Like every other aspect of training a horse, there are many views on how to halter break a colt. My view on the subject is quite simple, and it’s pretty much the way I view almost all aspects of training a horse. I use a simple pressure and release method that seems to work quite well for me.
To start your horse needs to be equipped with a well fitted halter. I like both nylon halters and the rope halters. When halter breaking a colt I prefer to use a cotton lead rope because they are a little softer on the hands than other types of ropes. If your horse is a little on the wild side you may want to wear a pair of gloves to protect your hands.
I start by applying steady pressure on the lead rope. I continue to hold constant pressure on the rope until the horse makes any attempt at taking a step. Then I release pressure on the rope. At this point it doesn’t matter to me if he takes and actual step forward or if he just slightly rocked his weight forward. With any forward movement at all, I release pressure on the rope. This will get your horse thinking. I give the horse a couple of seconds to think about what went on, then I’ll apply pressure on the rope again, wait for him to move a little forwards and then release pressure when he does. I will give him a couple of seconds to think again. Then repeat.
After several times repeating, if my horse hasn’t taken an actual step, I continue to hold pressure on the rope until he gives me one full step. The second I get that step I release all pressure. If he completely refuses to move forward for me, I will step slightly to the side and apply pressure sideways instead of straight forward. This pulls your horse a little off balance, and he will step to the side to regain it.
After my horse starts to figure out that when I’m putting pressure on him, he needs to take a step and I’ll let him rest, I start giving him shorter rest breaks. He may only get a have a second with no pressure. I try to get a rhythm going with my horse’s step where I apply pressure on the rope. He steps. I release pressure. Immediately pick the rope up again and ask for another step. And just keep repeating and applying only as much pressure as needed to get that step. Eventually the horse figures out it’s just as easy to follow you around. The following pictures are some of Cobain his first halter breaking lesson.
Cobain is a smart little guy. He relaxed in just a couple of minutes and started just following me around. Notice in the picture how low his head is and how his ears are sideways. When that head drops like this you know your horse is relaxing and understanding what you are doing.
Halter breaking colts this way I haven’t ran into too many problems. But because they are living creatures and have a mind of their own there is always a chance of something going wrong. I’ve had horses before that would pull back when you put pressure on the rope. In that case you just keep on applying pressure till you get any forward movement. The process is the same, it’s just a little more difficult. I’ve also had horses that wanted to charge past me. In that case I constantly switch directions, working more in circles than straight lines.
By using this method to halter break your colt, you help him get his mind in the right frame for his other training. He will figure out that when you are applying pressure to him, you are looking for him to do something, and he will start to search for the answer to the question “what does this person want me to do?” When you get your horse so he’s looking to answer that question, he is in the right frame of mind to learn.