We've all probably seen when some riders "reward" their horses after a good barrel run or a flawless jumping course, etc. by slapping/whacking them on the neck, which they consider "patting"? Let me just say that in general, horses do not like that & it doesn't come across to them as a reward...horses like softness as a reward! A few rubs or strokes down the neck is waaaay more enjoyable and rewarding to them, not being whacked on the neck! Just like horses learn from the release of pressure, they seek that release, & that can also be a reward, for instance, if your horse is doing so well during a ride, just ease off all the pressure & leave them be for a couple moments, even if you're midstride in a canter, they will really appreciate the release & will likely continue on even better for you. It's all about the feel and the softness, as well as being quiet and gentle......just praise them by a gentle pat or rubbing/stroking their neck, your horse will thank you for it!
As many of you know, I specialize in colt starting, & it is what I am most passionate about. Starting a colt is one of the most important impressions you make on their futures. It is of the utmost importance to do it right the first time. I always cover everything I possibly can on the ground first, such as; round penning, respecting my space, coming to me and moving away as soon as I ask, yielding hindquarters & forequarters, backing up, desensitizing to as much stuff as possible (grocery bags, tarps, bells, noise makers, flags, anything that moves quickly or makes loud or strange noises, obstacles, etc.), saddling, sacking out, briding, bitting, & ground driving. This way when I am ready to get on, they've already been exposed to just about everything that I'll be expecting of them. The first time I get on, all I do is lean over both sides, mount/dismount, mount & sit on them, pet them, etc. This way the first time I ride them, the only thing that is different is that I'm moving with them. I have found that if you only expect them to process one thing at a time in the beginning, it makes what you expect black & white, which in turn makes for a more willing and confident colt. On the first ride, all I want from the colt is to walk trot and canter both directions. I am not worried about steering or anything else. In order to stop them on the first ride, I just disengage their hindquarters by executing a one rein stop. Eventually doing the one rein stop and saying whoa, will translate over to stopping without doing the one rein stop. I always start colts in either a side pull (bitless bridle with rope noseband), or a loose ring (o-ring) smooth snaffle.
I always tell my clients, if your horse can't be ridden in a loose ring snaffle (o-ring), he's not trained well enough. I want my horse to be light in my hands & he should be trained to work off of seat/legs & voice as a primary way to ask him to change gaits & to make certain maneuvers. If I am starting a colt, I use either a side pull (bridle without a bit, has a rope noseband) or a smooth loose ring snaffle. Just think, if you start harsh, you have nothing to advance to if a problem arises. Like Clinton Anderson says, "Light as possible, but as firm as necessary." Nothing wrong with having an arsenal of bits though! I will say there is one bit that I see all the time, it is the most commonly used bit when someone is starting out, or hasn't done the research on what they should use, and that is a Tom Thumb. The only thing these bits are good for in my opinion is to melt down and make a new bit with! They are not balanced bits, so the mouthpiece actually STAYS engaged in the horses mouth at all times. This can make a horse very dull & hard mouthed, not to mention, could potentially sour him. Try an Argentine snaffle instead! If you have any questions about bits, feel free to email me.
When teaching a horse to back up, or trying to perfect backing, you never want to get into a "tug-o-war" match. You ultimately want your horse softening at the poll and willingly moving his feet in reverse. You do not want their head up gaping their mouth open due to heavy hands trying to force them into backing, all this does is make their back hollow out which in turn makes them drag their feet and feel sticky. What I have found works best for me is to apply pressure to the reins towards the saddle, not in the air, and ask the horse to back up, if they do not back or their head comes up, alternate pressure from one rein to the other, what I call "see-sawing" the reins, be sure to apply the pressure gradually and not to jerk on your horses mouth. Next, apply pressure with your legs a little forward, and the last step is to shift your weight in the saddle from side to side as if you're wiggling in your seat, this encourages them to move their feet as well. Be sure to reward the horse by releasing pressure at the slightest try so they will be more willing to do it the next time, and soon enough, time and patience will pay off and you'll have your horse backing up like a pro!
Trust and respect all starts from ground work with your horse. Build a solid foundation of respect and trust in the round pen by making them turn in to you when changing directions, do not let them turn to the outside with their rear end facing you, that is VERY disrespectful. Once you have this mastered with your horse, lunge them until you see them keeping their inside ear pointed to you like they're listening, they will then start to lick or chew. They will eventually lower their head, when it is extremely low, as if they're sniffing the ground, drop the lunge whip and face your back to them - this is called joining up. Do not make a sound and do not move towards the horse, keep a relaxed stance. You must have patience and wait for the horse to come to you. Once they do, you have gained a lot of respect and have shown them that you will trust them with it. In my opinion that is the biggest step in the right direction with a new or challenging horse.
ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS end on a good note with your horse, even if it is a very simple good note. Don't run something into the ground too much! For your sake, keep your patience and move on to something you know the horse will do well, then end it there. One of my favorite quotes is, "The horse you got off is not the same horse you got on, it is your job as a rider to make sure the change was for the better."
Owner/Trainer - Amelia Efland