As many people in the horse industry know, preparing a yearling for a sale takes a lot of time, effort, and expense. Though most use the two to three-month period leading up to the sale to put in the majority of the hard work, preparation should technically begin before the horse’s birth, with careful attention to pedigree and optimal health care and nutrition for the dam.
Management during the foal’s first year of life is equally important. However, in order to bring top dollar and give your yearlings the best shot at being future top performers, they must be in peak physical form. This means they should be fit, clean, and well-mannered–not always an easy feat when dealing with a youngster!
Training and Handling
Yearlings not only need to look great at the sale, but they also need to know how to behave. High-strung or misbehaving yearlings may not sell and if they do, they definitely won’t bring as much. Good training and handling really begins at birth, but in the months leading up to the sale, you’ll need to put in plenty of time, making sure your yearling leads well and is accustomed to being around people. Expose him to as many different situations as possible.
Routine grooming and walks will go a long way in getting your yearling used to both you and the outside world. You should also have them accustomed to loading and riding in the trailer, as well as being around other horses.
Before starting any type of pre-sale conditioning program, a veterinary evaluation is important. Radiographs can reveal common joint problems, which may or may not require surgery. Either way, your yearling will need time to heal. If there are physical or conformational problems, they could be made worse by exercise, so it’s best to know about any problems ahead of time.
It probably comes as no surprise that yearlings can’t be conditioned like adult horses. However, they still need to be in top form before the sale. Paddock turnout won’t usually be enough in this case. Therefore, some type of controlled conditioning program will be necessary.
In the past, many people used hand-walking to help tone their yearling’s muscles, and this may still work for some (though it’s time and labor-intensive!). However, other yearlings may need more exercise than just walking in order to stay lean and fit. Slow trotting can usually produce the results that walking can’t. However, this is a case of careful balance as you also don’t want to place too much strain on growing bones and joints.
Begin any kind of conditioning program slowly, with no more than five minutes of slow trotting per day the first week. Gradually increase the amount of time spent slow trotting over the next several weeks, but don’t exceed 15-20 minutes total during one conditioning session. Additional days or even adding two conditioning sessions per day (morning and evening) may be needed for some yearlings.
Aside from hand-walking, some options for conditioning your yearling include:
Ponying a yearling will require an experienced rider and ponying horse, and it may take some time to acclimate the yearling to this style of exercise.
Round pens are commonly used for conditioning yearlings as well. The yearling can be worked loose, but for more control, a lunge line can be used. If using the round pen, make sure to gradually increase exercise time and work the horse equally in both directions to avoid uneven muscle building.
Mechanical exercisers are probably the most popular method for conditioning yearlings, but they are also the most expensive. A mechanical exerciser works similarly to a hot walker, but the yearling is not connected to a lead line. Instead, the exerciser “wheel” is divided into six small, suspended pens that move in a circular fashion. This allows six yearlings to be exercised at once and is usually a safer bet than a hot walker with young horses. The exerciser has different speeds and can go in both directions.
Treadmills are another option for those willing to invest in such equipment. Treadmills provide an even surface for the horse to move on while also allowing the owner/trainer to evaluate how the horse moves. Another advantage of the treadmill is that it can be inclined to simulate hill work, which is helpful in defining the back and hindquarters. However, keep in mind that incline work should be introduced slowly and never exceed 10-15 minutes per session. It also should be used no more than three times per week as overdoing hill work may lead to lameness problems.
Treadmill exercise is best when used in conjunction with other forms of conditioning such as hand walking/jogging or round pen work. This will help to avoid development of a short, choppy gait, as sometimes occurs with horses exercised solely on a treadmill.
Nutrition for Yearlings
High-quality nutrition is paramount for any yearling, and especially those that are being prepped for sale. In the months leading up to the sale, most yearlings will be kept inside the barn during the daytime to avoid bleaching of the hair coat as well as to have them accessible for conditioning, handling, and grooming.
Feeding yearlings in the two to three-month period prior to sale usually involves three grain or concentrate meals, equaling between 8-12 pounds of concentrated feed daily. However, increasing concentrated feed should always be done slowly over a period of 7-14 days to avoid digestive upset.
Likewise, keep in mind that the amount of concentrate fed will depend on the individual horse, their current body condition, the time of year, as well as pasture availability. If yearlings are gaining weight too quickly, pasture turnout may need to be limited or more conditioning may be needed.
Adding a healthy fat source such as camelina or flaxseed oil can help to improve coat condition and also increase energy intake. Rice bran oil is another popular choice, as it contains gamma-oryzanol, a nutrient which may help improve muscle development as well.
When it comes to sale time, Fullbucket’s Probiotic Paste can be a great addition. No matter how much prep work you’ve put in, sales are still stressful on young horses, and a high-quality probiotic can help to protect the digestive system and support the immune system during this time.
There’s no doubt about it–prepping yearlings for the sale is a big job. But putting in the time and effort with training and handling, conditioning, and good nutrition will pay off when you find the right buyer who you know will help your yearling reach their full potential as a future equine athlete.→Highly Recommended: FullBucket’s Probiotic Paste can help improve your yearling’s stress response at sales. Get yours today as the ultimate yearling sales prep!←