Start ’em Young

Starting early with positive reinforcement training can be the first step to your foal having a successful career. Early foal training, which begins with informal scratching and graduates to more targeted sessions over time, is all about creating positive associations with human contact.

Article by Megan Arszman, Photos by Molly Montag

You walk into your barn one day to find a shaving has penetrated one of your young horse’s eyes. You know right away it will require veterinary attention in a sensitive area, but that’s not all.

For treatment, medication must be applied throughout the day to help the eye heal. One of two things is about to happen: The horse will not allow you to work with its head or get near its eye, so it becomes a battle; or the horse allows you to treat the eye in a calm fashion, without extra handlers or stress.

For Jenny Biehunko, DVM, it’s simple. The second scenario shows what can be achieved with early foal training and classic conditioning, while the first situation is what can happen if you don’t do your homework early enough.

“The intention [of early foal training] is to create super positive association,” explained Biehunko, a University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine graduate and current resident with the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. “It’s all about positive reinforcement.”

To read more about giving your foal a head start, click here or flip to page 118 in the October 2020 Reiner.