Starting Colts: The Fundamentals

Starting Colts: The Fundamentals

Cowboy, clinician and horseman Bryan Neubert shares his insight into starting ranch colts.

Luke Neubert relaxes with a colt during the 2012 Horseman's Reunion event (Credit: AQHA)

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A ranch colt’s first saddling and ride can set the precedence for the rest of his training future. Bryan Neubert of Alturas, California, boasts a lifetime of experience starting ranch horses, honed by learning from legendary horsemen Tom and Bill Dorrance and Ray Hunt. 

Depending on your horse, you could get to bridling and saddling in minutes, while other horses might take days, Bryan says. Learn how to make your colt’s first saddling much less traumatic for both of you. 

Rigged Out

  • Teach your colt to yield his hindquarters. After this is established and the colt is giving in to pressure from the lead rope, Bryan lets him have a recess and a chance to relax while he gets the saddle and blanket ready.
  • Introduce touch. First, Bryan runs his hand over the colt’s back, sides and belly. Then, gradually, he introduces the blanket along the colt's shoulder, across his back and hindquarters. If this bothers the colt and he moves away, Bryan doesn’t jerk back and try to hold him with the lead rope. If the colt is bothered so much that he has to leave, Bryan lets him leave. 
  • Consider taking a step back and working him again in the round pen if it soothes his nerves and allows him to concentrate on the next step in the lesson.
  • Place the saddle smoothly. Make sure the cinches are tied up so they don’t hit the colt on the legs and carefully place it in a way that the stirrups don’t hit him in the shoulder. Cinch him up tight enough to keep the saddle in place should he buck – using a breast collar will help. 
  • Let him move. Take off the halter and let him walk off as soft as he will. Some horses will try to outrun the saddle or buck it off. Let the colt move around until he feels comfortable changing speeds and directions and takes on a more natural appearance with the saddle. 


  • Begin by running the rope around the colt's hindquarters. Put some pressure on the lead rope and let the colt turn his head away from you to relieve the pressure. Get good on both sides before progressing
  • Increase the degree of challenge by running the lead rope behind the cantle of the saddle.
  • Run the lead behind the horn to present a feel similar to what the colt will feel when you’re in the saddle.

Mount Up

  • Introduce your weight in the stirrup. Softly and quietly, step down and draw the colt's head toward you to prevent him from pulling away or kicking you.
  • Lean over and rub the colt on the shoulder and hip once he accepts your weight in one stirrup. Consider moving the fender of the offside stirrup if the colt is handling things well. 
  • Step into the saddle when the colt accepts the previous steps, remembering to stay soft and quiet.
  • Let the colt adjust to the extra weight. Don’t worry about trying to guide at this point. 

A Little Guidance

  • Begin guiding a little with the lead rope as the colt settles down. You may have to use your legs or the end of the lead rope to encourage him to move forward.
  • Introduce a snaffle bit and headstall when the colt is guiding well with a halter and lead rope. Give him a few minutes to accept the bit and remember, nothing has to be perfect right now.
  • Begin suppling exercises from the colt's back once he is more comfortable with the snaffle. Wait for the colt to yield instead of trying to make it do anything and release with the earliest recognizable try. 

Move Over, Feet

Depending on your horse, you could get to bridling and saddling in minutes or weeks. The important thing to remember is that the more solid the colt is at handling little things, the easier he’ll accept bigger things. If the colt is ready, proceed.

  • Begin by giving leg pressure, asking the colt to move his hindquarters. If he even takes a step, relieve the pressure.
  • Move the colt's hindquarters lightly from one side to the other as he begins to understand. That will come in handy for opening gates or sorting cows and getting control of its whole body.

An advanced colt could be ready to take out on a little ride around the yard the next day. Your colt might learn faster or slower. Always remember to let the horse tell you when it’s ready to move on, and you’ll have a better riding horse for years.