Starting Your Colt

Taking the first ride on a colt carries responsibility.

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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18 thoughts on “Starting Your Colt”

  1. I start all my horses…and finish them, have been ever since I got my first baby at the age of 13. I guess I never thought of it that way, that the first ride makes a huge difference, but I guess it is a good point. However my first ride tends to be either hop on bareback with the halter and walk around or a snaffle bit, depending. Just something nice and easy. But I also ground drive before riding and do a lot of ground work. I think it goes farther back than just the first ride. I know I have learned a lot since I first started, my training goes quicker, get finished results sooner. It is a lot of fun and I know I have a lot of feel, but I also will not start horses for other people, just for myself, because I know my horses.

  2. I have started my own colts. I am over 50 and should not be doing this but tell my husband it keeps me from having a bad mid life crisis! I do lots of ground work and follow a combination of techniques of the clinicians. They of course could do in a few hours to a few days what takes me months but my colts are real calm and I have been told they are really good to go on with when I sell them after a few rides or send them to a trainer for more finishing. I have lots of time to spend on my colts and can take longer so they have a low stress first saddling and first ride. I don’t have a 30 or 60 day time frame like some of the trainers do. I think the colts fear level is a big factor in the first rides and if they are relaxed and not fearful and have lots of good ground work then things go way better. We are also lacking good trainers in this area to start colts. Some are scheduled a year out.

  3. Good for both of you, starting your own colts. I have just started my own 2yr.old stud colt. It’s the most exciting experience I’ve had in my life. I own the sire & dam, ride both of them, and now they’re son. My colt is calm and very level headed, yells at me every time he sees me. I keep our lessons to under an hour each day, and always end on a good note. He’s coming along very nicely, and can’t wait to show him when the time comes. He’s out of money earners, and is show quality. I have never once thought I would have a bad ride on him, and he’s proven me correct. Every ride has been full of excitment and he always learns something new each day.

  4. I start colts for myself and my family. I love doing it. I love the excitement of meeting a new friend, and getting to really know the horse. I’ve used different ground work techniques from various trainers that I’ve learned from clinics, tapes, and talking to trainers. I prefer setting in the foundation myself, and really knowing what the horse knows. I had a bad experience with a horse that I bought that was previously broke. She was riddled with vices and bad behaviors and I rarely ever got the chance to really enjoy the time I spent with her because I was always on my guard, worrying about what ever problem was going to rear it’s ugly head next.

  5. The comment the 50+ writer wrote, make me chuckle. It sounded just like me. I too like to take lots of time starting my colts and do not believe in 30 or 60 day limits. I always buy my colts as yearlings, that way I can pretty much know what kind of confirmation is there and any issues that may arise. I seem to be drawn to the ones no one else wants to bother with. They seem to be the ones that have the mose heart when you gain their trust. I also agree that it takes a certain “breed” like us who really enjoy starting the young ones and giving them a good start in life without force or drama that will cause certain mental trama later in life. It is a big responsiblity to take on, so those who are considering it for the first time, please do your homework and be sure you are confident enough to gain the colts confidence. You cannot have one without the other.

  6. hi i was reading your story about starting a colt i was wondering
    if its the same as a 8 year old he is halter he was given to me
    as he hats men he dosent like much i wondering if i can help him
    he is a loveing horse hes a angalo areb thank you

  7. I run a small “colt starting” business here in Okla. I get a lot of 2 yr olds, and I use patience teaching them and give them a thorough foundation, after all, the rest of their lives will be based on whether their blocks were all in place or not. Once in a while I’ll get a horse in that was “started” by some Joe-trainer, and it will have so many gaps in it that I literally will have to start it all back over from the ground up. What is really frustrating, is that the owners haven’t a clue that their horse(s) have these gaps– they are happy with Joe-trainer’s high headed horses that can’t give their mouths, or use leg aids or bend, or pick up correct leads, etc, yet they bring them to me because they want “another 30 days on them” to be ‘even better!'(while Joe-trainer makes excuses for why he can’t fit the horse back into his program– I truly believe he hasn’t a clue what to do next with the horse!). Instead of putting 30 rides on them like they want, I end up doing a lot of roundpen work to fix whats missing. I really dislike fixing other people’s mistakes, and trying to explain the situation to the owners. IF they’d brought their colts to me in the first place, they could have been really satisfied and saved time and money too. I agree, education is key in getting a good trainer. ANYBODY can ride a horse– not everybody can train a horse–correctly. PS– I’m a 50 yr old woman, I didn’t realize that was a problem!!(SECLLC,OK)

  8. I’ve owned horses most of my life, bred and raised quite a number of colts. I used to send them to a trainer, but the last 10 years I’ve trained them myself. I’m 57, and I have to say I like the colts I’ve trained the best because I know them the best. I, too, take my time, do a ton of ground work. I also pony them all over this area (in the mountains) as 2 year olds because then they learn to navigate this rough terrain. I generally don’t ride them until their 3rd year, and don’t put hard miles on them until their 4th year. Haven’t had one yet that didn’t work out and stay sound with this method. I don’t like the “turn ’em out quick” approach, so I don’t train others’ horses unless a friend asks me to help with a problem horse. I use a combination of techniques from several professional trainers, but I have to say that I like Clinton Anderson’s techniques the best….the end result is quiet, soft, and dependable horses.

