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DSH Thoughts on starting horses

Horse breaking, Colt starting, Foundation Training and any other name for educating a young horse.

When we talk about starting a horse, we are talking about the most important learning curve a horse goes through in his life. When we halter train our weanlings, we should be mindful that starting process builds directly on this.

If we talk about foundation training in its true meaning, we are talking about the horses first main interactions with the human and how the human goes about handling this horse (the feel).

When we build a foundation, we are creating a base line in the horse’s education from which all other learning is built on.

In this education we include desensitization, correct foot movement, the shaping of circles through the body, spatial awareness, lateral flection and movement, removing claustrophobia, vertical flection and the understanding of pressure and release, and relaxation (de-stressing). Through this education, if done properly will create human leadership. A horse is a herd animal and therefore needs to have a leader, a good partnership should be in the human’s favour.

When in the saddle all of the above is systematically used and built on in the same order. Therefore, if something becomes faulty during riding (due to the human usually) we are able to return to the foundation, find the issue and fix it.

If you spelled your horse for a year or something dramatic happened to the horse, we return to the foundation and rebuild. It really is as simple as this.

As a clinician, I see many horses and owners, and have the opportunity to handle these horses during our groundwork classes. I hear many horror stories about having their horse started. I hear things like, I picked my horse up from the breaker took it home and got bucked off, or my horse reared when I asked it to back up (stuck feet). I could go on and on.

Most of the horses that have been professionally started have no concept of moving away from pressure, generally they might know how to step through with the hind leg, but no concept of following a feel. A horse rears and bucks because generally their hind feet are stuck. As I said…. I could go on and on.

Of course, we recognise that problems are not always the breakers fault – but if the trainer neglects to work with the owner, then any issues lay squarely with the trainer.

It is important to choose a trainer whose methods fit with your horse training ideologies and that you are willing to learn and develop the skills required.

Groundwork is the most important part of horsemanship as everything is built on it. We interact with our horse on the ground a hell of a lot. We get the horse from the paddock, we lead the horse, we saddle the horse, we float the horse, our kids move about the horse. We need a well-mannered horse on the ground and saddle. We can’t have it in saddle if it’s not there on the ground.

As a horse owner, pleasure rider, horse breeder, competitor etc etc we must not assume that we have the skills to cope with continuing a young horse’s education without increasing our own education. We need to know before we send our horses to the breaker how he is expected to come back to us. We need to ride the horse at the breakers, as it is he that has spent the last six weeks with the horse and formed a bond with it (hopefully) not you. If you take your horse home and don’t know what you are doing, the horse will revert very quickly back to “I have to save myself mentally”

There are many major developments in the education of a horse in the last decade or two and there are better ways to go about things.

Now having said all this, when you buy a horse or dog, or car or anything at all you get what you pay for (hopefully). When you are selecting someone to trust with your horse’s education (your life) ask questions! This decision should not be based on $$.

It is important that we look for information and a better way. There are some colt starters out there doing a good job and there are some that aren’t. There aren’t too many laying down a good foundation. Maybe the foundation is up to you, but you will need help and education to get this.

I worry about so many of you, out there and going about your business, oblivious of just how dangerous horses can be, especially if the foundation is incomplete.

Horse riding must be fun, but we need to know what we are doing and what our horse is thinking for this to be as safe as possible.

Continuing education makes the world a better place for the horses.

Happy Trails