The first couple of weeks that we had Prince, he was on pretty strict quarantine for his protection. Only necessary personnel such as the feeders and the vet went in with him, and I admired him from across the fence only, until he was about three and a half weeks old. The first time I went in to see him, the thing that struck me right away was how tiny he was up close. He was much smaller than other foals of his age that I’ve been around. The second thing I realized was that he was running straight at me. He bounded up to me, whirled around and kicked up at me — the little stinker!
Well, we can’t have that kind of thing. It’s not too dangerous and is even slightly cute (to some people, I guess), when he only weighs 50 pounds. But soon he’s going to weigh 10 to 15 times that and he can become really dangerous if that behavior continues.
Feather has done a great job of teaching him how to be a horse and what proper horse social cues and body language looks like, but horses see each individual horse (or human) in their lives as a totally separate relationship, so each person that he interacts with is going to be somewhat different. In other words, respect for Feather definitely does not translate to respect for us. Also, Feather is tougher than we are and can tolerate a lot more kicking, biting and being jumped on than we fragile humans can.
Raising a foal is a huge responsibility and the fact that Prince is an orphan foal makes it that much more imperative that we go the extra mile in helping him learn to be a good little citizen. We’re lucky here at Horse Haven to have ways to meet all of Prince’s needs, and as with any horse, things must be done in balance. All domestic horses need good vet and dental care, good nutrition, a good farrier (the person who cares for their feet), other horses to live with, lots of room to run and move, a safe environment and healthy interactions with the humans in their lives. And that’s where I come in.
As a trainer, I feel a special responsibility to help Prince learn how to properly interact with people, how to be confident and enjoy his association with us, and how to be respectful of us at the same time. Because Prince is an orphan and has always interacted with people, and because he sees us as his food source, his confidence in people in general is extraordinarily high ― higher than most horses. It’s a wonderful thing that he has no fear of us at all, but it is also a double-edged sword in that a high level of confidence usually goes hand in hand with a lack of respect.
This is what I found when I went in with Prince for the first time and he offered to kick me. He also charged forward into my personal space and jumped onto me with his front end. So, I have to start our lessons by protecting my own space (and my body) and discouraging him from coming into my personal bubble. He obviously can’t be trusted there.
We’ll talk much more in future entries about the actual methods we’re using to help to shape our little sapling of a foal. We’re bound and determined to give him the best start we can, in all of the important areas of his life.