September 13th, 2018 2:59 PM | No Comments

Setting Your Yearling up for Success with a Solid Foundation.

By Michaela Stephens


Jan Pittman and All Eyezs On Me by VS Code Blue

The day your adorable foal in the pasture becomes a smart, opinionated yearling often sneaks up on even the most prepared owner. While holding a cuddly foal in your arms, it is easy to believe that you have ages for training. The sooner you begin, however, the more equipped he will be to handle his next chapter in life. It is possible to let him be a foal and develop social skills in the pasture all while having the correct education. Traditionally, a foal’s first year or two is focused on ground manners. Whether your plan is to place your yearling on the market or begin molding him into your next winner, there are a few vital steps in his training foundation that should not be skipped, before moving forward.


As obvious as this point may seem, you would be surprised at the number of owners who fall into the trap of letting their foal get away with rearing or nipping at a young age, only to find themselves unable to cure them later when it comes time to sell. As a first lesson, a yearling should be easy to catch and generally be accustomed to being handled. Teaching him to stand quietly while tied while he is young and lightweight will result in a horse that doesn’t realize pulling back is an option. Your young one should also tolerate a proper bath and be accustomed to the activity surrounding departure for a show.

For an established breeder such as Debi East of Rockin’ E Farms in West Bountiful, Utah, having their babies well-handled from the start gives the best foundation to compete as a two-year-old. This practice has worked well in the past, earning her farm consistent top placing in the Reichert Celebration’s Color Classic Two-Year-Old Western Pleasure Classes.

“We handle all of our babies right from the start. Everyone is shod, and we keep up with their health records so they have the best possible environment;’ Debi said.

Your yearling should stand quietly while tied, be acquainted with every grooming item at your disposal, and be relaxed around spray bottles. Whether you use the clippers or not, your yearling should be familiar with their sound near every area, as he may potentially be clipped in the future. It is much easier to introduce them to the sound of clippers and ear handling when they are open to learning as babies than to wrestle a 1,200-pound animal that someone neglected to train properly.


A solid foundation on your yearling will help to have him ready for fall sales. Pictured here is a stunning yearling by Its A Southern Thing owned by Gumz Farms.


Your yearling is essentially a pre-teen, and now boasts the body weight to earn some consideration. Beginning his etiquette course right away will ensure a yearling that respects your personal space, and later becomes an adult that easily grasps the concept of moving away from pressure in under-saddle training. Horses need to learn boundaries early, and they respond well to guidance with their herd mentality.

By his first birthday, your youngster should be well aware that it is unacceptable to enter your spatial boundaries without invitation and he should move away from pressure if you enter his space. He should easily yield to any pressure you apply, both forward and backward. This knowledge enforces that he should look to you for guidance, a rule that will make his advanced training enjoyable for you both. It will also help build foundation for Showmanship and Halter classes, should you, or a potential buyer, want to compete in those events.


Your yearling should be familiar with leading and yielding to the pressure of a halter. These early lessons are the founders stone for the years of bridling, longing and groundwork to come. Teach him to respect your spaceA9Rbvodoz_1qos88v_228

at all times. Instruct him to stand quietly at the end of a line for long periods of time while working to teach patience. This will be beneficial at events in the future, waiting for a class to begin, waiting for class results, or socializing at shows. Long walks can double as training time, enforcing spatial boundary lines and ground manners. These walks also help condition his young body and teach him to focus on new terrain outside his pasture. Walk him over tarps, over poles, around cones and through water. Take care to desensitize him to as much of the world as possible before moving to the saddle. While on the ground, you become his herd and you can teach him to be soothed by your voice. Beyond the ground lessons, spend as much time with him as possible.

For Elizabeth “Spike” Roberts Brewer, owner of Roberts & Brewer Show Horses, their future champion Hunter Under Saddle and Western Pleasure mounts benefit from having plenty of time to grow in their first year.

“We let our babies have time in the pasture to grow strong bodies and minds;’ she said. “But we do handle them daily and want them to be sure of their ground manners. We let them tell us when they are mentally ready for more training:’


In addition to walks alone, let him tag along on trail rides with one of your seasoned veterans. Ponying, the act of leading your horse from the saddle while riding another, is an easy way to let him gain exposure to new scenarios with the soothing presence of a buddy before being put in scary situations on his own. He can take cues from your riding horse on how to handle a frightening object and learn that trails are an enjoyable break from the arena. It is also a great way to desensitize your horse to traffic and having other horses in close quarters with him. Make certain that he can remain calm around any traffic or wildlife you may encounter alone later.


