Building Your Horse From the Grown Up — Part 4 (After this we ride)

I know it seems like I’m spending an eternity on ground work with my colts.  Everything I have done up to this point can take a colt anywhere from a couple days to a couple of weeks to catch on.  The speed in which you progress will really depend on the colt you are working with.  For example, I just got a gelding to train for the 2012 Extreme Mustang Makeover in Fort Collins.  He was so willing to learn and easy to work with that I was on his back by day five.  It’s important that you read your horse.  When he does one step well move on the the next. It is really important that you don’t miss any steps, and some horses require more steps than others.  What I have covered so far is the minimum of what I do with my colts. Some colts require a lot more work on working with their legs than others, so I do different exercises that can help build more trust in that area.  Really the main thing is don’t try to rush.

We are now to a point where I want to get my horse ready to be mounted.   To be at the point where I consider a horse ready to practice mounting, I must be able to move all around the horse with out him getting nervous.  I need to be about to touch him all over his body and be able to pick up his feet.  I also like him to lunge well and understand what I want when I am ground driving.  If he pasts all these tests I start my mounting training.

I really like to break my mounting down.  First I want my horse to flex his head over to me when I ask for his nose.  Of coarse we taught this to our colt earlier so this shouldn’t be a problem (see Part 2).  So to start I ask for my horse’s nose then I pull down on the saddle horn kind of like I would do if I was actually mounting.  If he moves around, that’s okay, just stay with him and keep pressure on the saddle until his feet quit moving.  Once his feet stop moving release pressure on the saddle and the bit.  Then repeat until he doesn’t move when you put pressure on the saddle.  After he does one side well do the same thing on the other side.  I will work both sides a few times till he stands still each time I tip his nose and put pressure on the saddle.

Once my horse is standing there just bored with me pulling on the saddle I move on to actually putting some weight in the stirrup.  Like before I tip his nose over two me. Then I put just the toe of my boot in the stirrup.  I then start to bounce a little in the stirrup.  If I’m on the left side and my left foot is in the stirrup, my right foot don’t come off the ground for more than a second.  I’m really just doing little hops not actually standing in the stirrup yet.  Most horses will move around a little here.  You really want to try to stick with them, keeping their nose tipped and continue hopping until they stand still.  Once they quit moving their feet, take your foot out of the stirrup and release their nose.  Repeat until you can do this without the horse moving.  Then repeat on the other side.  Again do this as many times on each side as needed, till your horse will stand still when you put your foot in the stirrup and you hop a couple of times.

Now we are actually going to get all of our weight on the horse.  The way I like to do this next step is to start out like the previous step.  I will ask for my horse’s nose, then I will hop two times on the stirrup then on the third hop I stand up in the stirrup.  If you look at the picture you will notice I am leaning over the horse.  I have weight in the stirrup and I am resting my hip on the saddle.  If you horse moves around here just keep his head tipped over to you and stay with him until his feet quit moving.  Once his feet stop step down and let him rest a second.  Then repeat.  On my second time up I like to reach over and rub his neck a little and mess with the opposite stirrup.  Again I do this over and over until my horse just stands there and seems bored with me.  Then repeat on the other side.  This is the last step before actually swinging your leg over and riding your horse, so you want to make sure that both you and your horse are comfortable with everything up to this point.  If you feel like you just aren’t ready to swing that leg over, don’t.  Go back and do some more ground work and practice everything up to this point until you are both relaxed and comfortable.



Building My Horse From the Ground Up — Part 3

By now my colts are usually becoming pretty good thinkers and problem solvers.  They are figuring out that when I am doing something I am actually asking them to move in some way, and it is the colt’s job to figure out how I want them to move.  They are also figuring out that if they move the right way I quit asking, and if they move the wrong way my asking gets harder and faster.  Here is where I like to introduce my colts to the saddle, and  this is also when I start  lunging (or circling if you are a Parelli person) and ground driving.


Even the most desensitize colts can be afraid of a saddle.  One it is heavier than anything else you have put on them.  Most saddles also make noise, and they squeeze around your colts belly. So I have several steps I like to do before actually throwing the saddle on a colt’s back.

First you can take a long lead rope and put it around your colt’s heart girth.  Slowly tighten the rope while reassuring the colt that he is okay.  He may not mind this at all, or he may act up. If he acts up loosen the rope slightly until he settles down, then again. Repeat until he lets you tighten the rope without moving around.  Another step I take in getting my colts ready for being cinched is putting a surcingle on him.  This is a training device that is used for lunging and ground driving.  I may start ground driving using a surcingle, but typically I just ground drive using my saddle.  I use a light blanket when I use the surcingle.  I let the colt sniff it, then rub it along the colt’s neck and put it over his back.  Then the first few times I fasten the surcingle, I use my lunging whip to reach under the the colt’s belly and pull the girth underneath him.  First fasten it fairly loose then tighten it a little at a time till it is snug.

