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, 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.