Starting a Colt

Posted January 21st, 2014 — Filed in Horses, Testimonials

“The benefit to me and to others of Buds “Starting a Colt” DVD has been enormous and has had a tremendous influence on some problem horses that would otherwise have been euthanized.”

This is part of a message I received from a guy in Australia and has prompted me to get back up on my soap box and let you know what I think about the way most colts are started today.

I’ve long been concerned about how many of our friends have been injured in riding accidents and have always felt that Bud’s method of starting a colt should be made available to the public. Since his way of working a horse is as different from the modern method as his way of working other livestock, he didn’t want to get into a confrontation with “Horse People” so he was against the idea.

Bud’s way of starting a horse is about as 1-2-3 mathematical as anything can be when working animals and you don’t have to be a cowboy to be successful. When you do, you will wind up with a much safer horse than most of the animals that are in use today. Bud’s techniques are not just for starting a colt. Bud always went through his procedure with any new horse we got, no matter how old, or how many miles he had on him.

We spent a couple of months in and out of a big feedlot a few years ago. During this time three men were badly injured in horse accidents. This outfit raised their own colts, and had a man hired full time to start them. He worked these colts for over a month in the arena before he rode them outside and much longer than that before he turned them over to the cowboys. There wasn’t a day went by that someone didn’t have trouble with a horse.

When we were in the Arctic we brought horses in and taught the Eskimos how to use them to herd the reindeer in the summer. These were gentle, broke horses to start with, but Bud went through his routine before letting the Eskimos ride them. It didn’t take long before the horses realized that the people didn’t have the confidence to make them mind and so they started balking at every ditch, and pretty well went where they wanted to go. I was able to teach the Eskimos how to discipline the horse and make it go where they wanted without them being afraid of being thrown. You won’t find anyone riding a horse that had less experience than these people since I don’t think any of them had ever even seen a horse before. I showed them that when the horse balked at going where they wanted to pull one rein short, and with a hand on the saddle horn to “firmly tug and slack” his head around and make him go in a tight circle. The more a horse acts up when you are doing this, the deeper in the saddle it puts you – even if you aren’t a good rider, then straighten the horse out and ride up to the “spot” on a loose rein and ask him to go again. Usually once was enough. The horse learned that the Eskimo was in charge, and the Eskimo learned that he didn’t have to baby the horse and hope he wouldn’t fall off.

We have always thought that hobble breaking a horse was really important for our safety and for the horses’ safety. We’ve seen too many horses go crazy when they hang up and really hurt themselves, even if no one was riding them. I remember riding one of the older, safer ranch horses on the Wiggins Ranch in Northern California. Buck stepped both front feet through a piece of old woven-wire fencing that was on the ground with grass growing up through it. He really threw a fit and skinned his front legs up pretty bad. He literally fought his way out of it. I was lucky to have been able to stay on him. It wasn’t a month later that Bud started a couple of colts for the ranch. Bud rode Snip for three days then I had been riding him for about a week when he stopped on the hillside one day. I nudged him to go. He took one more step and stopped again with a hind leg stretched out behind him. He had caught an old piece of barbed wire under his shoe. I backed him up a step or two, got off and took a rock and hammered the wire loose. He quietly stood while I was doing this.

Because of an injury, a good friend of ours ended up with a well bred 5-year old gelding that had never been ridden. I knew Joe had started working with the horse so one day I asked him how it was going. He said “I sold him.” I was surprised since this was a colt he had raised himself and was pretty proud of his breeding. I asked if he had been having problems with him. He said “No, he was actually coming along well, but he was so powerful and I knew that if he acted up I wouldn’t be able to handle him.” This really amazed me. Joe has worked horses and cattle all of his life and is a good hand, but he was used to starting “baby horses” like most people now days.

Starting a colt at 2-years old is a fairly new idea. The first ranch Bud and I worked on in Northern California wouldn’t start a colt until it was 6-years old. When they got on a horse it had to be physically strong enough to put in a full day of mountain riding. The foreman said it would be OK to start them at four, but at five they were teething and “weren’t worth a darn” so they just waited until they were six. Now days, I’ve seen well bred, registered geldings being sold at slaughter prices because no one is willing or able to train them.

The last thing I want to do is to let a horse, especially a baby horse, make the decision of what it wants to do, no matter how many hours I’ve spent conditioning it choose what I want. Bud believed, as I do, that a trainer’s job is to teach the horse that he, the person, is in control and the horse must do what he is told no matter what the circumstances. But at the same time you show him that you will never ask him to do anything that will hurt him.

We leased a ranch in Northern California many years ago. We sold the hunting rights to a gun club. Some of the hunters asked Bud if he would help them pack a pig they had shot, up out of a canyon, to where they could get to it with their jeep. The common knowledge in that country was that horses are as afraid of packing a pig as they are of packing a bear. The only horse we had up was a filly that these guys had watched Bud start only 3-days before. They said “Do you think she will pack a pig?” Bud said “I’m not going to ask her.” She handled the situation as well as any horse could.

One day Bud and I were coming in from moving some cattle when one of the hunters asked us to help pack another pig out of a canyon. The way a pig is built it is hard to tie down, but this one only weighed about 150 pounds and we didn’t have far to go, so we thought we could just tie it across the saddle. As Jinx started up out of the draw, the saddle and pig really started rocking. Jinx had a pretty flat back and the saddle finally turned. Jinx went down on his knees, saddle and pig under his belly, him leaning against the side of the hill. He stayed that way until we got the pig and saddle off of him. Then we did what we should have done in the first place, cut the pig in half and hung one half down on each side of the saddle and didn’t have any more trouble.

Another time, Bud and I found a ewe on her back. She was in pretty bad shape but we got her lying upright, but she wanted to travel and on that steep hillside we knew that she would just go down again. We decided we’d have to take her back to headquarters. Bud was riding “Big Red.” He was such a snorty colt that the owner of the ranch would walk to the door all the way around the back of the barn rather than walk through his pen. I held Red’s lead rope while Bud tried to get the ewe up in the saddle. The hill was so steep that Red was having trouble keeping his balance while Bud was shoving against him from the up-hill side. I finally dropped the lead and moved to Red’s down-hill shoulder and braced against him to help him stand. After we got her loaded, Bud rolled the ewe up on Red’s neck so that he could get in the saddle, then he rolled her back in his lap and we were able to pack her up to where we could get to her with the pickup.

I hope these instances will give you an idea of what I’m talking about. A horse shouldn’t go crazy and injure themselves or you when something unexpected happens. We could never afford to have “broke” horses to ride. Bud was either starting a colt for someone else, or if we owned him, he was sold as soon as he was getting good. I’ve ridden (Bud’s) young horses all of my life and I’ve never been hurt in a horse related incident.

I’ll get down off of my soap box now.