Colt Starting Part 2: Developing Communication

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In the March article of starting the young horse we talked mainly about building confidence and acceptance of ourselves and our tools.

The tools we use and how we use them help them with more than just that particular piece of equipment; it spills over into many things and the horses overall confidence. Whatever it is we show our horses must be consistent to have it last. I find four to seven sessions in a row and the horse will remember a year later. It might be a bit rusty, but they haven’t forgot.

As I progress with the horse I use a rub with the flag, stick and string and/or my hand to reinforce all good things they do or try to do. Waving the flag or swinging the stick and string actually gets to the point that they realize it is rest and relax time; it becomes a reward. In this article we are going to ask for more yields from the horse, which will create more understanding and respect. The more they understand and the more respect they have for us as the leader, the more confident they become. If the role of who is leading is a gray area, the horse is not comfortable following or taking suggestions from someone that is not clearly capable of the job. There ends up being a constant bickering or arguing going on and in some cases the horse just does whatever they like, no bickering or arguing – the horse is leading.  He loads if he wants, stops when he wants, goes as fast or slow as he wants, picks up his feet for a while or not and so on. They may do one, all or more of these behaviors.

So we need to start a way of communicating to the horse that shows we do know how to move their feet, and we do have a definite plan. We need to prepare them for trimming and shoeing, leading better, following a feel, moving off of pressure, and start to let them know that they have some responsibilities, now that we have this little partnership starting.


Everything as always is taught in progression with rewards for all attempts, try’s and steps in the right direction. With their confidence and their acceptance of us high, teaching a horse to allow you to hold and trim a foot, move the forequarters, hindquarters and back them is much easier. There are two types of pressure most commonly needed. One is to have them understand how to move from a steady pressure where I actually touch them with my hand or stick and the other is to move away from a rhythmic pressure. Steady pressure is used when close to the horse and rhythmic can be used from a distance.


Be sure you know the difference between rhythmic pressure and rhythmic motion. Pressure is used to ask the horse to move and you direct the pressure towards the zone or part of the horse you want to move.


Motion is used to build confidence and relax the horse and is not directed at them. I want the horse to know how to move backwards, move the forequarters and hindquarters using both types of pressure. I also start getting particular about what foot moves and where. If all four feet are going everywhere then there isn’t really much communicating going on. I also want to start teaching them to back up while I stand in one spot by shaking my rope. Another very important skill is to be able to circle my horse around me. They need to begin to learn to circle without me chasing, waving, clucking or smooching them around the circle. This is where they begin to learn that it is their responsibility to walk, trot and then canter, hold the gait that I have asked for. Again this will transfer to the saddle. I would like the horse to maintain whichever gait I’ve asked for without me having to continually be prodding them along or holding them back with the reins. This is very understandable for a horse if we ask and then get out of their way and trust they will respond. If not, ask again making it as comfortable for them as possible when they do.

The next thing I start to play with is asking for sideways on the ground. Start by having them face the fence and then use rhythmic pressure to move the feet. Once this is working somewhat I send them between the fence and myself and have them turn and face, stand and wait, then send them through again and stand and wait on the other side. Can you stand still and send your horse somewhere, have him stand, wait, and how comfortable can you get him with going through tight spaces. The more the horse and handler knows the more challenging all these exercises can get and the more depth and preparation you have with your horse.


These exercises help you start a language with your horse, builds respect, understanding and is a great way to see how much control and influence you have with your horses feet. If you have control of the feet you are in pretty good shape. When they take control, those feet could end up doing a lot of things you may not be real happy about.


Somewhere in here, usually near the end of these things, I start to play more and more with their feet, asking them to pick up their feet for me rather than pulling them of the ground. All of these yields need to rewarded for the slightest try in the right direction. Make sure you have broken down each maneuver into many little yields to look for and reward until you get to your goal. Ask yourself how many yields could there be on the way to picking up a horses foot? For example he is probably standing on three legs if he is relaxed so the fourth foot might be a place to start. Can you rub it and he is fine with that. If you squeeze the chestnut can you cause him to lift it a little then rub again. Can you teach him to lift it a bit higher each time until it is level with the ground? Then put it back down rub and start again building on how long you can hold it and how much you can do with the foot without getting them worried.

Each of these exercises for best results and efficiency needs to be looked at as a series of yields or try’s to get to your end goal. Horses enjoy progressive learning, it keeps them exuberant and looking forward to the next session.


A more in-depth explanation and look at these exercises can be found in the 6 DVD Master Horsemanship Series or the 3 DVD Colt Starting Set.


For anyone wanting to see a horse learning to learn and building their confidence which is a big step in starting the young horse, we have put together a short video clip of some of the processes from our Colt Starting DVDs up on our website at look at “Articles” under “Happenings”.  Enjoy the video clip, good luck, and stay safe!

For more in-depth perspective on the concepts contained in this article, you can view a special video-clip enhanced version at


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