When I started this process I thought, ‘Welp, I’m going to train a colt.’
I said it so casually; so nonchalant with little understanding of what it actually meant to train a colt. I would tell myself – and others – “Well of course I know training a colt is hard, patient work,” but I don’t think I fully understood what I was saying. I was saying it because I’ve always heard it said. Every good trainer or professional will tell you training a horse isn’t easy – or everyone would do it HAHA … isn’t that the cliché? So, naturally I THOUGHT I knew it was going to be hard work. A long, meticulous process. But did I really comprehend that concept? Not until I actually got into the act of it all.
I bought Kitty as a 2-year-old and if you’ve read any of my previous articles you’d know she’s a little bit of a character, but also one of the best horses I’ve ever owned. You might have also noticed my reports on our progress has been sparse. I don’t think it was from a lack of confidence like you might think, but rather from a lack of content – or so I thought. Kitty is 4 now and she’s progressed in leaps and bounds, but she’s done it so steadily that our progress has been blurred in my mind. I haven’t really set a hard timeline for Kitty’s progress I just want her to move along steadily at her pace, so I didn’t really have any benchmarks in which to gauge our progress.
I’ve just been plugging away and thought I wasn’t really making any headway. I felt like I was just treading water. Between working a 9 to 5, being gone for long periods of time for travel like the Pendleton Roundup and the National Finals Rodeo and even trying to stay competitive at rodeos with my older mare, I honestly put Kitty on the backburner.
Fast forward to this January when I could finally refocus my attention to my now 4-year-old and what do I find? A horse that just somehow knows how to do things.
We’d been moving along so steadily that I didn’t even recognize the progress we’d made until I finally swung a leg over her after a two-month break. It was like she just knew how to ride around and I couldn’t exactly pinpoint the moment it happened, because it doesn’t happen in one moment. Or even two. It happens after a long process. A consistent process – a process that doesn’t even feel like a process some days. Some days last year I was just happy I sat on her and walked around the arena. Did I accomplish a goal that day? No, not really. Not a tangible thing. I didn’t fix a specific issue that day, but I was however little-by-little teaching her what I wanted from her, what my body language meant and what response I expected from certain clues. It was such a steady improvement I convinced myself there wasn’t an improvement at all.
There were also days that everything went wrong. She ran off, spooked or let’s be honest I just simply wasn’t asking correctly for whatever it was I was trying to get Kitty to do. I’d be frustrated. I’ll be honest there were even some tears shed. One day I was on top of the world and the next I felt like a monkey on a football. It happens. Whatever, I’ve learned to forget about it, but it wasn’t easy to do. Ty Hillman talks a lot about the practice of being emotionally resilient and that’s helped me a lot in this process.
Looking back I feel a little embarrassed for breaking down and feeling sorry for myself for having “issues” or “problems” with Kitty that I “couldn’t” figure out, because in fact, they were never the same problems over and over again. We would conquer one obstacle and then another would arise, but I didn’t rejoice in the accomplishment of conquering the first, instead I would sulk in the anguish of not be able to figure out how to get Kitty to side-pass, or keep her hip under her, or transition with my body language, or whatever.
Every horse is going to come across obstacles. That’s just the nature of owning horses, but that doesn’t mean you’re a failure. The failure is not trying to better yourself or your horse. So, my hope for you is that you rejoice in the little accomplishments before you focus on the next obstacle. If I would have I bet I would have saved myself a lot of wasted discouragement.
So, here I am another year down the road of “Welp, just training a colt,” but I’d like to say I’ve learned a thing or two on the way – and there’s still more to learn. So, here’s to another year of navigating this training thing, learning lessons and celebrating small victories.
Until Next Time,
Kailey Sullins is the managing editor of Barrel Horse News. She joined the BHN team in 2014 and has enjoyed being apart of a team dedicated to not only the barrel racing industry, but the equine industry as a whole.
Kailey grew up in rural Oklahoma where her family owns and operates a cow-calf operation in the small town of Red Rock. Rodeo was a family affair around her place and as such her love of horses began at an early age. Growing up Kailey competed in junior, high school, college and amateur rodeo competing in barrel racing, pole bending, team roping and breakaway roping. After graduating from Oklahoma State University with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications with a double major in animal science, Kailey began pursuing her career in journalism.
Currently, Kailey lives in Texas with her 14-year-old mare, 2-year-old filly and a 2-year-old black-tri Australian Shepherd named Macy. When Kailey’s not on assignment for BHN or working in the Fort Worth office she can be found training her filly, spending time with Macy or competing in breakaway roping with her mare in professional and amateur rodeos in Texas.
“What Do We Do Now?” is a blog series written by BHN‘s managing editor Kailey Sullins and associate editor Blanche Schaefer, where they discuss the struggles, joys, and rewards of training young barrel prospects as amateurs juggling full-time jobs, all from a real-life perspective. Read more at barrelhorsenews.com under the “Blogs” tab.