To get my horse use to seeing the saddle I will set it in the pen when I ground work my colt.  I will sometimes stick it on a barrel or sometimes I put it on the ground.  I let the colt sniff it and look at it several times before I pick it up and show it to him.

After I let him sniff the saddle a little and he is starting to think it won’t eat him, I will pick it up and let him sniff it some more.  I will then take the cinch or a stirrup and rub it on his neck to get him use to being touched by the saddle.  I try to start with a little lighter saddle and one that I don’t care if it gets knocked around.Now I see if he will let me put a stirrup and the cinch on his back.  Depending on how the colt is acting, I may put the cinch and stirrup on then take it off several times before I try to put the whole saddle on.With the stirrup and the cinch over the colt’s back I gently set the saddle on his back.  If he jumps and the saddle falls off, that’s okay, just start over.  Once he stands fairly well with the saddle sitting on his back I will fasten the cinch.  I start with it pretty loose but snug enough it won’t slide under him if he bucks.  I like to use a breast collar so that if it does slide a little it doesn’t slip clear under him.  After you have the saddle on and relatively snug.  Step back a little from your horse and see how he reacts.  Some colts are just fine others blow up.  Some trainers don’t like to let their colt’s buck.  I tend to turn mine loose and let them buck if they want.  In my opinion it is good for them to buck and realize that they aren’t going to get the saddle off.  I then take the saddle off and repeat, repeat, repeat.  I try to get to a point where my colt will let me swing the saddle on without spooking with in the first couple days of saddling.

From here on out I will saddle my horse every time I work with him.  Saddling just becomes part of our routine.  Even days that I just go out and don’t have time to do any actual work, I will throw the saddle on and leave it on for a couple minutes while I give the colt some grain.

Saddle Desensitizing

Once the colt is accepting the saddle  I do a little desensitizing with it.  I will slap the fenders, pull on the cinch and breast collar, and grab the saddle horn and rock the saddle.  When I do any of these activities, the colts first reaction is to move.  Just stick with it and continue to repeat what you are doing until your colt stops moving his feet.  Give him a couple seconds to rest then repeat.  In the picture on the left Gabby is grabbing hold of the stirrup and snapping the fender.  This saddle has really soft leather so the fenders move easily and make a great popping noise.



There are a few theories on lunging.  One is that you run your horse in circles to get him worn down.  The problem with this theory is that, much like an athlete, the more you run your horse in circles, the better shape they are in.  The first few times you lunge your horse he may get tired in five minutes, but over time it takes him longer and longer to get tired.

The second theory is that you run your horse in a few circles, changing direction often, to make sure he’s paying attention and listening to you.  If the horse I’m going to ride is well broke, I only trot them in this exercise.  If it’s a green horse, I may push them up to a lope a couple times around, but loping in this small of circle can be hard on the leg joints, so I don’t lope them much.

Start with your horse facing you.  We’ll start going left.   Hold the rope in your left hand and stick your hand out to the side.  You will hold the tail end of the rope in your right hand and swing it at your horse’s left shoulder.  As your horse starts to move away from the swinging rope you  keep him going in a circle around you.  If you need him to go faster, you can swing the tail end of the rope.  I try to direct my swing around the saddle area.  If he needs more encouragement you can pop him on the rump.  I try to keep my body positioned in the drive line of the horse, which is about level with your stirrup.  If you get in front of this line your horse will stop. Behind it and your horse will end up turning  his nose toward you.  Usually, I go three circles and switch directions.  To switch directions you disengage your horse’s hindquarter by bending your body and looking at his hind end at the same time you will gently pull his nose in toward you.  He should cross his back legs, moving his hiney away from you.  As you straighten back up, reach across your body with your right hand and grab the rope out of your left. Pick up the tail end of the rope in your left hand and swing it at your horse’s right shoulder.  From here it is just repeating what you did with your horse going to the left.  I typically go three circles to the left, switch and go three to the right. I perform this exercise over and over several times until my horse is paying attention to me and moving how I want him to, when I want him to.  The most important part of this exercise is not the running of the circles, but the changing of direction.  The more changes of direction you do, the better your horse will pay attention to what you want him to do.  Also this shouldn’t be a tug-a-war with your horse.  If he is pulling on the rope don’t pull solid pressure back on him.  Instead give the rope three good tugs and see if he quits pulling.  If not give him three more tugs.  I have found over the years that little bumps or tugs work better than solid pressure.

Ground Driving

Ground driving is basically driving your horse from the ground and not in a cart or buggy.  The reason I ground drive is so that my colts have a clear idea what I want when I ask for something with my reins.  Before I ride my colts, they will know how to stop, back and turn off a direct rein.  I will drive them enough so that when I finally get on their back they won’t be confused with what I am doing with the reins.  I will start ground driving with my colt in a halter then graduate to a loose ring snaffle bit.  Also you can use a surcingle to drive your colt or you can use your saddle.  I like to use my saddle and just run my reins through the stirrups.  When I’m first starting a colt on ground driving I will tie my stirrups together under the horse so that if he spooks my stirrups don’t end up on his back.  Also I do not use really “driving reins”, I just have a couple of lunge lines that I use for reins.

