On Raising Baby Horses

When I talked about how Copper responded to the deflated swimming pool yesterday, I thought a lot about when he was a baby since most of his “spook training” was done back then. I worked differently with Copper as a young horse than I did Robin, and the results are clear to anyone who knows them.

When I was working with Robin as a young horse, I was rushed. I was also fourteen years old. So between my lack of knowledge and my lack of opportunities to work with her, the times that we spent together when she was under three were rushed. It wasn’t that I had a full time job at fourteen, but I was keeping her at my then instructor’s barn so that I’d have that knowledge base to work with a baby. While the knowledge base was on the same property, the different variables at the barn made it almost impossible to foster a positive learning environment for a young horse. There were always lessons in progress in the indoor and in the outdoor when the weather was nice, and frequently there were handicapped riders having therapy sessions. It wasn’t exactly the atmosphere to try things with a sometimes dramatic two year old. Add to the list that I was heavily involved with helping with the leadline lessons and the therapy programs and there were literally not enough hours in the day. I’d be permitted to bring her in for round pen sessions (there weren’t students or therapy sessions in the round pen) and work her in there between lessons. Between lessons translated to hoping that the person coming for the 4 pm lesson was late or the 3 pm lesson left early.

Robin as a two year old with R. Yes, R and I have been friends forever. This picture is 11 years old.

Occasionally there were thirty minute intervals that I could run out, catch Robin, cross tie her, tack her up, do some ground work, crawl on and then promptly run out of time. So once I was on Robin, I’d rush to put her through her paces under saddle. Guess who was never mentally ready for that? Robin. And so she developed a rearing problem. Needless to say, the rearing problem scared students and the handicapped students alike, so I wasn’t even allowed to ride her in front of them when they weren’t riding. This lead to me bringing Robin home and throwing her out in the field for over a year before begging my dad to send her to a professional trainer for 30 days. She never reared once in his care. She was allowed to learn at her own speed.

A Soft Spot for Stars: On Raising Baby Horses

Robin and I at the trainer’s barn after being restarted.

When I bought Copper I was eighteen. I had literally just enough money in my bank account to buy his scrawny butt. He was a product of a halter horse barn that injured himself young in life and didn’t show any promise in the halter pen. He was cute though, and I wanted a baby Appaloosa, so he became mine. While my parents bought me Robin, I bought Copper without really seeking their permission despite the fact that I still lived at home. Or at least I don’t recall a conversation when I asked if I could buy a baby horse. This mindset of asking for forgiveness rather than permission has transferred over quite easily to my marriage. (For example, Russell the majestic stud donkey…Paige…) Copper and Robin were opposites as babies where ground work was concerned. She was pretty chill naturally whereas he gave everything side eye. In his defense, most of his time prior to my ownership was spent being treated for his wonky leg injury or being traumatized when he was weaned. Copper loved his mama and desperately needed someone he could trust to take her place.

A Soft Spot for Stars: On Raising Baby Horses Over the course of months, Copper became more confident. He tied great (better as a baby than Robin does currently) did fine with clippers, and was mostly cavalier with new experiences and places. When we took him to his first show seven months after I bought him, his only concern was when he was stalled and we left the stall area. As long as he could see a horse he knew (his older brother, Duke) or one of his people, he was fine. Once we were out of sight he let his presence be known with a shrill whinny.

A Soft Spot for Stars: On Raising Baby Horses

We did well in this class, he stared at his brother’s butt the entire time.

Copper has never really been the type to bite people, but when he’s nervous/in a new environment and feels anxious, he’ll reach over and grab my sleeve with his teeth. If that were to happen at the barn, we’d have words, but at a show, I know he’s feeding off of my anxiety, so I just shake him off and correct him softly. With Copper, things are only as big of a deal as I make them. That doesn’t happen much anymore. He’s (slowly) developed more of the quiet confidence of an aged horse. He can be left tied to a trailer alone at an open show with a hay bag and he doesn’t lose it. He may neigh once or twice, but he’s learned that I’m not going to leave him somewhere to die.

A Soft Spot for Stars: On Raising Baby Horses

I taught Copper something that I didn’t teach Robin. He knows that I’ve got his back. He’s aware of the fact that I’m much more cautious than he is. Are there things in his “childhood” that I’d do differently given the opportunity? Yes. Are there things in Robin’s I’d do differently, oh heck yes. I really enjoy raising babies. If I could go back and do it with either of these two I would. I wouldn’t re-raise Paige. Someone did a great job and she’s the best thing ever, but I’d like to try to raise one to be like Paige (you know, thus the breeding/vet bills/insanity that I’ve endured this year for nothing).

A Soft Spot for Stars: On Raising Baby Horses

One of my favorite pictures of these two.

I’ve been casually looking at weanlings online, studying their papers and trying to decide what I really like. I considered the prospect of getting nurse mare foals, but I don’t think I could handle it if one of them didn’t make it, plus I’m not able to constantly supervise/feed an unweaned baby while working full time. In a perfect world I’d buy a baby from the people who have the studly that I initially wanted to breed Paige to, but since those babies are priced to represent their quality plus are located on the opposite side of the country, that just isn’t a feasible option for me financially. I’ve been looking around here and have found three interesting weanlings. I don’t know if I’ll buy before winter (I doubt it), but it is fun to look either way. If anyone wants to look at baby horses with me, let me know. 😉