Safety on Maiden Rides, Part 3

In the final part of this horse-training series, learn how to deal with young horses who are over-eager to return to the barn.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

In parts 1 and 2 of this series, Trainer Teres Vining has taken you through the fundamental training she puts on her young horses before hitting the trails and how to deal with their inexperience on the trails. Now, learn how she deals with horses that are too eager to head for home.

Water Crossing

With each of Teres’ rides out, a colt will be asked to go through a creek at least twice. She handles this task a little differently than the attention-diverting situations where a colt has spooked at a bear, at noisy brush or other factors. Now, if he resists, the colt will be asked to face his fear and be brave.

Teres positions her hands wide on the reins and keeps the colt facing the creek. A lot of times, she says, “a colt will try to turn and go home. But the second he actually faces the creek and looks at it, I release him. That’s his reward.” She will ask for another step. If he refuses, she’ll keep him facing the water. The instant he acknowledges its presence or makes any effort to get closer to it, she relaxes her hands and pitches him slack for a reward. “It gives him the courage to go ahead and step across,” she says.

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Comin’ Down the Mountain

The 2-year-old in the photos was raised in rough country, with steep hills to negotiate from the time she was a baby alongside her mother. Teres doesn’t ask all colts to negotiate hills on the first few rides out, and some youngsters who were raised as flat-landers might not see the slopes for a long time. Teres has ridden colts who were terrified of the 6-inch drop-offs just outside the round pen.

But with this filly, Teres felt confident they would both stay out of trouble and that time spent going up and down hills would be a good learning experience. As she rode the filly down a long, winding hillside trail, she held her hands wide.

Teres wanted to allow the filly to balance “because this was a pretty steep hill,” she says. “I want to make it as easy as possible for her.” A wide-handed position does just that.

“This encourages a colt to stay soft in the face,” she explains. “The wider your hands, the more of a fulcrum point you create. If your hands are narrow, the harder it is for them to give and stay soft - and to think.”

Slow to Home

When it’s time to head home and a colt is up in the hills with trees and brush, he probably won’t have a clue where he’s going - until he gets into a clearing, sees the barn and hears the horses below whinnying. “Some will freak,” Teres says. “I’ve had a couple that just lost it the second they saw the place.

Any horse that thinks he can set a world speed record on the way home is dangerous to ride. If he’s allowed to get away with it, he learns bad habits that will last a lifetime. Teres won’t let this happen. From that first ride out, colts are not allowed to come straight home.

“If they’re going to put me in danger by acting like idiots, then I’m going to make them tired, because tired does them a whole lot of good.” Race-bred colts, she says, can be hot, fragile and somewhat immature-minded. “I just turn around and head back up the hill two or three times.”

Then, when she rides them back down, she’ll zigzag across the pasture and cross the creek back and forth. If they get hot again, it’s back up the hill. “The whole time,” Teres explains, “they can see the barn and the other horses. It’s all in their sight, but they can’t just come directly home like they want.” The colts learn not to worry that they’re never going to see home again.

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With some that have been ridden out for two or three weeks and are still acting a little antsy about going back to the barn, she’ll zigzag down the hill, and instead of stopping at the barn at the end of the ride, she’ll cross the road to a huge plowed field. Here, she lopes circles, then goes back across the road, passes the barn and heads up the hill again. These are colts with plenty of handle, so she knows it will be safe to take them over the road.

There is one thing Teres is sure not to do, especially with a horse that gives her trouble about coming to the barn. She won’t bring a horse in, yank the saddle off and turn the horse loose in his pen or pasture.

“That’s a reward,” she says. She won’t reward problem behavior. She’ll tie the horse to the trailer for anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours. Then, she might get on again and ride up the hill. It doesn’t take long for a colt to figure out that rushing home isn’t all that fun.