A Blank Canvas: Starting Colts Week One

January 5th, 2018 11:41 AM | No Comments

By: Barbara Aitken Jenkins

January is the start of the New Year full of awaiting adventures. For owners who aspire to transform a colt into a show horse, the New Year is the perfect time to start training.

All Around trainer, Kyle Flatter, owner and operator of Flat Ridge Training Center, LLC located in Greenville, Ohio and Reining trainer, Ed Harrison, owner and operator of Ed Harrison Performance Horses/The Global Cowboy located in Aledo, Texas have spent their days working with young horses, creating the perfect balance of patience, understanding, and training to ensure every colt has the education they need to succeed throughout their lifetime.

Although Kyle and Ed differ in disciplines and some training methods, both firmly believe that success in the show pen starts at the beginning of a horse’s training. A colt that is given a solid foundation in the early days of training clears a pathway for that horse to develop into a horse that is fun to ride.

Kyle and Ed like to start their colts on the ground before they ever put a saddle on the back.

Kyle discusses the importance of evaluating each colt individually before starting the training process.

FlatRidge_logo_2 COLOR

“Questions I ask myself are, have they been saddled already before being delivered to me? Are they just halter broke? Have they just been out in the pasture?” These questions are important to ask, to know if the colt will be emotionally or even physically ready to accept a saddle.

Ed adds, “I have worked with different types of young horses over my years as a trainer. I have had the type have to be roped just to get a hand on them, and I have had the type that has practically been bottle-fed. The starting process for either type of horse can be so different in regards to  personality, but one thing about both types of horses is the simple fact that they are still horses and could potentially hurt you badly in the correct circumstance.”

 To avoid any dangers that might arise with working with a young, unsure horse, both Kyle and Ed starting working with their colts in a quiet manner.

“If a colt has not been worked with much, I start rubbing across their bodies to make sure they are comfortable with being touched. I’ll spend the first few days in the stall desensitizing the colt. In the beginning, I believe in working a colt in a confined space like a stall (or even a small round pen), because it is a place where the colt is comfortable and familiar. It seems to be less stressful for them when I work them in a place they know,” explains Kyle.

“I don’t like to have them tied in case you have a problem. I just go into the stall with a halter and lead rope. Once they’re comfortable with me rubbing and brushing them, I introduce the colt to the saddle pad. I want to rub the pad across their body, up and down their necks, down their hips, under the belly, throw it on and off of them, all from both sides. I repeat this process until the colt learns that the saddle pad is not a monster that is after them.

Once the colt is comfortable with the saddle pad getting thrown across its entire body, I walk them around the stall with the pad on to let the colt get the feel of the pad as it moves. I always keep a hand on the pad so it doesn’t fall.

After the colt is relaxed with the pad, I introduce the saddle in the same manner. I bring the saddle into the stall and start the desensitizing process. Before actually placing the saddle on their back, I lift the saddle up beside the colt and let them look at it at eye level. Some colts find the motion of the saddle coming toward them as a bit scary so I swing the saddle up to their side like I am going to place it on their back until the colt gets used to that motion. Once the colt is comfortable with the saddle being beside them, I gently place it on their back. When the colt is comfortable with the saddle resting on their back, I drop the cinch and start cinching them up. For the first time, as long as the cinch touches their belly and they handle the feeling, I feel like it has been a success.”

 For Ed, he finds that teaching a colt to hobble helps with the training process. “I put each two-year-old through a hobbling lesson before I saddle them. It is vital that each two-year-old learns to stand, focus on you and allow you to complete your work around them safely.”

The Global Cowboy

For the hobbling lesson, Ed uses a lunge line, halter, hobbles (preferably long with a roller on the buckles), work pad, saddle, and in his words, “A little bit of guts and try!”

After bringing his horses to the round pen, Ed begins the process of teaching the colt to hobble.

“Stand behind your horse’s shoulder and begin to gently fling your hobble strap around your horse’s legs. Allow them to feel the leather swinging around their legs, get used to it and stand. You want them to be relaxed until you are able to get the hobbles buckled. Fling your hobble strap around your horse’s legs repeatedly until they accept the hobble strap and stand patiently. Catch your hobble strap, run the loop through the buckles, and then take them off and repeat. Buckle your hobbles. You can use your foot to press on your horse’s pastern to make their feet move closer together and buckle your hobbles a bit more snug. Once you buckle the hobbles, step back, allow your horse to feel the hobbles, keep the line in your hand, and move with them until they stand still.Once your horse is standing still and realizes what the hobbles are, keep a loose line, walk up to your horse’s shoulder, pet him/her for reassurance and give it a moment to sink in.”

He continues, “Before you move on to the saddling phase, be sure that you can walk from one side of your horse to the other on a completely loose lead line, without your horse moving a muscle. When this happens, you are now ready to saddle. Next, get your work pad and saddle. Keep them close. You can choose either to sack your horse out with your work pad or put it on straight away. That is up to personal preference. Allow your horse to take a few steps in the saddle and feel the pressure. Stop and pet him/her. Next, take a few more steps and then move on to lunging your horse. I will make mine walk, trot and lope with the saddle on their first day.

EH fixing saddle pad

(Photo: Ed working on getting his colt comfortable with the saddle pad while hobbled)

After this, I simply stop, remove the saddle, pet my horse and put him/her away and prepare to do it again the very next day.”

The most important part of starting to work with your colt is to be quiet, consistent, and reassuring.

“I never try to give them a reason to be afraid,” Kyle clarifies. “It may take a day or three days to get a colt comfortable enough to take a deep breath and relax,” and that is okay.

“We have to remember, that youngsters come as a blank canvas. You paint the picture that you want to see at the end of the project, ” adds Ed.

Continue to follow this colt breaking series each week in January with Kyle and Ed. 


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