I thought I’d write a little post about our method of weaning Conker our foal. We decided to wean Conker at around 9 months of age. He was happily eating mainly grass & some hay so was no longer dependent on milk. Riah had had her first season of the year, so in the wild she would be readily available to get into foal for a second time, naturally weaning Conker from herself. We had already introduced 3 other companion geldings to the mix, ranging from 3 years old to 12years old. Conker was spending much more of his time with them than with Riah. We had also been working on handling Conker. He could be lead in from the field in front of Riah, he understood turning his hind quarters should he turn them into the rope bringing himself back to face me, lifting his feet to be picked out and backing up out of my personal space. We developed a routine firstly of coming into the stables to be groomed then going to the arena with Riah and watching her in her first few stages of coming back into work. Seeing her with a rider for the first time was scary at first but he soon became used to it. Then the tricky step, we would bring all 5 horses in from the field. Riah would head to the arena on her own to work while Conker and his friends relaxed in the stable. OK Conker did not relax at first but with his truly calm companions around him he soon understood that chilling out to eat hay & be groomed was a good idea. Now this is where the turning the hind quarters exercise really mattered. When Riah left the stable I stayed with Conker on a head collar and a fairly long rope (not a full length natural horsemanship one) inside his stable, he had a window so he could watch Riah go into the arena.
I choose one spot to stand in, this was right next to Azures nose (his best friend in the next stable) and next to the hay net. Every time Conker turned away from me I allowed him to turn but not push through the rope, so the rope would make contact with his side and he knew he needed to turn his hind quarters away to come back to face me. Admittedly on occasion I dropped the rope (no ones perfect) but I remained grounded & calm (possibly the most important thing throughout the whole experience) and at a suitable safe moment I would collect the rope. Due to my calm grounded demeanour Conker learnt very quickly that if I dropped the rope the best course of action was to turn to face me. Good Conker what a clever lad! Once Conker was calm and eating his hay and Riah had finished her exercise she would return to the stables. This would cause the energy to rise and Conker to get a little upset, so we would calmly and quickly untack Riah & feed her and lucky Salvador. Meanwhile Conker, Azure and Flynn would head back to the field while I waited near the gate a little way into the field creating an energy barrier that the horses were not allowed to cross therefore not allowing them stand by the gate. Once Conker had calmed down and joined the others grazing, Riah and Salvador would join them in the field. (see video of Conker whinnying whilst grazing, yes the whinny is coming from him even though he doesn’t lift his head in the slightest!)
OK so the pre-requisites are in place, now for the big day!! Asil had also joined the group which did make things slightly easier, meaning him and Flynn could stay in the field and await the return of Conker, Salvador and Azure.
So we started as normal by bringing into the stables Conker, Azure, Salvador and Riah but today there was a slight change, Champion was going to work with Riah in the arena (her companion horse) The idea was that Riah and Champion would work in the arena until Conker had calmed down, when Conker was calm enough he and the lads would be taken back to the field, then Riah and Champion would hack to their field without coming into eye site of Conker. To save time & because of where the arena was situated we were able to sneak Riah and Champion out of the arena back doors & they successfully hacked up to their field with a fairly excited Riah ready to be back with her friends. When Conker was calm we took him back to the field, it only took him a few minutes to realise Riah was not coming back in a hurry and he would be better off grazing with the others. Success!
One of the reasons this weaning went according to plan is due to the fact our horses live out as herds. When an established herd is in place, life is made easier for the horses to become part of that herd and find themselves within a happy hierarchy. Conker was quickly accepted as one of the bachelors. He has a couple of younger horses to play with and a few older horses to teach him the way of the horse. Since weaning, Noble and Tjarda have been added to the group, two more older & wiser horses to keep the youngsters on the right track. Riah went back with our main herd. As you can see in the video of her reunion the mid group horses check her out. Pluto one of the lead boys keeps control of the group by circling but is soon headed off by Onion who takes more control of the situation. Guapa the lead mare observes from the side making sure no one causes any trouble. Within a few days the herd settled with Riah taking position alongside Guapa as lead mares. Happy Horses Healthy Horses. I hope you have enjoyed reading our post and feel free to ask questions about our herd and our weaning process.