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By Sheryl Lynde | Horsetrader columnist

There are some youngsters who sail through the training program, and they are what I call “born broke.

They take each step easily and with confidence, and their progress is measurable each day. They can be ridden within the first couple of weeks of their arrival. They’ve been handled properly all their life, carried a saddle, ponied and introduced to new locations and environments.

And then there are the others, the ones that take more time. I’ve had a number of these over the years and these are the ones that have taught me the most. I have committed each one to memory, both successes and setbacks alike. I’ve learned when to be more creative in getting a step introduced, how to listen, and especially patience. These are the ones that have taught me the most in how to develop feel for different situations. I’ve learned it takes time. There are no shortcuts. Just as in life, there will be setbacks. But even in the setbacks, you learn.

If your movements are too big or the introduction of a stimuli is too aggressive to the point of causing the horse to become fearful, the horse stops learning. But if you aren’t pushing enough, moving forward and progressing each day, the horse can become bored, dull and resentful. You need to find the balance, develop feel for what is needed on the ground and in the saddle. If you do not have feel, you will have a failure to communicate. You need to know more than the mechanics of ground work or what to do in the saddle for your first ride and subsequent rides. You need feel in order to incorporate the proper mechanics.

Jimmy is one of those colts. He came to me as a 3-year old to get started. Being a Quarter pony, he is small in size, quick, athletic and reactive. He progressed through the ground work and definitely made a change; however, he still lacked confidence. Even though he understood each step which he completed quickly, I knew he performed each task because it was asked of him, not because he was over it. He rushed through each exercise and faced me looking for encouragement. I had to keep his workouts short and varied to keep his anxiety from mounting. When it came time for his first ride, I got on and off several times and moved his feet to release the tension in his body. I went slow and steady with Jimmy. Even though he was prepared and there were no holes in the ground work, I could feel his first step would be a big one.

On these colts, even though you have prepared them from the ground, it doesn’t completely translate to the saddle as well as it does with the “born broke” colts. I had ponied Jimmy giving him the opportunity to see me above his head, but carrying my weight was another sensation. Another valuable lesson I have learned is this: Ask for help when needed. I had another rider come in and pony me while I rode. Jimmy was able to glean confidence from the pony horse and I could rub his neck and rump with both hands and move my legs and seat freely. His first step was a big one but never culminated in a buck because of the experience of the rider holding the lead rope. We were able to safely walk and trot in the round pen. After that, it was solo rides out on trail where I was able to lope him nicely through long stretches of soft footing. Each step, I listened to both him and my instincts. How can I safely bring Jimmy along and stay true to my rules? I cant get hurt, my horse can’t get hurt, and the horse has to be calmer at the end of the lesson than when we began.

After a couple of weeks out on trail, it was time for training in the arena. His confidence, though, shrank more with each ride. I rode with plenty of riders in the arena as well as with just he and I, but with each ride, his anxiety built and was expressed by bolting. We had come into the arena too soon. So, back out on trail where the brush could desensitize him from behind, the hills could teach him how to use his hindquarters and feel the shift of my weight. He could maneuver through different footing, jump over small arroyos and rollback against neighboring fences.

Back in the arena after additional trail work, his bolting issues were replaced with a newly found confidence. I felt it. I listened—he had taught me well.

It takes years to build a well broke, seasoned horse. Jimmy is on his way.


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