A Blank Canvas: Starting Colts Week 2

January 12th, 2018 2:52 PM | No Comments

By: Barbara Aitken Jenkins

During the month of January, professional trainers, Kyle Flatter and Ed Harrison share their expertise on starting colts. In last week’s article, Kyle and Ed discussed introducing the saddle pad and saddle to a colt. This week, the trainers move forward in their training and begin asking their colts to start learning to react to cues.

Once the colt is comfortable getting saddled in a stall, Kyle moves them to the round pen. The next step in the colt starting process is to lunge the colt in a controlled environment.  “I like to put them in a round pen to start lunging them.” Kyle stresses the importance for his colts to be able to transition into all three gaits and respond to the most important command, “WHOA”.  “I want to get them to where they will walk, trot, canter, and most importantly have “breaks” before I ask the colt to do much anything else.”

We have all seen or heard of examples when someone gets on a young horse, who spooks, takes off, and does not know how to stop, which can lead to a bad experience, injuries, or worse. Kyle affirms the importance for a colt to be able to respond to vocal commands before ever getting on their backs. “I want them to walk then stop when I say whoa. Then I want them to trot, and when I say whoa, for them to stop. And then when you get them loping when I say whoa, I need them to stop, immediately.  I want to make sure I have breaks on one before I ever throw a leg over them. “

“I spend a few days walk, trot, and loping them in the round pen on the ground making sure they have the “whoa button”, with vocal commands.” Although Kyle personally uses clucking when he asks the colt to move forward, he believes that people should use whatever vocal method is comfortable for the individual. “Whether you personally use the vocals, or clucks, or kisses, as long as it is consistent, it doesn’t matter; whichever works for you.”


As for handling the colt, Kyle recommends keeping the colt on a lunge line. “Especially at first, I make sure to have the colt on the line just so I have that control.” 

He continues, “I am not big on letting a colt tear around the round pen. Commonly, if you saddle a colt, then turn him loose in the round pen the colt will start to act like a bronc, trying to figure out how to get that saddle off their back.” However, Kyle ensures that if you approach the colt in a confident, encouraging manner, the colt will be more likely to accept the new changes in his life, and handle the saddle.

“I want to ensure that they are quiet and aren’t concerned about walking, trotting, and loping with the saddle on their backs.”

In addition to having them move in the round pen, Kyle also makes sure that the colt is comfortable with the movement of the saddle as they go forward. “Once they get comfortable, I normally flap the fenders on their side, so they get used to something flapping their bellies. It is good to desensitize this part before getting on their backs.”



Ed’s approach differs from Kyle’s, however, getting the same result is the goal, a broke horse.

Ed who is an international missionary, uses various Scriptures to influence his training. 

“According to Isaiah 46:10, God makes known the end of a thing from the very beginning, in order to allow the subject in question to move in the correct direction. I take this principle and apply it directly to my babies as I am starting them under saddle.”

“Once I have my horse comfortable being saddled, I will initiate my “pull around” exercise, to teach the colt to move their feet in the direction of the rider’s hand.,” Ed stresses that you should not immediately get on the colt, even though they have been saddled, because they will have a hard time understanding what you want from them.

Ed uses a rope halter, lunge rope, and lunge whip.

He breaks down the process of teaching the colt. “In order to teach your horse to step to the right, you want the pull to come from the right-hand side. In order to accomplish this, clip your lunge rope to the right side of the halter.  Standing on the LEFT side, loop your lunge rope around the saddle horn on the right side, stand behind your horse’s shoulder and cluck and wait for their feet to move. Do not pull with much force, just simply lift your rein (lunge rope) and wait for your horse to look to the right and move their feet in the direction of the pull. Once your horse has brought their nose right, and stepped to the right, stop and pet your horse.”

He continues, “You will want to repeat this exercise three to four times on one side so that your horse will actually understand how best to respond to your pull.“

After working the colt to the right side, Ed works the left side in the same manner.

“As you continue to work this exercise on your horse, be sure that each time your horse backs up or gets locked up, you put pressure by clucking or if necessary using your whip. Pressure makes your horse search for where to go as a result of the pull. The quicker you are to put the pressure on, the quicker your horse will learn to step effortlessly towards your pull.”

He continues, “It isn’t simply enough for your horse to take a step. How that horse takes that step is actually what matters. What I want for my horse to lift his shoulder and bring it back towards my hand when I pull. They can begin to learn this from the ground.”

Once again, Ed starts this process to the right then follows to the left.

“Clip your lunge rope to the right side, pull it behind your horn and stand on the left side.. Hold your rope in one hand, and put your other hand on the halter. Pull your lunge rope, but make your horse take a step backward first with your free hand that is on the halter. Once your horse takes a step backward, release your hand that is on the halter and allow your horse to step towards the direction of the pull. You will notice your horse begin to lift his/her shoulder and load their hock before they turn around.”

After Ed’s colts become comfortable with releasing to the applied pressure, Ed encourages them to “simply take a few steps forward”, which prepares them to start ground driving.


Although Kyle and Ed can make the process seem really easy with fast results, both trainers stress the importance of only going as fast as the colt is comfortable with going.

“If you try to push them too fast, you’re going to miss pieces that will be crucial later. If you don’t start them right, then you’re going to pay for it later in the horse’s career,” stresses Kyle.

  It is okay to go slow, take your time, and ensure that your colt is getting the foundation it needs to move forward confidently and to also make sure you are comfortable with continuing to work with the colt.

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