We’ve talked often in this column about how important it is for young prospects to get the right start. A horse’s initial exposure to handling and riding can be enough to shape its career for worse or better, and in some cases forever, so it’s important for the experience to be positive. As an owner you want to seek out experienced professionals who are knowledgeable about starting young horses in order to develop the right skills so the horse can continue to advance with confidence. The same can said of young or novice riders. Just like a young horse that has a bad experience from being started wrong or too fast, a novice rider whose first encounter with riding is on a horse that’s too strong for them or not broke, that sort of experience can instill fear before the rider has ridden enough to develop good balance and control. It would be really terrifying, actually, and just like some horses that never lose the fear associated with a bad start, that uneasiness will stick with a person. That’s why it’s so important if you are the parent of a beginner rider to search far and wide to get the right kind of horse to make their first experience on the barrel pattern (or off) a good one.
The best teachers
One of the greatest gifts my family ever gave me was putting me on good, broke horses as a kid. I’m talking about the kind of horses that when you’re working cattle, they did it; you didn’t do anything. You’d so much as wiggle your pinky and they’d react and do their job. When you cue a horse like that, they move, so there’s no struggling and pulling, which teaches great feel and develops light hands. I know that with Scamper he was extremely broke for the tasks he had to perform at the feedlot like working cattle, opening gates—he had a great handle. He was like riding one of my dad’s horses and it taught me the good feel of a broke, responsive horse. Every day, all day long my life as a young kid revolved around riding, working cattle, working with the cowboys. That was my passion and I didn’t think about much else. For parents, I’d say the more you can get your kids on horses that are very broke and dependable while a kid is young and impressionable, it will cut down on the anxiety that comes from being overmatched, and instead they learn great habits right from the get-go.
That said, to me you can’t go out buy a high-powered barrel horse for a young or novice rider and treat it like a machine. Sometimes those old veteran horses know so much more than their riders and you must always respect that. Don’t jerk or be mean. I was always taught to have respect for the livestock in our care and that’s part of the journey of horsemanship—learning to care for the horse. Those good, solid horses know so much and can teach it; you can spot the ones that are very forgiving because if the rider isn’t doing everything right they still work. Their patience is so evident and those are the horses that make good riders better if they try hard enough and spend lots of time riding.
It takes a lot of time, knowledge and hard work to get a horse really broke. To be a really good barrel racer you can’t be pulling and fighting against your horse or throwing the reins away and leaving them to their own devices. It’s that perfect amount of pressure on the reins that we often talk about and that’s where getting the right horse from the start on can teach inexperienced riders so much and give them such confidence to move up to quicker, stronger horses as they develop the right fundamentals. Horses like that are so often the best teachers. Starting on a broke, easy to handle horse that stops, backs up and responds well to light cues can teach a person not to over ride because just the wiggle of their pinky gets the horse to turn. A horse that is not as broke can turn a person into the kind of rider who has really heavy hands and pulls and braces. Those are hard habits to unlearn.
Get the right training
A lot of talent and experience goes into putting a great start on a young horse. That first three to six months is so important for the future of the horse and it takes a very knowledgeable individual to avoid mistakes, to not over do it. People aren’t just born knowing how to start horses right. It’s the sort of knowledge that is passed down from experienced family members or learned by apprenticing with great trainers. Even though I consider myself an experienced horse person, I still want someone really knowledgeable at colt starting for at least the first 90 days who knows how to progress through all the steps to teach the stop, the turn, backing and leads. It takes a real expert to teach all those lessons in the early stages of training. I feel like after colts get the right start I’m qualified to go on with them, but they have to have the right start. People need the right start, too. They need to understand the fundamentals before going fast and it takes a lot of time.
If parents have the opportunity to put their kids on an older reiner or cutter versus a young horse during that formative time in their riding, I recommend that they do that. You work your way up to riding young horses by following in the footsteps of someone knowledgeable who can help nurture your desire along. One thing about horses is they know if you’re scared, uneasy or tense and they will take advantage of that. They need to know that you’re the boss, and if you don’t know the right process of getting a horse trained, you can’t be the boss. When you’re young, you’re impressionable so if you learn things right and progress at a reasonable pace, stepping up from an older experienced horse or two to younger faster ones, you learn the right habits and they tend to stick with you into adulthood. To completely go down the wrong path as a horseman often means that you never have any consciousness that you’re doing something wrong and it makes it harder to correct mistakes later and more frustrating for horse and rider.
Every person is wired a bit differently, just like every horse. Some people tend to be the type of riders who are not fearful and they don’t tend to carry that fear with them when they ride. Some people worry and tend to clench up and hold tension in their bodies and kind of work against the horse. Getting the right start as a rider instills confidence and makes riders at ease later when they’re doing more advanced riding like barrel racing at a high rate of speed, or trying to train their own barrel horse. The right start makes you equipped with the right tools to handle those challenges and be at ease riding.
For more information on Charmayne James, and her books, videos and clinics, visit www.charmaynejames11.com. Charmayne loves to hear your feedback so please feel free to e-mail comments or questions to [email protected].