Horse Training

Starting Your Colt

August 2, 2011

Taking the first ride on a colt carries responsibility.

By Joe Wolter in America’s Horse

young horse with rider

Giving your young horse a good foundation is an important responsibility that you have as a horse owner. Journal photo.

More people are starting to realize how starting a colt can affect the rest of their lives – the horse and the people who’ll be riding him.

Colt-starting clinics are popular these days for students and spectators. Horsemen make it look easy, but there’s a lot involved. And there’s a lot at risk. Besides the rider getting hurt, I think we risk compromising that horse’s career in ways we don’t usually link back to those first days or months of handling.

Perhaps we get more spectators at colt-starting clinics because the horses make such big changes – dramatic changes. They go from independence, wandering around, grazing all the time, to accepting a halter, saddle and a person on their back.

Compared to that, you might not see a real high percentage of change in any one ride. Watching a horse’s day-to-day progress becomes more like watching grass grow. It doesn’t seem like anything’s happening, but after a few days or weeks, you see measurable change. I guess that saying, “You reap what you sow,” applies to horses, too. Those first couple of rides, you’re sowing something of value, but it’s easy to unintentionally plant a few weeds in there, too.

We all want to become better riders, improving our rhythm, form, confidence and so much more. AQHA Professional Horseman Richard Shrake gets you started in the right direction toward a better relationship with your horse in AQHA’s FREE Riding Lessons with Richard Shrake report.

A lot of people aren’t real particular about who gets on their colt the first time, or how much feel this person has for young horses. Some folks might even plan to have the horse professionally trained but let anyone who’s not afraid to ride him first. I can’t say it’s wrong, because a lot of horses that we consider good horses got started despite us. I just personally wonder how different it might have been for the horse, or for the person riding him next, if that horse had gotten off to a really good start. And I wonder how much better that horse might have been.

A lot of people take pride in starting a colt themselves, and I sure understand that. I just hope they think about it first. Decide if the risk is worth the reward. I’m not just talking about physical risks. The potential for injury is greater for someone who isn’t experienced, but not even the best cowboys are immune. Also think in terms of risk to that horse’s potential.

People often send horses to a trainer to finish, or sometimes to “fix,” as the case might be. Perhaps they’d be ahead to let someone experienced start the horse. If a horse has a good foundation, later on he may get confused, but we can go back to that good foundation and rebuild our good horse.

In AQHA’s FREE Riding Lessons with Richard Shrake report, Richard shows you how to watch for signs from your horse that you’re moving too fast for him. He shows you how to slow down your hands and rhythm to make your horse more comfortable and less sensitive. Learn these and many other important tips today!

Picking who starts your colt might require more research. Starting colts isn’t a high-profile job, but there are a lot of people who specialize in it who want the colts they rode first to succeed. Like in any job, look for someone who likes what he or she does – especially someone who genuinely likes horses, for there are some who don’t.

On the other hand, starting your colt yourself could be the most rewarding experience of your life and you might give your horse the best start he could get.

Either way, just realize your responsibility to your horse.

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