Raising a Baby Deserves Careful Consideration
By Kim Roe
Purchasing a young horse (weanling to yearling) is something many horse owners consider at some point. Some people reason that it’s a path to owning a higher-quality horse in a more affordable package than a mature, trained horse. For many people, well-bred trained horses can be priced far out of reach, especially if they have a show record. Other folks purchase a colt in order to be involved with the early training of their future riding partner and to experience the joys of raising a horse from baby to mature.
Three Benefits of Buying a Weanling or Yearling
1. Bonding and Trust
One of the best things about raising a horse from a weanling or yearling is that a close bond is developed. A young horse’s natural curiosity, playfulness, and impressionable mind can result in their human easily becoming a member of their herd, and one who is strongly trusted. But be careful you don’t destroy that trust or teach them something you’ll regret later.
2. Easy to Train
Young horses are fresh, blank slates, and they learn quickly. It’s easier to train a horse correctly from the beginning than to fix one that’s spoiled or fearful.
If you have the experience or can get good professional help, you can mold a baby into your perfect horse. If you spoil him, you’ll have a monster for life (or you’ll saddle some other poor person with your brat.) Some of the hardest horses to train (or reform) are those backyard babies that were raised by well-meaning people who spoiled their colts.
Whenever we are in the presence of a horse, we are training him. Feeding, grooming, holding for the vet and farrier, and stall cleaning are all opportunities to train the essentials of good manners. Teaching a young horse to accept clippers and load in the trailer when there isn’t an agenda (like going to a show) is beneficial.
By asking a little every day over many years the horse hardly notices he’s being trained. The result is a solid citizen. Starting your young horse under saddle can be a non-event if they already know how to yield to pressure, back away, respect space, and accept tack.
3. Pleased to Know You
When you raise a horse from a baby you know everything about him. You know about any accidents he might have had and what feed he does well on. You know if he’s aggressive, the leader of the herd, or passive and timid. And you know about any traumatic events that may have happened to him.
Important questions to ask yourself before bringing a weanling or yearling into your life include:
Can You Afford it?
It’s true that unstarted young horses are significantly cheaper to purchase than well-trained riding and show horses, but they aren’t less expensive in the long run. Raising and training your own will cost you plenty in time and money; the expense is just spread out over many years.
In most cases, it’s cheaper to buy a trained mature horse. If you need to hire someone to start your colt, or if you need to board him, he’s going to cost you a lot to raise.
Let’s assume you have the skill to train your colt yourself and can keep him at home. It costs at least $3,000 a year to keep a horse, and much more if there’s a major vet bill. If you buy a weanling, you’ll be able to put that horse into fairly hard work as a 4- or 5-year-old. You’ve now spent a minimum of $15,000, which doesn’t include the initial purchase price.
Can You Wait?
One of the joys of raising your own is watching your colt grow up and mature and change, but this takes many years. Do you have the patience to wait? It’s important to not push a youngster too much. Horses need to learn to be horses first. Too much work ruins them both physically and mentally.
Do You Have the Space?
Young horses need room to move. They need companionship, stimulation, and exercise. They need to learn the rules of the herd. A young horse that is raised away from other horses is going to have social problems, and possibly some psychological ones. They need to run on hills and good ground and not be confined to stalls and small paddocks.
Raising and training a young horse is a huge undertaking, but one that is joyful and incredibly rewarding. It’s important to consider your own strengths and weaknesses and the realities of what a baby horse needs before you bring your colt home.
Kim Roe grew up riding on the family ranch and competed in Western rail classes, trail horse, reining, working cow, and hunter/jumper. She trained her first horse for money at 12 years old, starting a pony for a neighbor.
Kim has been a professional dressage instructor in Washington state for over 30 years, training hundreds of horses and students through the levels. In recent years Kim has become involved in Working Equitation and is a small ‘r’ Working Equitation judge with WE United.
Kim is the editor of the Northwest Horse Source Magazine, and also a writer, photographer, and poet. She owns and manages Blue Gate Farm in Deming, Washington where she continues to be passionate about helping horses and riders in many disciplines.