We take great pride in breeding and training many of our horses right here on the ranch. Getting each one to the point of being a good guest horse takes time, consistency, and patience. We rely upon our wranglers, who are expert equestrians, to work with the young horses. Two of our wranglers, Val and Johnny, are doing an exceptional job with their three-year olds: Athena, a beautiful sorrel filly, and Charles, a handsome paint gelding.
Consistency is the key when training young horses, with the majority of their early learning taking place from the ground. The trainer uses lead ropes and training halters to teach them to walk, trot, and lope on cue. Backing up, yielding the fore and hind legs, and flexing are important to teach as well. Moving their feet from the ground makes the process smoother when they are under saddle, and each horse requires a different amount of time and energy to make this happen.
For both Val and Johnny, their horses had already been through basic ground work when they started working with them in October. Val shared her thoughts on her early days with Athena “We struggled a lot in the beginning. I had the same experience with her that I had with a lot of mares, it takes a long time to gain their respect and trust. You really have to prove yourself, and once you get it, they will give you the world. They try real hard and never give up”. At first Val’s time spent with Athena was short, often only 10 minutes, and when Athena got something right the lesson would end. The key to successful training is in building the trust and respect, so the horse knows they won’t be put in danger. “Now we get along great. She understands the cues, and what I want her to do.”
Charles and Johnny have a trusting relationship, and Charles is often seen searching over the fence for Johnny from the day pasture. “He is super good, really calm and patient with me because this is a learning process for me too.” Johnny does not profess to be a horse trainer, yet his laid back personality and ability to be consistent is making the work with Charles go smoothly. Not much bothers Charles, and it did not take long for Johnny to have him under saddle. “Laying over him and hanging out there on his back, petting him on his butt and shoulder while laying on him. Then it was super easy to swing up and start sitting on him. We worked on flexing to each side, then started getting forward movement in there. He’s a little like me in that any work to the left is a bigger hurdle.”
It takes time for the young horses to figure out how to balance with a load on their backs, so starting them with easy walking, trotting, and working in circles helps them figure out how to move under saddle. They are also still growing and are susceptible to injury if pushed too hard. “I am a big guy, so I will probably have someone smaller lope Charles when he is ready,” Johnny said.
Val has come a long way with Athena, and she is frequently seen riding her in the large round pen. They practice working on leads, steering while in a lope, and side passing on cue. Together, she and Johnny took the two horses out on their first trail ride down the polo field, across the creek, and back to the corrals via the railroad bed. Charles spooked a little at the sound of a tree branch scraping Johnny’s hat, and Athena didn’t like the shadows of the cottonwood trees, but they’ll get used to it. With consistency and lots of miles under saddle, they will make fine trail horses for our guests.