Every yearling can benefit from being taught to longe, whether to result in a more manageable first ride or teaching control. When he is older, having this skill down solid allows you to work him under saddle for months before climbing aboard. You can teach voice commands which will aid the transition to cues once in the saddle. Working in a circle will benefit his balance and gaits, and you can teach him proper leads from the beginning. Introducing him to trail obstacles he may face under saddle in the future allows him to deal with foreign objects on his own, while you are still present for support. There are, however, many opinions of the amount of lunging a growing horse should be asked.

We don’t want to risk lameness with much lunging at our facility;’ Spike explains. Her husband, Jody Brewer adds “We often move directly to starting them under saddle when they are ready:’


Horses are more susceptible to parasites when they are young. In fact, ascarids are most common in young horses. Strongyles are also known to do more damage at young ages. Every yearling should be accustomed to worming practices to prevent parasite problems. Regularly use a common plastic oral syringe with a pleasant filling in between worming dates. Again, it is much easier to patiently teach this correctly the first time than to wrestle an adult horse down the road.


One point that cannot be emphasized enough is the importance of training for the trailer. Not only should your yearling be safe while tied to the trailer, he should view loading as a positive experience. Safety while trailering begins at a young age. Your yearling should be an old hand at loading up safely and taking a short trailer ride to nowhere, demonstrating to him early that he will come right back home. Trailering him to a park to take a long walk is the perfect activity. He should be accustomed to trailering alone or with others. Let trailering be a no-pressure situation. Never begin teaching trailering lessons under a time deadline. You will not be riding, so there should be no pressure to arrive anywhere, and your young one should feel this relaxed atmosphere. Treats, grain and hay are good incentives to show your horse that the trailer isn’t a bad place.

“Our yearlings are broke to handle well in all situations;’ Debi said. “They are trailered lightly, such as going to the vet, but we are mainly focused on sacking them out at that age:’


If manners are taught early your yearling will have a happier and more successful life. Pictured here is Roger Landis of North Farm with Make Me Willy Famous by Winnies Willy.


Everyone has known someone with the “one-person horse” While this idea sounds magical in Hollywood, the reality is a disaster. From a young age, your horse should be handled by a variety of professionals. Your horse should trust all humans and look to them for guidance. Horses have circumstantial memory capability and should be eased into veterinary and farrier situations to keep the experiences pleasant.

At the very least, if you plan to sell your yearling, you should anticipate the possibility of vet checks by potential buyers. Your youngster should be properly sacked out, capable of being touched anywhere on the body. His feet should be handled easily and safely. Whenever the vet or farrier is at your facility visiting other horses, have them stop to greet your yearling to maintain the positive impression. Regularly use a rasp lightly on his feet until the sound and feel does not worry him. Let him feel comfortable stretching his forefeet out in front of him to rest on a step to foreshadow shoeing experiences. Take his temperature a few times so that he is used to you handling his tail. You want to build toward a lifetime of positive medical visits.


Longe Line classes can provide a great introduction to show life for your yearling. Pictured: Stanley Scott and Comin At Ya Blue by VS Code Blue.


Throughout your training experiences with your yearling, remind yourself to keep lessons short and sweet. School him in something simple in the arena and end the lesson on a high note with a relaxing walk once he grasps the concept. Review the lesson briefly the next day before adding a new lesson but remember that asking too much will only result in frustration. Small things make a difference in a quality horse, so only tackle one at a time.

Repetition is a key component to building a young horse’s confidence. You want to reinforce the idea that time spent with you is enjoyable. Consistency is essential with young horses! Be fair when correcting behaviors, but always remain consistent on which behavior is wrong at which time. Always foreshadow the future, with voice cues and methods of giving praise. Set a solid foundation for later with the tools you have at your disposal today.


Originally from Nebraska, Michaela Stephens graduated from the University of Nebraska with a degree in English and Animal Science. After interning for the American Paint Horse Association’s Paint Horse Journal, she has enjoyed writing for APHA’s new lifestyle magazine, Chrome. Her passion of rehabilitating rescue horses has led to a familiarity with a wide variety of riding disciplines.

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