY! Heck my almost 3yr old is still always pushed behind a gelding, center of a horse group, if anything alarms them. Horses react as programmed to situations.

Babies like this need short, CLEAR DIRECTION training sessions, 10-15 minutes at most, because they have very short attention spans. Trying to work longer will create problems, bad behaviour.

YOU need to work with a professional Trainer in how to ask, reward, in handling your boy. Get some lessons or hire them to come work with you and colt. Doing it right makes it easy for the colt to learn and progress in training. Undoing bad training, poor handling that has turned him into a bully is difficult, will make his life ahead harder than it needs to be.

Good for you Sophie, to recognize that he just doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do. You’re already way ahead of a lot of trainers!

The idea is to gently teach him what you want him to do, and as that progresses he’ll no longer be doing as much of what you don’t want because he’ll know what you do want.

You can teach him to move away from a whip by making the movement of the whip a bit aversive (whatever amount of swishing it takes to get him to step away from it) and then immediately release the aversive (the movement of the whip) as he moves away. The release is his reward for moving away from the whip. Then build on that.

The idea is to use the mildest aversive possible to get a calm, unflustered step away, and then once he understands how to do that then you can hold out for two steps, three steps, etc…

The challenge is to get the behavior without making him tense or fearful.

Spend time experimenting with pressure (the aversive) and the release. The hardest part is learning how to set the criteria (how much, in what direction, how fast) so that he spends the least amount of time confused about what it is that you want. That, and the releases need to be timed so that they coincide with the wanted behavior. In this case the behavior would be moving away.

Or you can get into clicker training (+R), although many of the “going away” behaviors we want from horses are easier to get with negative reinforcement (-R).