If you’ve been following along with this series, you’ve already learned how to saddle up your colt and longe him; how to “stirrup-drive” him with the saddle on; and how to desensitize him to a plastic bag (which helps him to be less spooky about everything). In our final three lessons in this series, I’m going to teach you how to handle that very critical first ride.
This month, you’ll learn how to mount for the first time and flex your colt’s head and neck from side to side. Next month, you’ll learn how to move both his front and hind ends laterally. In October, you’ll learn how to move him out at a walk, trot, and lope.
My method makes use of a helper on the ground, which I’ve found to be the best, safest way of introducing a colt to the experience of being ridden.
(A caveat: Colt starting isn’t for beginners. If you have any doubts about your horsemanship or riding skills, play it safe and take your colt to a professional trainer.)
Why You Need This
Safety and calmness are your key goals in the first few rides on a young horse. Mounting carefully and then flexing your colt’s head and neck to each side is a good way to start. Flexing is a safety valve of sorts because it helps to keep a horse under control, and limits his movement if he does try anything. It also relaxes him, boosts his submissiveness, and reinforces the concept of yielding to pressure. If you flex your colt at the start of each ride, it’s like shaking hands with him and saying, “Remember, now, when I pull, you give.” It sets a tone.
For Best Results?
- Before you ride your colt for the first time, be sure to do plenty of groundwork to get him relaxed and using the thinking side of his brain. In particular, practice flexing his neck to each side from the ground. (For a refresher course on this, go to HorseandRider.com and enter flex your horse’s neck from the ground into the search box.)
- Your colt should be saddled and wearing a snaffle bit or bosal-type hackamore.
- Enlist the aid of a helper armed with plastic bags affixed to the end of a training stick. (The helper will use the bags to get the colt’s attention and encourage him as need be.)
- Work in a safe, enclosed round pen.
Start with the colt in the center of the round pen and the helper about 20 feet in front of him, holding the train- ing stick with bags attached. As you begin the mounting process, the helper should shake the bags or tap them on the ground, continuing to do so throughout the entire ride. The goal is to have half of your colt’s attention on you, the rider, and half on the helper and bags. This may sound strange, but assuming you’ve properly prepared your colt to this point (including desensitizing him to the bags), the distraction helps to keep him from getting too worried about anything.
Step up and down. Standing by your colt’s shoulder, use your left hand to draw his head halfway around to his side (this discourages him from moving when you step up in the stirrup). Then grab some mane with the same hand. With your other hand, turn the stirrup and place your foot in it, then hop up and down a couple times to warn the colt you’re about to step up. (Your helper should be tapping the ground all the while, plus repositioning as need be to stay in front of the colt where he can see him or her at all times.)
Then step all the way up so you’re standing in the stirrup (but don’t swing your other leg over yet). Still keeping your colt’s head turned, lean over the saddle and rub the shoulder on his other side with your free hand. Also pick up the stirrup on that side and move it against his belly, and reach back
and tug on the back cinch. When the colt keeps his feet still for all of this, step back down while still keeping your foot in the stirrup, then repeat the sequence a few times until you feel he’s calm about it. (Don’t overdo it, however. Stay on task and keep moving.)
Then step all the way down, move to the other side, and repeat the entire sequence.
Mount, then flex. Now, return to his left side, flex his neck halfway around and, after stepping up a few times to warn him it’s coming, swing your leg all the way over and sit gently down in the saddle in one smooth move. Then, use your left hand to finish bringing the colt’s nose all the way around to his belly, drawing your hand back to your hip. (For safety, while you’re up on your colt now and for the first several rides, always keep your free hand on the horn to steady yourself in case he startles.)
When your colt stands still and softens to the rein pressure, immediately drop the rein and let his head and neck straighten out. Then slide your other hand down the other rein and ask him to flex in the opposite direction, releasing rein pressure as soon as he softens in response while continuing to stand still. (Note: If your colt is wearing a snaffle, ask him to flex by drawing your hand straight back to your hip. If he’s wearing a hackamore, always open your hand to the side first, to get his nose started in the right direction, then pull back to your hip.)
If he starts moving at any point, keep his neck flexed until he stops and softens to the rein pressure, then release the rein.
Continue like this, flexing from side to side, until your colt is coming off the rein pressure well. Don’t worry too much about the quality of the flexing; if his nose doesn’t come far enough around to touch your toe or the stirrup when he softens, that’s OK. For this first ride, you just want a willing response. Don’t pick at him and make him defensive.
This series is adapted with permission from the new DVD package “Clinton Anderson Colt Starting, Professional Series.” For more information on this and other educational materials, go to DownunderHorsemanship.com. Catch his “Downunder Horsemanship” program (filmed at the ranch in Stephenville, Texas) on RFD-TV or find it online for free at his special Web site, DownunderHorsemanshipTV.com.