I Work for Your Horse


At current time, my weekdays consist of waking up, doing chores, going to my teaching job, coming home, bringing in horses and climbing into anywhere from 4 to 8 saddles before doing chores and finally having dinner. I made the decision a month ago to bust my ass until June to make sure I was someone who people actually wanted to hire. So far, I’m busy. Real busy. And I love it.

Anyway, the other day as I was working through my current roster of client colts, a thought popped into my head. I’ve been getting really great results with everything I’m getting on. Why?? I’m not anything special… I mean, I have great hands and I do believe the program I’ve built works, but there are definitely more successful trainers out there at this point. Then it hit me. While I, like any trainer, have my own personal program that I ride to and a sort of timeline I follow, I’ve also, rather unknowingly, been riding for each horse as an individual. Don’t get me wrong, every great trainer out there does this. I just have a twisted interest in dissecting everything in this little brain of mine 😉 

Ok, getting back on track. So I’m in the saddle of a colt that I have really enjoyed since day one (I’ve also come to the realization that THIS does not happen often. I always end up really enjoying them… but most of the time it takes 4-5 rides when they start getting the feel of my hands and showing me that they are learning before I start enjoying them). A thought pop into my head. I don’t actually work for the owners…. Metaphorically speaking anyway. I work for the horse. These horses dictate their own programs. I listen to their every need; what they require for feed, how many days off a week they need and when, and, most importantly, what they are ready to learn.

Taking a slight detour, I feel it is important to point out that this isn’t just true for the colts that I have the pleasure of spending 30, 60, or 90 days with. It’s true for my own as well…. In fact, being so blessed in being busy with clients has allowed me to step back and give my own colts a much needed rest for a month or two… otherwise I would be teetering on the edge of creating what Jackie Jatzlau has deemed “facebook 3 year olds” in her podcast Married with Horses… colts who are NFR caliber at 3 (and in this case 4 as well) but do absolutely nothing come futurity time 😉 

Being a school teacher, I have found so many parallels between training horses and teaching children. Food for thought; in many school divisions in Alberta, children have the option of going to junior kindergarten at age 3 and 4. This program is generally offered twice a week for half days. Moving forward from junior kindergarten, students have the option to attend kindergarten at age 5. This program is generally 5 half days a week (I’m actually not sure if there are any schools in the province that still offer it this way, but it has been in the past), or, as in the school I currently work at, two full days a week, with Fridays introduced in about October. Our school only attends every second Friday generally. So 5 days over a two week period are kindergarten days… generally speaking. It isn’t until Grade 1, age 6, that children go to school full time. They are worked into a routine, slowly. Students also get two days off a week minimum (there are a lot of long weekends), two weeks at Christmas, a week in the spring and two months in the summer. By now you’re wondering what this has to do with training horses. Don’t worry, I’m getting there. 

We send our colts to the trainer at age 2, some of us hold off until they are 3, but for the most part, colts have their first 30 days by the end of their 3 year old year. 30 DAYS! We work our children up to full time school but we take our colts and throw them to the wolves for 30 days right off the hop. I am fully aware that a horse is not a child. I get that. I also understand that most people turn their colts out for a considerable amount of time following their first 30 days. But being a teacher and a trainer, I can tell you, a colt learns in a very parallel manner to a child. A colt learns what is right from being shown release, a child learns what is right by being praised. A colt learns what is wrong by having undesirable behaviors being made uncomfortable or corrected. A child learns what is incorrect by being shown where they made a mistake or being told/shown the correct path…. see where I’m going with this?  The point is, an immature mind is an immature mind. 

I can tell you, I don’t climb on a three year old as much as I climb on a five year old. I also don’t expect my colt starter to actually put 30 days on my colts when I send them the first time. Do I still pay him well? Heck ya! Anyone who has chatted with me face to face on this topic knows that I feel colt starters should be paid more than a barrel trainer. I couldn’t do what they do. By the time they get to me, they are safe (I hope so anyway). Colt starters don’t have any clue what they’re getting. Yes, I take risks climbing on colts. But they take a way higher risk. So, back to my program. I listen to the horse and one thing I can attest to; the younger (both mentally and/or physically) they are, the more rest time they need. That being said, they generally also absorb concepts quicker. And rest helps their minds be able to do that. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the number of rides in a given time frame depends on the individual, and mental and physical maturity impacts this as well. I get asked a lot about the number of rides I put on a horse in a given time frame and just recently realized that I don’t have any set answer. And maybe that’s why my program is working… because I work for the horse. 

I get asked so much; “how long to get my horse jackpot ready?” Now, please do not take this as me making fun or judging people who ask that question. I didn’t understand the complexity of the answer to this question until I started climbing on so many colts. I value a broke horse. I’ve been very lucky to ride my main guy, Famous, who was pretty much born broke. I don’t mean that literally… basically, he got really broke really fast without me really knowing what I was doing. I started taking him to horsemanship and barrel clinics as a three and four year old and he could ‘just do it’. Now, he’s a pretty fancy broke 7 year old. I now have the pleasure of riding a three year old, Smoothie, who has a very similar story to Famous… only on purpose… I know what I’m doing with her 🙂 My ultimate goal is to make everything feel like Famous and Smoothie do. Pretty simple! Alright, so back to the question at hand. I often struggle to answer the question about how long to get a horse jackpot ready. The reason is; I’ve had horses loping the pattern after a month. I’ve also had horses not ready to even look at a pattern for 4 or 5 months. The answer to that question depends on your horse. And I work for them. 

Ok, so this post has gone in directions I didn’t really even intend for it to go. I, like any trainer, think my program is the best. But, like I said above, my mind thrives on analyzing and explaining everything. Why what works, works. Why what doesn’t, doesn’t. Why I do the things I do and why I love the things I love. One thing that I truly believe is that I may be hired by you. But, I work for your horse. 

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