If you spend time observing a mare and her foal, you’ll see the foal mirroring every move its mother makes. It will be stuck to her side as if still attached by the umbilical cord. It is a beautiful thing to watch.
Besides the period of bonding that occurs shortly after birth, the foal is born with an instinct to follow—be it its mother or another herd-mate. Through this, the foal learns about its environment and gains confidence from its mother or pasture/herd mates.
This is a concept that is often used during training. Being with an older, calmer horse gives the young or green horse a sense of safety and security. Pebbles, our three-year-old, has greatly benefited from this practice while she learned what we expect from her.
We have been getting Pebbles accustomed to different types of gear, and observing things out of both eyes while learning to stand to be saddled. We’ve also been teaching her to move out freely and change direction with her tack on. Then, we started ponying her off Cassie on short trail rides, and when she became worried or insecure she found comfort in another horse being close and moving out with her. This has helped her become comfortable traveling over varied terrain while slowly building her fitness.
Cassie, being an older, seasoned horse who has become confident on the trail, is the perfect surrogate mother for Pebbles. She is teaching her about the wide world and helping her become accustomed to the sight of a person up above her, as well as riders and horses behind her. All of these experiences are preparing Pebbles to be a steady, confident partner for her humans.