…very early in life. Some might say as soon as they are born.
Foals (baby horses) are quickly acclimated to being handled by humans. They are rubbed, petted, and stroked, from head to tail, on their legs, anything and everything to prepare them for a future of being handled by people. Within reason, of course, and within the parameters of what their dam (mother horse) will allow. They even begin wearing halters the very day they are born.
Next comes teaching the foal to lead. It’s a natural instinct to follow wherever the dam goes, and it makes a good lesson with a person walking beside them. The prescribed method of leading is to place one arm around the foal’s chest and another arm around his rump. The foal can get used to someone walking beside him and guiding him even as they follow the dam.
Next comes leading with a shank (rope), which is attached to the foal’s halter and then looped over his rump. It’s used to teach the foal to move when and where you want him to go. The dam is still present, keeping an eye on the proceedings and as a reassuring presence for the foal.
It’s not a good idea to simply attach the shank to the halter and start pulling. The foal’s natural instincts will lead him to resist, pull back and, in some cases, rear up on his hind legs.
While all this seems pretty basic, it’s very important to start off right. That cute, fluffy foal will grow very quickly into a 1,000+ pound, four-legged animal with a mind of his own and the muscle to back up what he wants.
Later on down the road to the Derby, when it comes time to teach them to take a rider, this early education in being handled by people will prove invaluable.