What a blank slate really means
Before I took an active part in training my own horses the thought of a blank slate seemed generally appealing. A horse that has had nobody to mess with it and - unless they are a good trainer themselves - teach it bad habits. But lately I have come to realize what a blank slate really means.
1) For some people the definition of blank slate is a horse that just never had anything done with it. Raised by mom, stayed out on pasture ever since. For one of my horses that meant turning onto his third year as an unbroken stallion who had never been taught to lead, lunge, and never trimmed. He has been with his mother and two older sisters for all of his life. This past month he has been handled more than any time in his life. The breeder was halter breaking him so he could be hauled. They spend 2-3 hours simply lunging him to get close enough to halter. If he is pushed too hard he clears a 5ft round pen. But he is pretty much a "blank slate". He behaves kind of like a "domestic mustang" at this point due to lack of handling. I'm unclear whether or not he was ever weaned.
2) Another filly I got was halter broken as a yearling but rarely haltered to go anywhere. She had no fine tuning. She does lunge but is like pulling a steer around when she doesn't want to go. I got her at two. As a three year old she now has a good WTC in both directions, slows down with verbal cues, has been saddled, bridled, and ground driven. She came from a breeder that handles their foals, and when I met her as a weanling she was the friendliest little doll. She has come so far, and I am glad she had the handling to build upon. But even for how far she has come she gets bouts of I REALLY don't want to work right now.
3) Number three in this wonderful comparison is my filly Takala. She is only two this year. Her training is leagues farther than the other two, and she has had all her ground work done where she has a good understanding since she was one. She was born on my farm and I handled her and taught her everything she knows. Great for farrier, vet, stellar at shows, saddles, bridles, lunges WTC both ways, and pretty much all around a push button horse. She is super friendly, and was handled probably every day up until she was 7-8 months and I turned her out to pasture to grow. I go further spans without taking her out and working her and she is never rusty. She is ready to put a rider on her and hit the trail, which will happen without a problem when she turns three.
4) I also want to mention a fourth horse that I know, the same age as my two. Her dam is a special cup of tea, and one of the flightiest horses I have ever seen. Everything offends her. Her daughter ended up the same way, and both of them were given away. Daughter was halter broke but had absolutely NO special skills. She is being sold as a blank slate now. Reasoning? Because she CANNOT be handled! She is batty like the dam, who I leased for a while but didn't work out. Horses like that don't get touched for a reason. And in order to "increase her worth" the breeder who had her BRED her to an unproven train wreck stallion.
So the definition of blank slate when it comes to horses varies. To me, and the foals I raise, it is incredibly important to start working with them while they are young. At this point I am done buying projects, don't need anyone else's wild child for me to appreciate an appropriately handled horse. Four different horses of roughly the same age, ready to start their riding careers, and only one out of all of them could have a rider on its back tomorrow (barring age restrictions). I would get a lightly handled horse again without an issue, the second filly is actually such a joy to work with. Her little brain thinks, and she does a terrific job now.
So, discussion time. Which of the four theoretically would you buy as a three year old? (Never selling mine, so just for discussion purposes ignoring breed, color, discipline, etc.) Is a blank slate really better?
P.S. For those who may wonder I did buy the stallion as a horse for breeding, and he will be sent out for 60 days of training in late summer/fall. And apparently no, his sisters are not pregnant. ? Interesting management techniques...