I start ground driving in a round pen. I will hook up two lunge lines on my colt’s halter, one on each side of his nose.  Then I will run the right line through the right stirrup.  The left line I leave loose.  I hold the left line in my left hand, right line in right hand.  I then ask the colt to lunge to the left while I stand in the center of the round pen.  To start with I want him to get use to how the line feels when it crosses the back of his legs.  I then start to move out of the center of the pen and start to fall in line kind of behind the colt.  I will then ask him to whoa and put a little pressure on the reins.  Then I repeat, repeat, repeat.  Once he is going good one way, I switch lines and have him go the other direction.

Now that he goes good both directions I will run each line through a stirrup and drive the colt from behind.  I start at a walk around the round pen.  I will ask the colt to stop and back a couple of steps then turn towards the fence and walk again.  If you have trouble backing your colt, apply a little more pressure to one rein than the other and the second he makes an attempt to back release pressure.



Eventually I want to get so I can drive my colt out of the pen, but I don’t attempt this until I can control him pretty well in the round pen first.  In the round pen I will maneuver him around barrels, over a tarp or bridge, in figure 8’s and anything else I can think of before I take him out into the wide open.  When we are driving in a field or down the road I will occasionally ask my colt to stop and back, then just stand still for a couple of seconds before continuing.  At first the standing in one spot can be pretty hard for a colt.  Start with standing about a half of second and build up from there.  I also try to find natural obstacles for my colt to go around, on or through.  

The length of time I drive my colts really depends on the colt.  Some catch on really fast and others take longer.  I won’t even consider getting on him before he will stop and back very well when driving.  And if a colt I have been riding has had a week or so off, I will saddle him up and drive him for 15 minutes or so before riding him.

We’re getting closer to riding.  I really do spend a ton of time on these ground working skill before that first ride, so that the first ride goes as smooth as possible.  It would really take a lot to over do any of the skills that I have written about thus far.  This is the foundation of your colts entire training, and like your house’s foundation, you want it to be as strong as it can.

Building My Horse From the Ground Up–Part 2

Even though this section is about starting colts any older horse can benefit from these exercises.  Especially if you have a horse that is pushy or bossy or shows little respect.

At this point your horse should be able to stand quietly while tied and being groomed and lead nicely without crowding you or rushing past you.  We also have worked on desensitizing our colt (which up to this point has been ground work, but desensitizing can also be done in the saddle).  Now we are going to start asking our colts to do some more advanced moves.

When teaching a colt anything new, I start with a small cue. Then make it bigger and bigger until I get the desired result.  Then once the colt starts to figure out what I want I refine them and make them smaller and smaller until the colt moves with just the slightest suggestion of what I want.  Also when first asking a colt to do something new, timing is very important.  You want to reward your colt for the slightest attempt at doing the right thing.  This will help develop him into a problem solver.  He will learn that when you are giving him a cue, he needs to do something to get you to stop, and it is his job to figure out what you want.  Most importantly you must not stop cuing your horse until he makes and effort in the right direction.  If your horse goes the wrong way and you stop cuing him, you’ve just trained him to go the wrong way when you cue him that certain way.

Lateral Flexion

Lateral flexion, to me, is one of the most important things to teach your horse.  It helps build softness in your horses.  It helps them relax.  And it is the key to a one rein stop.  Honestly  I’m a little nervous riding horses that don’t know how to flex their heads to the side.

To teach my horse to flex laterally, I simply stand beside my horse at the shoulder, facing the same direction as the horse.  I place my right arm over my horses withers, and with my left hand I grasp the side of the nose band of the halter and apply pressure towards my hip.  At first your horse will probably move around in circles.  Just stay with him and continue to apply pressure.  The second he quits moving his feet and tips his head slightly towards you release pressure.  Then repeat, repeat, repeat.  Eventually he will get so he will tip his nose all the way around to you.  Once he will reach his nose around towards you, you can hold his head over here for a couple seconds at a time.  Repeat with the other side.

Moving the Hind Quarters

This may seam like a pretty easy task to teach your horse, but it is very important that he learns it and learns it correctly.  We can easily move our horse’s rear end by pulling his head around and swinging the rope at his rear end, but we want to refine this so that when we are in the saddle we can disengage his hind quarters in and emergency.

The goal here is to be able to slightly tip our colt’s nose towards us and touch his side slightly behind where your leg would hang while riding (what I call foot position three) this will result in you horse crossing his back legs as he moves his hind end away from you.

To start I give my horse the cue as if he already knows what I want.  I tip his nose slightly toward me and gently touch his side.  Most likely he hasn’t a clue what I want and will just stand there, but if he happens to make an effort to move his rear end away from me, I release pressure, rub his neck and let him stand for a couple of seconds before asking him again.  If he doesn’t move I will apply more pressure with my hand on his side.  I progress from pressure to tapping his side, to swinging the rope at his rear end, to popping the rope on his butt.  I only up the pressure until I get movement in the correct direction.  Once I get movement the colt gets to rest a couple of seconds.  Then I repeat, repeat, repeat.  Always starting with the smallest cue and working up to only as big as necessary.

