I was reading an article in Performance Horse Magazine yesterday. It was part two of a series on colt starting, written by Clinton Anderson.
It was pretty good. Especially since his concepts dovetail pretty close to mine. I always like the ones that think like I do.
I don't know a lot about the guy. He's big on the RFD channel, but I don't have cable. A couple of my students went to one of his clinics, they thought he was wonderful. They each bought about 400 bucks of his stuff.
When one of these uber-clinicians market a huge line of junk at their clinics, I tend to lose interest. Maybe I'm missing a lot of good information, at least some honing of my marketing skills, but specialty mecates at double the going rate irk me to no end.
Anyway, I was reading with interest. He firmly believes in creating a colt's forward with a three step learning process. First step is your leg, followed by a more aggressive warning bump, and then over and under with your reins.
I learned the same method from a Monte Foreman trainer in the early 70's. I teach my students to give the cue you would like them to respond to, then follow with the same cue but stronger, and then make it happen.
It works if you are consistent. Which you should be.
Then Clint and I began to diverge.
He wants his youngsters to walk, trot, and lope right away. He feels that they need to feel comfortable in each gait as soon as possible. They need to git when he says git. This eliminates resistance farther down the road.
The Big Kahuna felt the same way. We got those wild little billy goats gassing around immediately. Trust me, they were comfortable packing us around at a lope by the end of day one.
My problem is that whipping around on a staggery little two year old that doesn't stop, or turn, is not my ideal way to spend a morning. It scares the poo out of me. A three, four, or five year old is worse, they're stronger.
I go the route of wanting them comfortable at the walk and trot before I'll try to lope. If they decide to lope off the first time I ride them I'll let them, but I still hate it.
I prefer a turn to the left and right, and a little bit of whoa first.
I also have a problem with a little bit of "stuck" in every horse I train. There is a brief hesitation in them before each maneuver. In some ways it's comforting. My horses are NEVER runaways. They don't squirt through lead changes, they rarely run off in their run downs, and if they do, they always come back to your hand.
If I have a discipline problem it tends to be a loss of forward.
It's something I mess with all the time.
My three year olds have it the worst. They lug on me, move as if we're dragging logs through the swamp. It takes forever to fix.
I know I create this, and I've always figured it was an annoying trade off for how calm and easy my young horses tend to be.
Until I read Clint's article. He goes on to say that he wants his horses to accept him flopping and rubbing them all over those first few rides.
"Can you imagine flopping all over Merry even now?" I asked my boss.
"You go right ahead." She answered.
"Not today." I said.
"Probably not tomorrow either." She said.
Merry is a very lively, talented four year old. She was a slow, careful start. She has tons of brain power, and so much physical ability she can't always control it. She's slowly growing into herself. She also is extremely reactive. I think she's going to be pretty darn handy.
But if I flopped around on her, I would become a lawn dart.
"This is the second part." Said the ever practical boss. "Maybe you should read part one."
So I did. AHA!
It turns out that Clint is a big believer in imprinting. His babies are halter broke and handled from day one.
I am not.
Imprinting might work if it's done differently than every imprinted horse I've ever come across.
The imprinted horses I have dealt with are pushy, rude, have no concept of personal space. They think I'm their friend.
If you watch a herd of horses the hierarchy is very clear.
There's boss mare #1. She sleeps when she wants. She eats where she wants. She periodically kicks the crap out of a random victim whenever she feels like it. Everybody wants to be her friend. Nobody can kick her bossy brat of a foal. Or her best friend...
Boss mare #2. She follows #1 around, babysits her kid, eats at the peripheral of the best grass, puts up with random bad tempered assaults, and is protected from the rest of the herd. She also gets to be mean to everybody else.
And so it goes, down the chain, until you get to the youngsters. The yearlings and two year olds swirl around fighting and playing with each other, and try to stay out of the boss mare's way.
Have you ever seen how two year olds treat their friends?
I do not want to be a friend.
I want to be boss mare#1.
I'm guessing Clinton Anderson does it right. I'll never know, because I prefer my youngsters to come to me with as little handling as possible.
Even if they've never been handled, I'm usually getting along with them within a few weeks.
If they've been mishandled it can take months to straighten them out enough to be useful.
Ideally I like them just halter broke. Barely.
What occurred to me was that Clint's colts are about broke before he ever gets on. Mine aren't even a little. I want them to feel broke. So I keep them slow. I create a hesitation because I am hesitant in how I start them.
So what's the answer?
We have six, two and three year olds that we are starting right now. I've been working one of the three year olds for over sixty days. He wants to skitter. That could turn into a bolt. So I've been easing into him day by day. Yesterday he sighed and relaxed when I stepped up. He'll be ready to ride in a day or two.
A two year old came in about three weeks ago. We're cruising around pretty good. She has been so easy and accepting it's been a cake walk.
So is there a middle ground? Is there a way to get that forward on command those first few rides and still feel safe?
I think it may be a matter of upping my expectations on the ground. I need to flop and bang and all that stuff before I get up on these babies.
Clint can ask it because he already knows they can take it.
I shouldn't get on until I'm confident I can ask for that forward and stay safe.
I want to be somewhere in the middle of Clint and the Big K. I'm going to play with these six and see if my theory is right. It seems so simple on paper. It only took me 30 some odd years and the willingness to read an article written by one of those damn clinicians to get there.
I truly am a mugwump.