Starting a horse under saddle is a fine art.
It’s one of the key moments in a horses life and when done well it sets them up for life, providing them a solid foundation to come back to, even if subsequent training is a little tough.
I learned the lesson the hard way.
I attempted to start my own horse 16 years ago when I thought I knew how, and learned the hard way that I knew nothing about starting a horse under saddle despite my decades of experience riding horses. Not only did I get injured but I created issues in that horse that lasted his lifetime. Issues that needed management and sensitivity. That wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was knowing I had taken such an important part of that horses education and created a trauma around it. I had to send him away to a professional then to be started (fixed).
This was a pivotal moment in my career which caused me to then pursue an education and dedication to the craft of starting young horses. I realised that it truly is a discipline to be studied all on its own. Anyone with a bit of sticking power can get on a horse for its first few rides and get it tolerating a rider, but a true horseman understands the nuances in creating not only a horse that is accepting of a rider, but then how to build the education of the horse in all of those ‘firsts’. The first ride, the first walk, the first trot, the first canter, the first stop, the first back. And that’s all just in the left eye––you then have to do it all on the other side.
What many don’t understand is that you are teaching the horse how to do all of these things not only to a cue, but with a saddle and a rider, which causes sensations that the horse has never felt before. The cinch tightening around the ribs, the riders balance and weight..
The intricacies of predicting a step, the timing of the release, the ability to recognise when the horse needs supporting, and when they need to be left alone.
The colt starter has a not only a deep awareness of their body and where it needs to be at any given moment, but a control that overrides a protective instinct to grip and pull. A colt starter puts the needs of his horse above his own, knowing that this is the way to keep both parties safe and successful.
Selecting the person to start your horse under saddle is one of the most important decisions you will make for your horse, and many people I meet have a ‘horror story’ about a poor trainer. The interesting thing is every colt starter also has a horror story about an owner who tried to do it themselves.
This article is not about me trying to get new business, I am not taking in horses for the public, but the topic is one that I am incredibly passionate about.
The start of your horses ridden career sets him up for life and gives him a foundation to fall back on. If that foundation is set in a poor experience, then it will always be in there.
At our colt starting courses (which are no longer open to the public) my statement on day one is “whenever you mark something off in your book as being solid, I want you to think you are betting your life on it”. That may sound a little dramatic, but at the end of the day a horse that has never been ridden before could react in countless ways to stimulus, and we must remember that during that reaction we are applying a cue that is not yet tried and tested to have a 100 percent success rate.
Basically if your horse spooks at something and then you apply a cue to stop that spook, then your cue could also spook them. Knowing this, and being able to build a cue, and have a back up plan, along with the ability to read the most subtle of body language, and keep yourself calm and non reactive, in essence, is the art of colt starting.
My new book - Lessons from Horses, Enlightenment is available to purchase and gives insight into how our horses think, learn and process information. Link below for purchase.
@cen_horse tkh5 at checkout