Once the colt is starting to understand what I want I ask for more steps.  Then I ask for him to do the same thing the other direction.  It is important to work both sides of your horse.  With a horse just because you do something on one side doesn’t mean he will understand what you want on the other side.  Also I don’t spend a lot of time working on this each session.  This is something your colt should pick up quickly and working on it a few minutes everyday should be plenty.  After my colts understand what I want from them, I move them a full circle each direction three times and call it good (Circle left, circle right, circle left, circle right, circle left, circle right).

In the first picture I show how I hold my rope, second picture is where I apply pressure, picture three is Cobain moving his hind end, pictures four and five are me moving him with just moving my hand and not actually touching him or you could say I’m driving his hind end around.

Moving the Front End

Getting your horse to walk around on his front end can be a little more tricky than moving his hind end.  I like to teach my horses to pivot on their hind ends (walking around with their front legs) for a couple different reasons.  One, if they are used in halter classes they need to know how to pivot. Two, it’s a lot easier to lead a horse that you don’t have to push around but will move nicely away from you when you step towards them. Three, it is easier to teach a horse to pivot under saddle if they were taught to pivot from the ground.

The most important thing to remember here is that a pivot on the hind is still a forward movement.  Your horse will still have 3 legs walking around one that is standing still.  Keeping that in mind, I start to teach my colts to pivot by walking them forward, then turning into them and ask them to step away from me.  What we are looking for is that the colt moves away from me and that he front leg closest to me steps over the other front leg.  To start we get one step and walk the horse forward.  So the pattern will go like this:  walk forward, get one cross over step, walk forward, get a cross over step, walk forward.  You want to make sure you are always walking your colt out of his pivots otherwise he will start backing his hind end around  Once he is doing one step well ask for two and build from there.  Don’t forget to repeat on the other side.

If you have problems getting your horse to step away from you, you can try a couple different techniques to get him to move.  To start I will pump my hand towards his nose.  Then I will push my thumb into the little groove between his shoulder and neck (see picture).  If he still don’t move I will twirl my rope at his shoulder.

Picture one, walking forward. Two, pumping my hand towards his nose. Three, where to push if he doesn’t move. Four, swinging my rope at his shoulder.  Five, he’s crossing his front legs over. Six, he moves with just implied pressure.

These ground work maneuvers are so important.  They are exercises that I go over and over till they are near perfect.  They are a great way to build a bond with your horse.  And they also help create respect towards you.  Even if you are riding an older, already broke horse, if he can’t do these simple maneuvers, go back and teach them to him.  I promise he will seem like a new horse.




Building My Horse From the Ground Up–Part 1

Once my colts are desensitized pretty well and I am able to lead them and pick up their feet, I start focusing on preparing them for that first ride.  Now I know there are cowboys out there who like to just hop on and see what they got. Not me.  I want to know what I can expect from my colt before I even think about climbing on his back.  That’s why I build my colts from the ground up.

Ground work is the foundation to all the colts I start.  It lets me teach them what is expected of them.  And if done properly, the foundation you put on your colts can make them faster learners.

Everyday Ground Work

What I consider “everyday ground work”, is work that you do with your horse pretty much every time to take him out of the pen.  If you have a well broke horse you may not even thing of this as ground work, but if you are working with a colt this “everyday ground work” is a big part of his training.  Tasks that I put in this category are leading,  grooming, and standing tied.  If you are having problems with any of these areas, they need to be fixed before you try to do any further training with your horse.  Problems in these areas typically  means your horse doesn’t respect you.  Without respect a horse can be very dangerous.

How do I know my horse is being respectful?  You want your horse to walk nicely with you when you lead him.  If he tries to run you over or rush past you, he is being disrespectful.  Both are potentially very dangerous behaviors and should be fixed as soon as possible.  To remedy a horse trying to run over you, you can simply shove the palm of your hand into his cheek when he crowds your space.  This will not make your horse head shy, it just gives him a clear message that what he is doing is wrong.  It is very similar to another horse nipping at him if he crowds their space.

To fix the problem of my horse rushing past me, I start leading my horse and the second my horse passes my shoulder while being led, I give a couple of backward jerks on the lead rope to stop him then immediately back him a couple of body lengths.  I’m pretty aggressive when I’m backing my horse I expect him to move freely and quickly.  I don’t want to have to drag him backwards.  The more energy you use the better the back will be.  This may fix your problem after just a couple of times, or it may take twenty times.  It just depends on the horse.

Disrespect while being groomed or tied up is moving around.  The same process can be used to fix both of these problems.  Basically we want our horse to  move our horses feet so that he will decide standing still is the best option.  I take my horse out to the middle of the pen equipped with a halter and lead rope.  I give my horse the chance to stand still.  If he stands nicely I praise him and let him continue to stand while I start to brush him.  The second he starts to move around I trot him in a few circles then give him the chance to stand again.  If he stands still great, if not run him in a few more circles.  Eventually he is going to decide that it is easier to stand quietly than to  have to run in circles.

