Ending Weaning Trauma
How to Have The Horse You Hope To Find
Years ago I developed a way to wean foals that did not create trauma. I used this approach for over twenty years. During this time, I learned that horses that grew up being weaned in this manner were smarter and had a deeper sense of well being created by the trust they had in human beings. I feel one of the biggest opportunities we have to build trust with horses can be accomplished at weaning.
There were two reasons that I did not want a foal to experience trauma. The first being my understanding of the suffering that they go through. Ripping a foal from its mother as a way to wean is torture. I also felt that by avoiding the trauma I would create a super horse that could connect with humans. What I discovered was that less training was needed, and horses that were weaned without trauma were amazing partners as family pets and as performance horses. They excelled at the top of their ability.
I began the process of weaning at around three months, or when the foal was interested in eating along with his mother. Inside their 80 by 50 foot paddock I set up a corral that was about 12 by 16 foot. There was a bar across the gate that the foal could go under, but it restricted the mom from entering. This way the foal got to practice separation on his or her own terms and the mother could call the foal out if she needed to.
At the afternoon feeding time I put the foal’s food down in his corral and waited for the foal to enter. Then I put the mother’s food down on the other side, close to her foal. When they were both focused on their rations, I closed the gate so the foal could not get out. When the foal discovered that he or she was locked in and wanted out, I would open the gait. (This act built trust in the foal. Instead of taking him from his mom, I was returning him.)
If he had not finished his food I would lock the gate so he could not get back in. The foal was fast to learn that he needed to finish his food before he left. If mom became concerned about the separation, I would accommodate her by returning her foal to her. In no time they had the routine down. (The adjustment time was in the hands of the foal and his mom.)
I increased the time before opening the gate when the foal asked to be let out. This built tolerance in the foal to accept being away from mom, without trauma. When the foal could wait for 20 minutes with no concern, after he had finished his food, it was time to move on to the next step. I would feed mom and lead her foal to the next paddock where the foal’s food was waiting. I would return the foal to mom as soon as the foal was finished. In some cases, I would return the foal even before he was finished so he would look forward to returning. The foal was now around four months old.
By six to eight months, they were no longer worried about being separated and they no longer looked for one another. The foal became interested in exploring life without mom. By six to eight months, mom and offspring no long experienced anxiety being separated for any length of time. The foal lost interest in nursing and the mother dried up.
Weaning foals in this manner, along with shaping the character of the foal with the Waterhole Rituals, turns out a horse that is quite different than a foal that has experienced trauma. The foals that were weaned in this manner naturally enjoyed human company and training. Being lead on a rope is quite natural to them, and they shy less or not at all. They are more willing, secure and optimistic. They get into trailers easily without the need for training. They accept saddles easily, and less bomb proofing is needed. Being ridden was natural to them. Of course there were some that took a bit more care, still they took less care than horses that had experienced weaning trauma.
Note- I think it is very important not to keep a mom and foal together for too long as they will develop a dependence on one another. If left together too long, it takes someone experienced to remove this dependency without causing trauma. Many decisions need to be made on the spot; when to allow and what not to allow. For adult offspring or two horses that experience separation anxiety, I use the same system I do for weaning a foal along with the Waterhole Rituals. I got the same good results…no trauma experienced.
What I wish for every horse lover is that they could experience a horse that was raised without the trauma of separation, to feel what a horse is REALLY like. I wish for horses, that their relationship with humans offer them a better life and that trusting them would be natural.
I know the damages of trauma, first hand, from dealing with my own trauma of separation. Trauma is like a scar on the body. It is always there to remind you. Trauma effects your first reaction to others. With time, it can be repaired through good relationships that heal. 21 Days to Connection with Your Horse, The Chair Challenge program develops a special bond and heals trauma both in horses and humans. The Chair Challenge is an in-depth guided program. It is the suggested prerequisite to the Waterhole Rituals online course. Both programs can be started at the same time. Love to hear from you. I do read all your comments.
Have a great weekend! Be on the lookout for new horse and human sightings and may the horse be with you.