Safety on Maiden Rides

In Part 1 of this three-part series, Teres Vining shares the basic horse-training techniques she uses on her young horses before taking them out of the round pen.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Some things just can’t be taught in an arena. Teres Vining will tell you that she doesn’t even have an arena. What she does have is a round corral for teaching basics to the colts she starts, but the real asset to her training program is the 100 acres of hilly pasture and mountains in Washington state.

“I take some colts out on the second ride, if they act like they want to listen and think,” she says. “It might be the second time they’ve ever had a saddle on.”

With colts that are pretty laid back, Teres says they don’t need a lot of handle before they venture out. The important thing, she stresses, is that they need to be at a stage where they’ll take their attention off potential distractions. “They need to know that they have to pay attention to me,” she says.

Many colts Teres starts are destined to become barrel horses. If she has a real hot horse, she’ll spend more time in the round pen getting more handle before she goes out. But, she says, sometimes a colt “just won’t get it” in the pen. Maybe she’s trying to ask one to turn, and she realizes it’s not going to work in that enclosed environment.

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“So I have to go out,” she says. “I just have to bite the bullet and head up the hill. If I can get two or three rides on them up there, it’s amazing how different they become. They get so much confidence up there.”

Round Pen Basics

One of the basics Teres instills in her colts while they’re in the round pen is a foundation for control. Standing on the ground, she loops a split rein over the saddle behind the horn and takes hold so that the colt’s head is pulled away from where she is standing. Then, she can step on the other side, change the rein and move the colt in the other direction.

“I’ve established what I want by the ground work,” Teres says. “When I pull the colt’s nose around, I want him to move his hip out of the way, step with his inside foot, pick up his shoulder, keep his face soft and come around to me.”

Not only does a horse need to learn this as part of his education, it can also be a calming method to keep the horse and rider out of trouble when they do go outside.

For example, if Teres is riding a colt that isn’t coming around or threatens to rear, she uses the same technique to get his attention. “I’ll get off and do the same thing with the rein that I taught him in the round corral,” she says. “I’ll pull him around several times. I’m going back to something he already knows, but I’m doing it in a different place – in the pasture or up the mountain. It’s previous behavior that he has already learned, and he was solid on it before we ever went out. So, I get off to reinforce that lesson, and when I get back on, he’ll listen to me.

Wreck Prevention

Teres checks the saddle, bridle and reins before she heads for the hills. Broken equipment can spell disaster on any horse, but especially with a colt. She makes sure the billet leather on her saddle is pliable and not dry or subject to breaking. The reins must be solidly attached to the snaffle, and the headstall in good condition.

Some of her headstalls have Chicago screws. “I very seldom use them,” she says, “but if I do, I check them every time before I go out. They can come loose and fall right off.”

While she might intentionally adjust a snaffle bit low in a horse’s mouth during round pen work (so a colt will learn to pick up the mouthpiece and hold it), when she rides a colt out, she wants the snaffle adjusted higher. If brush were to catch on low-hanging rings, it would confuse and possibly frighten a colt.

Take Off the Edge

Right before leaving the comfort of the corral, Teres will work the colt in the round pen to get the edge off and freshen up on the basics, from working that rein from the ground, to climbing aboard and trotting and loping.

Let ’Em Look

When a young horse is first ridden out, everything he sees is new. Teres wants to make each ride beneficial. “Sure, they can just go out there and blunder around and be OK, but I want them to have a good learning experience,” she says.

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There’s a lot for them to get used to out in the open. Teres doesn’t avoid anything that might spook a colt. The first stretch of the ride is a sloping pasture. There are a few cows grazing and an old bull that would rather rest than run. The colt might turn his head from side to side to gawk at his new surroundings and the critters, but Teres doesn’t make a big deal out of it.

“A lot of times, I’ll be on a colt that has never been out of the pen. And going up the hill daunts some of them, because they’ve never been off flat ground. When we head up that hill, a colt might break into a trot or lope,” she says. “Some people would want to pull him down. I just guide him, but let him go at his own speed, as long as he’s moving forward. I let him feel like he has got some freedom and can make up his own mind, instead of confining him and making him scared or mad. It’s pretty steep, and it won’t take him long to settle right down.”

Check back next week for Part 2, to see how Teres handles spooky situations on the trail with her colts. Part 3 of this story will look at techniques to help young horses who are too eager to head back to the barn.

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