If my colts aren’t doing well with the everyday ground work, I don’t go on with more advanced ground work.  I just continue to perfect the basics.


A Little Work on the Legs

It is so important to get your horse use to having his legs touched and his feet picked up.  More than likely you will at some point want to have your horse’s feet trimmed, and it’s also good practice to clean your horse’s hooves from time to time.  If you are working with a colt that has never had his feet messed with, you probably don’t want to just run up to him and try to pick up his feet.  Odds are you will scare your horse, and you may end up hurt.

Once my colt is okay with me brushing his legs, I start working on getting my colt use to more handling of his legs.  What I have found works the best for the following is a nice soft cotton lead rope that is around 15 feet long.  Your colt should be use to being touched with this rope on his legs if you properly desensitized him to it.  If he is nervous about the rope go back and do a little more desensitizing.  Horses tend to get a little nervous when we first start messing with their legs, so it is important to try to stay relaxed and calm when performing these exercises.  If you try to rush this you will stress your horse, which will increase your odds of getting hurt.

To get started

Before I will ask my colts to pick up their legs for me I want to be sure they are comfortable with their legs being handled.  I accomplish this by using my rope first then moving to using just my hands.  By using the rope as an extension of my arms and hands, I can handle my horse’s legs while remaining at a safe position should the horse decide to kick.  The following pictures are of me working on Cobain’s legs.

Notice when I start I’m standing slightly in front of his shoulder.  I have a hold of the lead rope next to his head with one hand, and I am touching him with the tail end of the rope with the other.  I’m making sure that he isn’t going to spook from the rope.  I rub his shoulder with the rope, then move down to the outside of his leg.  If he is remaining relaxed I see if he will let me rub the rope on the inside of his leg.  If at any point he becomes a little nervous I just go back a step and restart from there.

Once he is okay with the rope touching the inside of his leg I go ahead and loosely put the rope around his leg. I then move the rope all the way up and down his leg a few times until he is completely relaxed with this process.  If he is standing nicely and seems relaxed, I will remove the rope from his leg and step back a couple feed and let him stand.  By letting him stand for a little bit, you give him a chance to process what has just happened.  More than likely, after a couple of seconds he will like his lips (a sign that he is thinking), and if you are really lucky, he will let out a big sigh.  Repeat with the legs.

If you are unsure about wrapping the rope around the back legs, you can use the alternate method of getting the rope around them.  For this you will need something firm to drag the rope with such as a carrot stick.  Stand by your horse’s shoulder and swing the rope so it wraps around the ankle of  your horse.  If you have properly desensitized this shouldn’t be a problem.  If he seems a little jumpy just keep repeating until he relaxes.   Also you want to take your stick and rub it on his leg to make sure he isn’t going to swat at it when you reach for the end of your rope (in the picture to the right I am using a whip, it happened to be what I had laying around handy) Okay now you want to swing the rope around your horse’s ankle so that enough of the tail is sticking out between his back legs that you can catch the end of it with your stick.  Using your stick drag the end out towards you until it is far enough out that you can reach down and get the end.  Make sure to keep a good grip on the end of the rope attached to the halter so you can pull your horse around if needed.

Giving to pressure

After the horse is comfortable with having the rope around his legs, I start applying pressure to his legs and asking him to give to that pressure by lifting his leg.  I first do this using the rope and eventually move on to using my hand.  Once again I will put the rope around my horse’s leg.  Let it slide down around the fetlock.  Then I apply constant pressure on the rope.  For starters I ask the horse to give me his leg to the front.  The instant the horse makes an effort to pick up his foot, release all pressure on the rope.  Then repeat, repeat, repeat.  Continue to repeat until your horse will pick up his hoof with the slightest amount of pressure.  Then repeat with the other legs.  At this point we aren’t asking him to hold them up for any period of time, we just want him to get the idea  that when we apply pressure he should give to that pressure.

Finally Picking Up the Foot

After my horse is giving to pressure of the rope well, I start using my hands to ask him to actually pick up his feet.  To start I position my self by his shoulder holding on to the lead rope with one hand.  I then run my other hand down the leg I wish to pick up.  If all goes well I apply a little forward pressure to his leg and he will pick up his foot.  Then let him put it down right away.  Then repeat, this time when he picks up his foot move it back and hold it up for a couple of seconds.  You may have to start holding it low so your horse can keep his balance better, but eventually you should be able to lift it as you would if you were going to clean it.  I work all of the feet this way, starting out with holding the foot up a second or two and then adding more time.  The goal is to eventually be able to hold his foot up long enough to clean or trim it.





Never Enough Desensitizing

In my opinion, you can never desensitize your horse enough.  There will always be something new you can introduce your horse to.  And even with massive desensitizing there is still no guarantee that your horse will not spook. No matter how broke or old a horse is they still can spook.  However, we can  lessen the chances of your horse spooking by desensitizing them to many different “scary” things before we start riding.

