A Blank Canvas: Finding a Mission

February 5th, 2018 2:04 PM | No Comments

By: Barbara Aitken Jenkins

In the last installment of A Blank Canvas: Starting Colts series, Kyle Flatter and Ed Harrison continue progressing their colts in a quiet, consistent manner that although is different in methods and approaches, is effective in progressing the colts into becoming successful show horses.

Once Kyle’s colts are comfortable with walking, trotting, and loping in a round pen, they “graduate” to a larger arena with enclosed siding to ensure control. Once they are in the larger pen, the work starts back at the basics with walking, trotting and loping. “I basically do the same routine I completed in the round pen to make sure they are moving willingly without much resistance.”

At this point, Kyle is normally still riding in a bosal, but if his colts continue to listen to his cues, he will move them into a snaffle bit. 

Kyle drills cues such as moving forward off of his leg, at a walk, trot, and lope and stop. Although, “They don’t have to have a ton of guide” says Kyle.

Even though they may not have much guidance in the beginning, which is to be expected, Kyle begins to work with them on just that. “ I start doing more circle work, figure eights, walking and jogging, to get more guide, direction and get them to start following their nose.”

Kyle continues, “To start teaching my colts to follow their nose, I will go to the corner of the arena so I have got two walls to help start the circle. When I feel like they are working well one direction, I will switch directions and do the same thing, meanwhile weaning off the fence toward the middle of the pen. Once they get comfortable going in a singular direction, I start to mix it up and ask for figure eights.”

Contrary to Ed’s horses, which have been feeling the pressure from side to side, Kyle understand that if a colt has not been ground driven, then they are not used to the different pressure to the sides. All they have felt is a pressure to signal a stop. “Sometimes when you go to ask them the direction from side to side they stop because of the pressure. There’s got to be a lot of “give and take” in that process. Let them get used to that feeling. This is all new to them.”

Kyle also recognizes that for some colts, this process can take a few days for them to get the hang of in their learning process. He focuses on quiet repetition and patience because he believes that the first 30-45 days of a horse’s training is the foundation that a show horse is built off of.

 “You take what they can handle and work with it. I’m still only going to ride them 20-25 minutes at a time. I do not want to put too much pressure on them so that they want to resist this and learn not to enjoy their job.


For Ed Harrison, his focus has been working with his colts from the ground level, teaching them direction through ground driving.

“Once my youngsters are through the ground driving phase, they should be able to move off to the left and right, stop as well as lift their shoulders and back up freely. When I see these things working effortlessly in a youngster, then I know they are ready to ride!” exclaims Ed.

Like Ed used in the first parts of his training, he brings the hobbles back as an aid. “Be sure that you hobble your horse before starting to get up and down. Hobbles will simply keep your horse from panicking and getting into trouble as you are getting up and down.”

Even though the colts are inexperienced, Ed does not “baby” them. “Firstly, you never know when a dog will come under the round pen door, or when that huge gust of wind is going to come and spook your horse, so with that being said, do not try to be too quiet around them. You want your horse to become desensitized to exterior stimulants pretty quickly. As your horse is hobbled, jump up and down next to them on both sides. Be loud, slap your hands on your leg and make them stand in the hobbles.”

He continues, “You want your horse to know to stand still, even if you slip and kick him/her in the belly on the way up (anything is possible).”

Ed warns not to rush the process though, advising to watch the colt’s expression to know how far to push.

“Once your horse has accepted the jumping up and down on both sides, you are ready to start putting your foot into the stirrup and lifting up. When you remove your hobbles and your colt takes his first step with you on his back, you don’t want him to panic because he feels a person up there. Let him feel the stirrup hit him and your legs flop while he is hobbled, relaxed and standing still.”

After Ed’s colts are comfortable with his presence in the saddle he begins working with forward momentum in the saddle.

“Once your horse figures out to continue moving out after you pull a rein, it is best to give your horse a mission. Make your youngster get moving and go somewhere. Forward motion is the very best thing for youngsters. If your cluck doesn’t work to get your horse to pick up to the trot, take a crop or the end of your lead line, and just spank it on the side. After being ground driven, a simple tap on the rear end shouldn’t make your horse want to buck too terribly much.

After the trot, allow your horse to break into the lope. I work all of my youngsters typically at the walk, trot and lope both directions. After successfully working walk, trot and lope both directions, I get off and put him/her away.”

There is no perfect way to train any horse, regardless of the discipline, both Kyle and Ed promote keeping the learning process fun, in control, and correct, so these young horses can ultimately become successful show horses.

For more information on training young horses, visit with Kyle and Ed on their social media sites. 

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