The Gallop Report

Staying This Side of Trouble

April 17, 2013

Using patience and smarts to start colts at the 2013 Horsemen’s Reunion.

By Holly Clanahan

It was an almost constant occurrance to see the horsemen and women petting their colts to reassure them. Here, Wade Black, at left on his saddle horse, helps Buster McLaury show this colt that he has nothing to fear from them.

It was an almost constant occurrance to see the horsemen and women petting their colts to reassure them. Here, Wade Black, at left on his saddle horse, helps Buster McLaury show this colt that he has nothing to fear from them. Holly Clanahan photo.

Horseman Buster McLaury summed it up neatly: “It don’t take a good hand to get a horse in trouble; it’s easy to scare one. But it takes a little more understanding to help a horse stay out of trouble.”

And so it goes with colt-starting. When young horses — hard-wired with a healthy flight response for self-preservation — are faced with two-legged predators who want to put a dead cow on their backs, it’d be a very simple matter to put on a bucking-horse show. It’s another matter altogether to make it look smooth and simple. That, my friends, takes a good hand. And there were plenty of them on display at the Horsemen’s Reunion, which continues through Saturday in Paso Robles, California.

The event, produced by Martin Black, Chris Cox and Rowly and Cathie Twisselman, brings together 20 horsemen and women to start 40 colts over the course of six days. There’s no competition and no time limits, just colt-starting as the horsemen would do it at home. The only difference is that here, they are joined by skilled peers who are happy to pitch in and help if it means keeping a colt out of trouble.

Buster was on both the giving and receiving end of that help. During the morning session on Tuesday, the second day of the event, he and Wade Black helped Ty Van Norman with a reactive little sorrel mare from the Singleton Ranches. Handled with a rough or rushed hand, she easily could have been a major problem. But the three horsemen helped slow things down for her, so that she was able to think instead of just react, and Ty was able to get a good ride in on her. She threw a couple of small bucks in, but Ty was ready for those — it was what they’d been preparing for — and the men ended on a successful note. See the slideshow below for more details on SCR Cat Express, and remember to click on the photos to read the descriptive captions.

Tuesday afternoon, Buster began working with the uniquely colored bay roan SCR True Grit, also a Singleton horse. The gelding was sensitive and extremely reactive to the cinch and the rider’s legs, Buster said. So he worked the gelding on the ground and then enlisted Wade’s help to pony the horse. It got the gelding moving out, but Wade and his good saddle horse acted as a safety net and brake so that the horse didn’t develop a habit of bucking.

“If a horse is having trouble, if he can move his feet, he’ll work it out,” Buster said. And he shared the advice of his mentor, Ray Hunt: “Ray preached for 40 years about keeping a horse out of trouble.”

Later, Buster explained that a horse does encounter stress when he’s being started under saddle. But the horseman has to know how much stress a horse can handle, and how much will be too much. You’ll want to stay on the right side of that line. By keeping the horse moving and thinking, he’ll gradually be able to handle more and more, until one day he can handle just about anything you throw at him.

After Wade turned the colt’s lead rope back over to Buster, he remained in the round pen, letting the colt hook on to his saddle horse, obeying the natural instinct to follow another horse. As Wade turned his horse and the colt followed, Buster began introducing cues, effectively telling the horse, “This is what it’d feel like if I was asking you to turn around.”

Buster said, “This time it was his idea, maybe next time, it’ll be my idea.”

The horses for the event are from AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeders. Most of the colts are provided by the Twisselmans’ Madonna Inn Quarter Horses in Santa Margarita, California. Their colts include sons and daughters of American Quarter Horse Athenolena by Doc O’Lena; the Thoroughbred Barrossab; and American Quarter Horse Texas Playgun by Playgun.

This year, the Madonna Inn horses will be joined by some from three AQHA-Zoetis Best Remuda-winning ranches: Singleton Ranches of Lamy, New Mexico, which won the award in 2012; Babbitt Ranches of Flagstaff, Arizona, which won in 2005; and Lacey Livestock of Paso Robles, which won in 2003.

The colt-starters are: David Alonso, Martin Black, Wade Black, Trevor Carter, Craig Cameron, Antoine Cloux, Chris Cox, Jonathan Field, Larry Mahan, Buster McLaury, Schlomik Raziel, Leah Read, Kyla Prunty Rianda, Ed Robertson, Thomas Saunders, Mike Sears, Cathie Twisselman, Ty Van Norman, Juan A. Vendrell and Ron Wall. Besides the United States, they represent Canada, Mexico, Australia, Spain, Israel and Switzerland.

To follow along during the event, which concludes April 20 with a sale, find the Horsemen’s Reunion on Facebook.

And it’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words. So learn more with the slideshow below, and click on the photos to read the captions. Also, make sure that your AQHA membership is current so you won’t miss the full story in a future issue of America’s Horse magazine, which is an exclusive member benefit.

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