After my colts are leading well, are comfortable with me brushing them everywhere and will let me touch them everywhere on their legs and body with the rope and a blanket, I break out the scary stuff:  plastic bags and tarps.

First I will work with the plastic sack because it is smaller than a tarp and easier to handle.  Begin with it wadded up in your hand and only a small portion sticking out.  Let your horse see it, and then crinkle the plastic a little so the horse can hear the noise it is going to make.  Warning:  this make spook your horse, so be sure to have a good hold on him.  Let your horse sniff the sack, then starting on your horse’s neck rub the bag all over his body.  Take your time.  If you rush you may cause your horse to get uncomfortable or to spook.  If he starts to get a little antsy, back up to a place where he was okay being touched with the sack.

Once he is comfortably being rubbed with the sack wadded up, unfold it a little and go through the process of letting him see it, sniff it and then rubbing it over his body.  After you’ve done this you can attach the sack to a stick and repeat the process once again.  Make sure to take your time.  If he is ever uncomfortable go back to a place where he is calm then work from there.

Desensitizing your horse to a tarp can be slightly more of a challenge, mainly because the tarp is a little more awkward to work with.  Also because it is a little bigger it can seem more threatening to your horse.  I start with a tarp that is around 8 X 10 feet in size.  When I first start introducing it to my horse, I fold it up so it’s a pretty small square.  Then I preform the same steps I use for desensitizing my horse to anything:  First I show them the tarp;

Next I let the horse sniff the tarp;

Then I will touch my horse’s nose with the tarp;

I then proceed to rub the tarp on the horse’s neck;

You need to be aware of your horse’s body language.  In the following photo you can see by Cobain’s body language that he is becoming extremely uncomfortable with the tarp.

When my horse starts to get nervous like this, I back off and let him sniff the tarp again and start the process over.

After your horse lets your rub one side of his body pretty easily with the tarp, repeat the process on the other side.

Notice in the last picture above how Cobain’s head is lower.  This is a sign that he is starting to relax.

Once I am able to rub the folded up tarp all over my horse on both sides of his body, I partially unfold the tarp and repeat the process on both sides of the horse’s body.

The ultimate goal here is to get your horse comfortable with the tarp touching anywhere on his body.  Eventually you will be rubbing your horse with the tarp completely opened up.  You are not done with this process of desensitizing until you can have the tarp opened completely and pull it over your horse’s back, head and through his legs.  It may take you several days to accomplish this.  Take your time.  Don’t get in a rush and skip desensitizing your horse thoroughly. After you’ve moved on to ground driving or even riding your horse, you may want to come back and work with the plastic sack or the tarp just to help keep him trusting you and well desensitized.  Remember you can never do enough desensitizing.



Halter Breaking

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.

Apply PressureRelease



Apply, notice that the rope is tight, but I’m not “pulling” on Cobain.  I’m just applying enough pressure to let him know I want him to come forward.

Release.  Your movements don’t have to be big.  You can see here the rope isn’t tight.  That means that I’m not applying pressure.

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.


Desensitizing — Sacking Out

When I first start messing with my colts I like to really desensitize them to everything I can think of.  Horses are prey animals and are always on alert that something may be coming to eat them.  I want to expose my horses to as much as possible so they will be less likely to spook later on.

I like to start by desensitizing my colts to the everyday tools I will be using.  I take the object I’m desensitizing my horse to and first let him sniff it.  The first object I usually use is my lead rope.  I  rub him on the forehead with the rope, and once he relaxes and doesn’t seem to mind the rope touching his head, I rub the rope down his neck.  I then proceed to rub the rope all over his body.  If I come to a place that he is starting to act a little spooky, I just move back to a place where he was relaxed.  Let’s say you are rubbing his neck with a rope, and he is nice and relaxed with that.  Then when you start to move down his shoulder onto his leg he starts to move around.  I simply go back to rubbing the rope on his neck and work my way back down to his shoulder then onto his leg.  Again if he starts to act up go back to rubbing his neck.  Eventually he will be okay with the rope touching his legs.  You also need to make sure to desensitize you horse to everything on both sides.  Something may be okay with your horse on one side and completely freak him out on the other.  The following pictures are of me desensitizing Cobain to a rope.  Notice how in the first couple pictures he looks a little unsure.  Then in the bottom picture he seems completely relaxed.  It is at this point I will either quit for the day or move on to another object to desensitize him to.

Every time I introduce my horse to something new I go through the same process.  I let him sniff it.  I rub his face with it.  Then starting at the neck I rub it all over his body.  I feel that desensitizing is a very important part of training and is a step that your horse can never get too much of.

Here I’m desensitizing Cobain to a brush.  Because Cobain was born in the wild, everything he sees he thinks is a potential threat.

Next I desensitize him to a saddle blanket.

