Question: I’m about to have my first foal (actually my mare is). Everyone has an opinion on when to start this colt. When do you think I should I start this foal?
Answer from April Reeves: My answer is the very first day of his/her life! Colt starting is not just about leaving the foal until it’s 2. If you want a really great horse to ride at the end of the day it all begins from the beginning! Why attempt training later in the horse’s life when you can do it when the horse is a baby? Why spend twice the time trying to fix problems later in life?
Colt starting is not just about riding, but getting your new foal use to you and all that a human offers. Brushing, hoof trimming and handling, leading, standing, tying, spook proofing, trailering – all these can be done the first year of the horse’s life. Don’t make riding your only goal.
I have raised and kept horses that I have watched being born, and I have bought older horses and trained them, but I can honestly say that there is no bond like the one you have with those who you raise from birth.
Take the first three years to work your horse on the ground and spend time at 2 to ground drive him/her. I like to teach a 2 year old to ground drive as it sets them up for whoa and go and turn before you begin riding. I do not like to ride horses before 3 because of the skeletal system is not mature enough to withstand a rider. It’s not just the legs that concern me, as if you look at a leg column, the bones sit stacked on each other. However, the last thing to fuse on a horse’s skeleton is the spine and neck, and your saddle and weight come bearing down on that young spine, adding pressure to a horizontal structure, which is weaker by design. I see too many horses suffer back problems later in life. My question is always why – why do you need to push a horse’s training, especially since you own them because you love and care for them? If you truly care, wait.
At the same time, young horses need to be moving all the time. Leaving them in a stall will not help the growth plates any more than early riding and hard work. I leave my youngsters out 24/7 all year long. I want them to learn how to grow winter coats and run in the snow. I want them to discover that a windy day won’t hurt them, and that ‘things in the bush’ are not worth reacting to. I prefer Mother Nature to help with my training.
What your horse should know before 2
– Turns and faces you when you go to catch him
– Places his face in the halter
– Leads beside you without moving into your space, slowing down, running through your hands or biting – through barns, paddocks and anywhere you take him. Walks backward softly when you ask.
– Can be lead from the left and the right
– Allows you to tie him without pulling back, pawing
– Allows you to brush, pick up feet, handle the face and mouth without fear or resistance
– Walks into a horse trailer easily and quietly
– Is obedient to cues to move, bend, stand, turn
– Can handle noises, smells and moving shapes in the distance
– Leaves the herd and stable mates without fuss or resistance
– Stands quietly when I put him back in his paddock or field and does not run away immediately.
Take the time needed to get the job done properly. Be consistent, keep your communication clear to the horse (speak his language) and do it all without getting emotional.