richard wintersThis is the time of year when all the colts and fillies are turning two and three. Have you considered when and where you are going to enroll your “youngster” in school?

Many years ago Robert Fulghum wrote a book entitled “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten,” which became an instant classic. His theory was that the early education of a child is really the foundation of life skills that everything else is built upon. Regardless of your equine discipline, the foundation your colt receives will determine how well he performs once he’s involved in advanced training

Starting horses has almost become a lost art. There are many fine horsemen who train and show horses successfully, yet starting the young horse has become just a necessary evil that must be dealt with prior to the “real” training process. Often this job is relegated to a less experienced assistant or the colt is sent away for a “horse breaker” to remove the bucks. If gold buckles were awarded for colt starting, perhaps more attention and care would be administered to the process.

Let’s suppose your colt has been with a reputable trainer for a few weeks. It’s probably time to visit, watch your colt work, and get your trainer’s evaluation of his progress. There are some basic maneuvers that the trainer should be able to demonstrate with your horse. Whether you would be able to accomplish these things depends totally on your experience and horsemanship skills.

Young horses demand a great deal of direction and support. If your colt does not feel leadership coming from you, you will not get the smooth responses you witnessed with your trainer riding him.

It’s important to know what your trainer’s policy is in regard to getting both you and your horse together. If your colt will be continuing his education with another trainer, this is not as important. However, if you are planning to take this horse home to ride yourself, it would be valuable to spend time with your horse and trainer before leaving his facility.

Here are some things to consider about your trainer. You’ll want precise answers to these questions in advance.
• Is he or she wiling to spend this time with you?
• Will he or she demonstrate how the colt responds in different situations?
• When the trainer feels the colt is safe enough, will you be given some lessons with your colt, helping the two of you get together?
• Are these lessons included in the monthly training price, or is there an additional fee?

Generally speaking, green horses and green riders are not a very good combination for success. I recommend that experienced riders handle green horses. Experienced horses are better suited for green riders.

The following is a realistic list of expectations for a 60-day training program. Your colt should be able to
• Lead and follow respectfully.
• Be tied and stand tied.
• Pick up all four feet well enough to be trimmed or shod.
• Readily enter and exit a horse trailer.
• Be saddled without a fight, and bridled without being evasive or pulling away.
• Be longed both directions and stand still for mounting.
• Be ridden at the walk, trot, and canter in both directions. Transitions through these gaits should be fairly smooth.
• Stop and back up.
• Be learning to yield away from leg pressure for lateral movement.
• Be ridden outside as well as inside the confines of an arena.

Allow me to stress that I am talking about the majority of horses, most of the time. I recognize that each horse is an individual and there are exceptions to every rule. Some colts will progress faster, and others will need more time. Some colts are naturally quiet and gentle, while others are sensitive and high-strung, yet there are some basic principles that most colts should understand at the end of a 60-day foundation.

Finding a trainer who understands young horses and enjoys working with them is the key to success. Do not discount this essential time in their development. Build a proper foundation and it will last a lifetime!

Next month we’ll take a look at what transpires in those first few colt starting sessions.

About the author
Richard Winters is a performance horse trainer with a natural horsemanship touch. For over 20 years, he has helped people with their horses through his training programs, clinics, DVDs, and his presentations at horse expos. His horsemanship is universal, ranging from reined cow horses on the Western side to jumping and dressage on the English side. Learn more about Richard at

Recently, Richard had the great honor of being selected as one of three competitors for the 2009 Road to the Horse Colt Starting Competition, which will be held March 14 – 15, 2009 in Franklin, Tennessee. He will compete with horsemen John Lyons and Tommy Garland as they start three young horses. Check out the Road to the Horse Web site at