Taking Time for Miles: Part 2
Horseman and trainer Jeff Avaritte takes his time starting colts.
By Jeff Avaritte with Christine Hamilton in The American Quarter Horse Journal | June 5, 2010
This is last half of a two-part series. Need to review Part 1?
I work in the round pen first. They’re all free-longed until their whole focus is on me and they know “whoa.” I then hobble, sack out and saddle them. I also bridle them with either a smooth snaffle and a cavesson or a side pull.
After I saddle them, I drive them one or two days. I wait until they’re soft and giving to the bridle before I ever get on them.
I usually get on about the fourth day. The gentler ones I go ahead and ride myself. If one seems a little goosey, I’ll have somebody longe me on him, or I’ll longe someone else on him. Just to get him used to the rider’s weight. This keeps the colts focused longer, and he will be less likely to get scared and buck. The rider just sits there and keeps the reins loose.
The neat thing about longeing another rider on them is that these colts are already comfortable with the walk, trot and lope, and they already know “whoa.” When we reverse, the rider starts putting a little leg on them to push them back toward the rail. I’ll stand back and let the rider say, “Whoa,” and push on the stirrups without pulling on the horse’s face.
The rider can also ask these colts to stop and take a few steps backward. When the colts take a step back, the rider will release the pressure on the reins. These colts learn everything from release.
With tougher colts, I just wait until they’re quiet. I’ll take a little more time until I get an improvement somewhere. I wait until they’re nice and quiet and soft and supple before I get on them. They’re not on a time schedule, and neither am I. I have colts from 90 days to six or eight months. I don’t take anything (to start) for less than 90 days any more.
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Lope a Lot of Circles
When I get them out of the round pen, which is as soon as possible, I start loping circles. I start every day by truing to eliminate any lean in these colts. If they lean to the outside, then I will rein them across the center of the circle and then turn them loose until they are hunting the circle.
If they lean to the inside of the circle, then I will pick them up and get them square before I turn them loose again. This has been an easy way for me to explain to novice riders how to get a horse to lope a nice circle.
I gradually go after their face a little at a time. Many of the horses that come to me with problems are usually because people have asked for too much, too soon. We are all after the same result, but I just take a little more time.
At any point in their training, if they get excited about something, we lope circles. That becomes a happy, good place for them. I get them relaxed and then try again.
I want them comfortable loping, and I want them to go loose. If you hold them all the time, you’re always going to have to hold them.
Get Miles on Them
I think all of us, even trainers, we don’t take enough time to get these horses out. Mr. Pat Patterson, when I was a kid, he used to say, “The best thing you can do with these horses is get them out and get miles on them.” We don’t always have time to do that.
I feel that, once I get these colts gentle in the round pen and loping circles in the arena and fit, one three- or four-hour ride in the mountains is better than two weeks in that pen. They see so much: wild animals, cattle crossing creeks, brush rubbing up against them.
I have two friends who run cattle on Forest Service permits in these mountains, and when we have time, we take a trailerload of colts up and help them gather cattle in the fall. It’s an all-day deal, but it sure gets these colts broke.
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