I can’t stress how important it is to desensitize young horses to as many different things as you can.  While you can’t expose them to everything,  the more you do expose them to the better horse you will have.  Take your time in during the desensitizing process,  the results will be well worth the effort you put into it.

In the Beginning

People have many different ways of gentling and training their colts.  Not every method works with every horse, and not every method works with every person.  Because the horse I am using for this process is a mustang that was born in the wild, I will be using methods that won’t make him feel trapped or in danger.   If I put too much pressure on him, he will feel captured.  At that point he will only have escaping on his mind and won’t be in learning mode.

I actually have been extremely busy this first week that I have owned Cobain, my 2 yr old mustang, gelding, so I haven’t been able to spend much time with him.  But I have taken several steps to get him ready to be worked with.

When I picked him up at the BLM, Bureau of Land Management, they ran him through a shoot to load him into my trailer.  While he was in the shoot I had one of the BLM employees slip a halter on him so that would be one less step for me.  Because this halter is going to be left on Cobain for several weeks, I selected a nylon halter.  I love rope halters for training horses, but I find them dangerous to leave on a horse full time.  You also want your halter to be well fitted, so it won’t slip off of your horse, or he get a leg caught in it if he reaches to scratch his face.  Cobain has a smaller head for a mustang so I ended up using a halter for a horse 500-800 pounds.  It fits perfectly.

Because my resources allow it, I have placed my colt in a pen that is away from other horses.  This will help him bond more quickly to me.  The pen is constructed of heavy duty panels.  The pen is about 50 feet in diameter and is attached to a small barn so Cobain can get out of the weather.   I do not leave a bale of hay in the pen that he can eat off of when ever he wants.  I pitch hay to him twice a day.  This actually is important.  By me coming out to pitch hay to him, he recognized that I am a source of food for him, and he gets excited to see me.  Also it forces me to make an appearance twice a day.  I figure the more Cobain sees me, the better he will know me.

I like to get my horses trusting me and wanting to come to me.  I like to give them a little grain from my hand to get them wanting to see me.  I know some people disagree with this, but they can start their own blog on how to do it their way.  Because Cobain had never had grain, I had to get him use to eating it before he would even consider eating it out of my hand.  To do this,  Cobain’s first few days at my place I put grain in a grain tub for him.  The first time I just put the grain in the tub and left the pen.  The next time I put grain in the tub and messed around in the pen.  Then the next couple of times I put grain in the tub and stood a few feet from the tub.  Now he loves grain.  Here is where I add a catch.  He only gets grain if he will eat it out of my hand.  He knows the bucket grain comes in, and the first time it took him a little while to actually take some from my hand, but now he will come right up and get the grain from me every time.  As I feed him grain with one hand, I will take my other hand and rub his face.  He is now starting to let me rub his face when I don’t have grain and will come check me out when I come in the pen.

Another part of training I’ve been doing with Cobain is a little round pen work.  Because my family has had such a busy schedule the last week, I haven’t done as much round pen work as I would have liked to with Cobain, but he is such a smart little guy and is catching on quickly.   When I first do round pen work with colts, they are “at liberty”.  Which basically means I don’t have a rope on them and they can go where they like.

I would like to mention that parts of this process would be slightly different if the horse that I would be working with was some what tame.  These are the steps that I use on a horse that has never been around people.  I have found that this process works best for me in most situations as building trust of the horse.

In the Round Pen

The only equipment you need for this first process is a lunge whip or a stick and string. I use a lunge whip because it’s what I have,  I don’t whip the horse with it.   I basically use it as an extension of my arm.

To start I will ask the colt to move.  Now Cobain has not ever really been handled so to get him to move, I just walk towards him a little and he starts to go. If your horse is a little reluctant to go you can move your arms a little, click to them or whatever it takes to get them traveling around the pen.  I then quit moving and just let the horse go until they stop.  When they stop moving I take a step or two backwards to see it I can get the horse to turn towards me.  If they turn towards me I let them stand  until they turn away, then I ask them to move again, and continue to repeat the process over again several times.  If the horse doesn’t turn towards me I make them move out again right away and keep repeating the process until they turn towards me.

The second thing I like to do while my colt is at liberty is to get him a little desensitized.  To do this I will swing the tail end of my lunge whip, or the string of a stick and string, up over my horse’s back.  The horse will probably take off running around the pen.  That’s okay. Try to keep the whip riding on the horse’s back if it falls off swing it back onto him.  Eventually the horse will stop and stand still.  When he does so, immediately remove the whip from his back and let him stand a few seconds.  Then repeat by swinging the tail end of the whip back onto his back and wait for him to stop moving.  The goal here is to get it so you can swing the tail end of the whip onto him without him moving.  Some horses will figure this out more quickly than others.  Don’t give up eventually every horse will figure out what you are looking for.  I continue this exercise daily until I can go out and throw the end of the whip over the horse and he doesn’t move the first time I try it.  (If working with a horse that is halter broke and willing to let you touch him, I start out by just rubbing him all over with the whip until he lets me touch him everywhere with it.)

