The Minnesota Horse Expo was held a few months ago. At it we had a “colt starting seminar”. Although I’m always skeptical of performances where a horse is started in an hour I attended and was pleasantly surprised.
I am always uncomfortable with the idea of taking an unstarted horse all the way to mounting and moving around in 1hr. This was a 2yro Quarter Horse gelding. Clearly, he had been lunged before and had at least had a saddle pad set on him. I dearly hope he’d even been saddled before. The speaker did that this was probably more like 60-90 days of work. Personally, I’d only get on and get off the first day. Let the horse think about it. Or break it into a second session later in the day at least.
This horse was doing VERY well, but finally got pushed too far after being asked to trot on the lunge with the rider and bucked her off. She, of course, got back on, but with how agreeable the colt had been I believe it could have been avoided had he not been rushed for the sake of a presentation.
That said, I did take some excellent notes about how to approach each piece of the puzzle (the saddle, the weight, the leg cues). I’m eager to find someone to work with me, hands on, to start a young horse under saddle. I just need to find the right trainer and I think that finding an appropriate trainer will be a whole post in itself.
With a horse that is halter-broke and introduced to lunging.
- Let the horse keep moving when introducing scary things. A frozen horse is more likely to explode
- Once you’re introduced the scary object, turn your back at walk away for a moment before re-approching. This reduces the stress on the part of the horse.
- Teach the horse to move away from your hand like he would from the leg behind the girth (don’t “steal it” by chasing them around)
- Establish walking around a circle and yielding to the hand to reverse before saddling. Then at each stage (saddle, bridle, rider) do the circle exercise again
- Eventually move to lunging the horse with the rider, who doesn’t touch the reins. Just keeps rubbing the horse’s withers.
Personally, I’d introduce the horse to the bit and at least some light ground driving before mounting so that we’ll have some understanding of the bit before getting on. And I would have lunged the horse with a saddle long before adding a human. I would want to make sure the horse was comfortable with each step before adding something to it.
Looks like I may get my chance. There is an unstarted rescue mare at my barn that the owners need help with. Although first, we need to get her more comfortable with her feet and tail being handled. Her feet need to be trimmed and her tail could use a detangle.
This isn’t even getting into the questions of age. I come from an English riding background and feel uncomfortable with starting horses at 2yrs. Personally, the earliest I’d get on is 3yrs and then keep it very light. Actual work starts at 4, but still wouldn’t be too intense. 4yros are like teenaged humans. Starting to be able to focus but still need allowances for age. More serious schooling can wait until they’re 5.