Babies

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Abby Summer 2007 Appaloosa x filly
Babies are such a joy to watch. They have a softness, an innocence that is so appealing that we often wish we could just pick them up and give them a cuddle. Watching new babies discover the world is probably the best entertainment I can think of.

Many people buy foals because they are so cute, and because you can often buy them fairly inexpensively.


There’s a reason they are cheaper…you have to feed and care for them for three years before you can really do much with them. Then comes the slow process of training. Quite often people take foals home, they play with them for a time, then the baby gets rough and rambunctious (for us, just natural play for them) and suddenly they aren’t so much fun.

What often happens next is that the horse is put out to pasture until it grows up, at which time it is big and strong and hasn’t learned to socialize with people. Many of these horses face a trip to the auction because they are unmanageable or, if they’re fillies they are bred because no one knows what else to do with them.

That was why we adopted our little Abby (featured in the picture above). Abby was a “love child”, her father is unknown. While it is not hard to find a home for a baby, especially one as cute as her, we knew that there was a very good chance she would end up wild at the auction and probably go to the meat dealer. Our goal is to see that she is properly started under saddle and has a skill set before she leaves us (if we let her go at all). That is our goal for every horse that passes through our hands, that they are suited for a “job” that will give them value for their lifetime.

Abby was named after Abigail Scott, a pioneer woman, because of her rough start in life. When Abby came to us she was two months old, could not be touched; she had been born in a freezing cold rainstorm with only trees for protection and had sustained an injury to the top of her front leg the first day of her life. When we got her we found that she had an entropian eyelid...it was turned in on the eyeball and the lashes were rubbing on her eye. Since she couldn't be caught or handled, two young cowboys down the road generously offered to help - they caught her, lay her down and held her for the vet to staple the eyes. Unfortunately, they had to repeat the process for the stapes to be removed and thankfully the procedure was successful and she has a normal eye today!

It took a long time for us to get near her (luckily she is food motivated and we were able to use that to our advantage). Every day we hand fed her grain from a bucket and while she ate we would “sneak” a touch until gradually she became confident and trusting of us. We got her to allow a halter on and off, and a fly mask, and let us run our hands over her and down her legs. Skip even picked up her feet from time to time. That was it until weaning.

We weaned her very slowly, putting her mom in a paddock next to her and big “buddy” in with her to play. We chose our 17 hh thoroughbred gelding to be her buddy and he looked after her very well. By the time we took her mom away she was unconcerned because she had a friend. By that time she had bonded more with us and was perfectly happy to be led to her stall at night (winter was coming) and back out to play during the day. We often turned the pair out in the field to run, babies especially need to stretch, run, exercise and just have a good buck!

Abby was six months old when we weaned her, winter was coming and it was a good time to give her a stall of her own. It was then that we began working on the concept of tying. Since babies can fight until they hurt themselves, we only looped the rope through the tie up ring in her stall and held the other end. When she tried to get away we could give her plenty of rope but she could not get away, and we kept the tension so that she thought she was still tied. It didn’t take long for her to figure out tying.

At the same time we started doing more brushing and picking up her feet. She was particularly stubborn about the feet…horses often are as their feet are very important to them – they are the means of escape in case of trouble and it is difficult for them to give that up. Patience and persistence and quite a few months got around Abby. She gave up all but one hind foot. That foot I ended up looping a soft rope around and lifting that way. We started with when you stop kicking I’ll put your foot down. We moved to holding the foot up, then to touching the foot, then picking it out. Then without the rope we started with just pick it up for a second. Then pick it up for a minute, then let me hold it, then pick it, and now as a yearling she is pretty good with her feet (although she thought about sitting on the farrier last time he was here, I guess we’ll have to do a bit more practicing).

We don’t do a lot with Abby right now, she is only a yearling. I buddied her up with a horse in the pasture that I knew would look out for her and she has been out every day with her friends, she comes in at night to a paddock in the summer, a stall in the winter. I like to handle her every day, even if it’s just to lead her to and from, that way we maintain some social manners and she doesn’t become so herd bound that she is difficult to deal with when separated.

Periodically I like to do a good grooming for Abby, clip a bridle path, pick her feet, tie her up. I also teach her with daily handling to give to the pressure of the halter, to move away from pressure on her sides, to back up and to stand still for a period of time. These are things that take only minutes per day but pay off when it comes to training later.

I believe that if we are to ask our horses to behave like domestic animals then we need to spend the time with them and become their alternative to living a wild herd bound life. That makes it easier for us to work with them and less traumatic for them.

*It is my opinion that a foal is a bad choice for a first horse. If you have the time and money to spend a foal can be a better choice as a project, in addition to a riding horse. Be prepared that although they are sweet and cute, their instincts are to kick, buck, bite, climb on you and generally be unpredictable. They aren’t being mean, they’re just being horses. And because they are little doesn’t mean they can’t hurt you…in fact the worse kick I have ever gotten was from a three day old foal we had to bathe. Stay tuned for more on Abby as she grows up, and see some baby pics below.

 

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Abby & Skip Summer 2007
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Abby & Laddie
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Abby & Iris Mae - Pasture Buddies
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Her Eye Stapled - Two Months Old
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Abby & her buddy, Big Laddie
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Food motivated!
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Rodeo Horse?
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Abby Arrives with Mom - Toonie