Cobain figured out really fast that if turns and faces you, you will quit swinging the whip at him.  Here you can see the tail of the whip hanging over Cobain’s back.  He’s facing Dan, and Dan offers him a “hand shake”.

After I get my horse so he is standing when I am tossing the whip over his back, I start to rub the stiff part of the whip on his back.  I will rub it on him and try to work my way closer to him until I am actually touching him with my hand that is holding the whip.  To start I usually can rub him with the end without much problem, but as I get closer to touching him with my hand I can see he starts to get nervous.  At that point I will back off to a point where I can see him relax and try to work my way closer.    Eventually I will get to where I can touch him without first using the whip.  Just like everything, some horses will except you getting close to them faster than others.  If you want it done right take your time and let your horse be the one who tells you he’s ready for the next step.

For the next part of my round pen work, I use a 20 foot cotton lead rope with a bull snap on the end.  This is one of the tools I use most during training so I highly recommend buying on.  I prefer the bull snap to other snaps mainly because they are very strong and will hold up to just about anything.  And I recommend buying ropes that the rope is braided back through itself where the snap is fastened on.  Ropes that just have clamps holding the snap on tend to break easily.  I prefer the cotton to nylon because it won’t create burns as easily on you or your horse as the nylon will.  I have tried the colored cotton ropes, but I think that the coloring must make the ropes more fragile because they seem to break easier.  (Starting to sound like I break a lot of stuff, huh?)  Anyway, the rope pictured is the type I prefer.

With this rope you will basically go through the same process that you did with the whip.  This will help get your horse desensitized from the
rope.  You will HOLD ONTO THE CLASP END and throw the loose end over your horse’s back.  Your horse will probably start running around, and you will hold the clasp end of the rope and let the other end ride on your horse.  If it falls off toss it back on the horse.  When your horse stops running, pull the rope off of his back.  Repeat until your horse just stands and lets you toss the rope onto his back.  Eventually you want to get where he accepts the rope sitting on his back, and he will let you come up and pet him. (The process here with a tame horse would be to rub him all over with the rope then proceed to swing it onto him. Because the horse we are working with isn’t tame, he probably won’t let you get near him with a rope until he figures out it isn’t going to eat him.)

Here Cobain has started to relax and is facing Dan.  As a reward Dan will let Cobain stand for a few minutes before moving on.

I really feel that it is important to do these exercises with any colt you are starting.  They really help desensitize the colt to sudden movements and help them realize that you aren’t going to hurt them.  I repeat and repeat every exercise I do with my colts until they will stand relaxed while I performing whatever exercise we happen to be working on at the time.

Riding a Legend!!!!

Mustang.  The word itself just excites me.  When I hear that word I think of the Wild West and of cowboys and Indians.  I think of the untamed spirit of an animal that runs free with the wind.  Recently I adopted a mustang.  My goal is to gentle and ride him.

If you are unfamiliar with what a mustang is, let me explain it to you.  A mustang is a feral horse.  Some people will refer to them as wild horses, but mustangs are technically feral horses.  Feral mean that the animal, a horse in this case, has escaped from its domestic home and it has been on its own long enough it is now living as a wild animal.

Mustangs are horses that are not native to the Americas.  All the wild horses that had lived in the Americas died out in the last ice age.  The mustangs that roam here are mainly derived from horses that escaped from the Spanish when they settled in Florida and Mexico.  Over time ranchers wanted to cultivate the herds to fit their preferences, so they would kill the dominate stallions of the herds and release their prize stallions out to breed the mustang mares.

Most of the original mustang were descendants of  Andalusian, Arabian, and Barb breeds of horses.  However over time many other breeds have been added to the mix, and various herds of mustangs show evidence of Thorough bred horses, draft horses, and several other light breeds of horses.

Over the years mustangs have been captured and used in various ways.  The Native Americans captured them and used them for hunting and transportation.  The military used them for food.  And at one point in U.S. history they were even captured and used to make pet food.

The mustangs today are protected under law, but they have disappeared from  several states where they once roamed.  Nevada is home to over half of all the mustangs in the U.S.  Other states that have significant populations of wild horses are Wyoming, Oregon, Montana, and California.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is responsible for controlling the number of animals that remain in the wild.  The country side can sustain only so many.  If they are allowed to over populate they will run themselves out of food and habitat.  The horses that the BLM gather from the wild are moved to holding facilities where they are put up for adoption.  Of coarse there are always more animals available for adoption than people willing to adopt, so the BLM is trying to decide what to do with the excess horses.

When I was 12 my dad bought me a horse that was out of a mustang mare.  I broke the horse myself, and it was the best horse I ever had.  I’m just starting on my adventure with my new little mustang.  I’m sure he’s going to be the second best horse ever.  You can follow my progress on here.  I will be posting photos and videos on my step by step process of gentling my mustang.

For more information on adopting a mustang check out the BLM’s website. You can adopt horses on line or go to a holding facility near you and pick one out today.