How do you get to be an old horse trainer?
The answer to that question came to me years ago right after I landed my first job breaking colts, and it’s the best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten. You don’t get on a colt until after they’re already broke.
At first that statement may seem somewhat ridiculous. The whole purpose of getting on a colt in the first place is to get them broke, right? So how can they be broke before you ever get on?
Before I answer that question, I’ll ask another question – Would you drive a Mack truck down the road with a steering wheel that kind of worked and brakes that worked part of the time? Your answer to that question is hopefully, “No!”. Most people wouldn’t even consider it if they had any sense.
Regardless of age, I’m not going to get on a thousand pound horse with a mind of its own if I can’t control it. That’s the same as getting in a Mack truck that’s out of control.
So often people do that very thing when they go to break a horse. If the horse lets them put a saddle on without exploding they think that’s good enough. Yet they don’t have a steering wheel or brakes, let alone a gas pedal. Even in this day and age with free access to good training information and a clinician on every corner, there are still people out there who think good solid ground work is a waste of time because the horse doesn’t go crazy.
You can get a horse soft mouthed, put a handle and a whoa on a horse without ever stepping up into the saddle. You can get body control, and get them to accept pressure on their sides and movement on their back before you ever put a foot into the stirrup. It’s just a matter of taking the time and the patience to do the work on the ground.
While the purpose of good ground work is to minimize a colt coming apart once you’re on their back, the main purpose of solid ground work is the ability to control their feet easily once you’re up there. When a horse starts to buck, rear, or run off if you have to yank their face to get control you’re already setting yourself up for disaster. Yanking requires a lot of physical effort which not only puts the body off balance, but also wastes precious seconds that can mean the difference between having control or having your horse run off.
When you start to see the real purpose behind ground work, you begin to see it as a necessity to you and your horse’s safety. You also begin to understand why so many clinicians will say the older the get, the better their ground work has gotten. That’s how they can continue to train as they get older.
Disclaimer: Of Horse! and sponsors do not endorse nor validate the accuracy of a blog post. Each article is the opinion of the blogger.