  9. I have a 16mth old filly who is the love of my life. She is a foundation breed quarter horse. I imprinted her from birth – she fell asleep in my lap half way through the delivery, had a halter on at 4 hours old. By 5 days old she walked away from the damn outside the stall with a halter and lead rope. My point is, imprinting and working with a colt is incrediblely rewarding and only takes 15-20 minutes a day. It will pay off by the time she is 2 yrs old and ready to ride.

  10. Love the comments! Good on you guys for putting such good starts on your young’uns!
    Lewis, wanted to let you know that the September issue of America’s Horse features a story on Dr. Robert Miller’s imprinting techniques, and how they have evolved in the 50 years after he first introduced them.

  11. Love the article. So important. The right start will give a young horse a home for life and the coping skills they will need to deal with the many riders they will come across. God Bless our Quarter Horses.

  12. Debra,

    I agree, Clenton Anderson is the best way to start a horse. I have started alot of horses with his ways.

  13. Hi Guys. OK – seems I am the oldest one in the group at 62. I purchased a really nice 2 YO 3 years ago and sent her to a trainer to finish because I was working and just didn’t think I had the time. Well, 8 months later found out the trainer believed in sore mouth and sore sides. She is coming home Saturday from being leased for the last 22 months to have a baby. Many times, taking time off like that will give the brain time to heal. I am going to begin her on my own program (really slow) on Sunday – bending first and then progressing at the speed she tells me she can handle. Most important thing is to LISTEN TO YOUR HORSE. He/she will tell you when they are ready to progress to the next level. The last problem horse I got ended up being a work-a-holic (as my dau said) because he loves to see the saddle and halter now. He had a bit of a tummy ache this weekend and actually opened the halter for me to lead him to the house. So even horses with problems can be helped – it just may take some time. As my mother used to say, “Patience is a virtue” – and it more than applies to any horse and problem they may have.

  14. I have a 2 yr old stud whom I am TRYING to train… I sometimes get aggravated with him because everytime I get on him he jerks and tries to buck me off:( I need advice on how to be more patient with him, and how to calm him down because he is hyper-active.

  15. Hey ILoveMy AQHA
    It all starts with imprinting and working with the colt from day one. My filly had a hatler on a 5 hours old. I continued to introduce her to everything — walking on tarps, walking over bridges, noises, towels on her back, brushing and grooming, lending on her back (not much pressure), fly masks, having her stand by the arena railing then having someone put one leg across her back, etc etc. I even at the age of 6 months introduced her to a large stuff teddybear… showing it to her, having her touch her, touching it to her back, then after a few days placing it on her back, then tieing it loosely around her stomach… all of this lead up to her accepting a blanket and kid saddle at 8 mths old.. she accepted both without any hesitation or fear as if it was expected of her.. bottom line is it all starts from birth

  16. I just started my two year old, he is well past his second birthday but he is not a big horse, and I wanted to wait until he had grown more. I am well past my 74th birthday, but because I had the opportunity to attend a number of Ray Hunt’s clinics as well a one of Tom Dorrance’s clinics I still feel confident in starting colts. I have found that by reading and watching information by Joe and many other of Rays students I continue to learn better horsemanship.

  17. I agree with this. I’m probably the youngest here at 13 years old. I’ve been riding horses since b4 I could walk. My dad just recently got a Tennessee walker and he is 8yrs old. He was a bit too spirited for his old owner so he was given to my dad since he had broken his neck the previous summer and needed a smooth ride. We agree with the gentle horse training that ray hunt does along with Monty Roberts and buck brannaman also. I like seeing horse and rider partnerships tht are based from trust. Not force. So I’m hoping that the training goes well for this colt and he turns out to be a teriffic horse for my dad. 🙂

  18. I rescued a thourobread race horse from the track in hobbs nm. he is 3 and is a hand full. he reins backwards. so i am starting him just like a new colt. he trust and loves me. guess he never was showed this much love wow what a great horse. been taking my time and he is very smart. the whole process will be completed in 4 months.

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