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Big Wyoming Horse Expo clinicians emphasize patience as key to teaching horses

Written by Gayle Smith

Douglas – Patience is the key to working with horses, according to several clinicians who worked with students during the Seventh Annual Big Wyoming Horse Expo on April 22-24 in Douglas.

Colt starting

Mike Anderson, who demonstrated colt starting and groundwork, explained that colts learn by the release.

“If we don’t teach the colt what release is, it is in trouble,” he said. “It is the key to making the mind work on these colts.”

“The closest thing to the brain is the eyes and ears, so make him think with them,” he said. “Be patient and give them time to process what we want them to do.”

Anderson uses one of his own saddle horses to help teach the new colt what he wants it to learn. He uses the saddle horse to teach the colt how to move its hindquarters around, so the colt is soft.

“Patience is important in colt starting,” Anderson said. “Never rush a colt to saddle because it could get someone or the colt hurt.”

Repetition

Repetition is also a necessary part of the training process.

Anderson uses a blue tarp, which he holds alongside his saddle horse to get the colt used to strange noises. Once the colt stops reacting to the tarp, he covers the colt with the tarp and rubs him with it.

When the colt is ready to have a saddle on its back, Anderson told the crowd that it is important to be patient.

“When we put the saddle on the first few times, it is not important how far the saddle goes on. It is just important to get the colt used to the feel of it,” he said. “Put it on, but take it off right away. Do it several times until the colt seems comfortable with it. Rub the saddle up and down its back up to its withers. Once he’s comfortable with that, switch sides and do it again.”

The next step, according to Anderson, is to tighten the cinch and then put a foot into the stirrup.

He encourages the rider to step up on the horse and then step down, allowing the horse to get used to the rider’s weight. He encourages the rider to take a moment to rub the horse over the withers and over the butt to help him get comfortable.

Horsemanship

Jim and Sandy Jirkovsky taught their students how to improve their horsemanship skills.

“The seat may be different,” Sandy explained. “But the basics are all the same. Horsemanship is an important part of riding the horse.”

Sandy said the horse only serves as a prop in horsemanship. It is up to the rider to sit up straight and form a straight line from knee to hip to shoulder.

“When we trot the horse, do it slowly so we can maintain a good seat,” she said.

“Part of being a good horseman is making the horse execute the gaits correctly,” she continued. “Try to use minimal cues with the horse. There shouldn’t be a lot of visual movement. Everything should be as a team. Work in harmony.”

A good rider will learn to stay as one with the horse when performing different patterns, she said. When changing from a trot to a lope, the horse should be able to smoothly change leads within two to three strides, she explained.

“Lead changes tie into reining. They need to be smooth, not drastic or sudden,” she added.

Saddle fitting

John Blair of Blair Saddlery showed participants how to determine if their saddle correctly fits their horse. Blair explained that if the saddle fits properly, only a thin saddle blanket or pad should be needed beneath the saddle.

“Too much padding distorts the saddle fit and will cause the saddle to rock from side to side,” he explained.

Blair said people sit in the saddle different ways. While sitting in the center of the saddle is ideal, some will sit too far forward, and others will sit too far back.

“If we sit too far back on the saddle, it is hard on the saddle and puts a lot of dead weight on the back of the horse. It will tire him out sooner if we ride him that way all day,” he said.

Blair showed the group how he uses an empty thread spool and lets it loose behind the horn so it rolls into the seat of the saddle. If the spool stops in the center of the seat, the saddle is ideal.

When the saddle is placed on the horse, Blair says the rider should take their hand and rub between the saddle and horse to see how the saddle fits. Ideally, the saddle should fit snug, but it shouldn’t dig into the horse, he explained.

Nutrition

Harry Anderson, a veterinarian, discussed equine nutrition with Expo participants.

Anderson has developed an equine feed that can be used for all horses, from foals to senior horses. During this process, Anderson said he had to develop a feed that is efficient.

“Feed efficiency is the one number thing that tells us how much we get out of what we put in,” he explained. “What is important in equine nutrition is to meet the nutritional needs of the horse and how to most effectively get those nutrients into the equine body.”

Anderson explained how a horse’s digestive system works. Most feed products won’t digest in the small intestine and travel into the cecum and colon to be further utilized. 

Many people don’t consider the importance of minerals and vitamins in the horse’s diet, which aid in digestibility.

“If we want the best performance and health of an animal, nutrition may not be cheap,” he said. “The challenge of developing a balanced feed product is meeting the needs of a baby, working horse and geriatric horse with one set of nutrients,” he explained.

His product can be fed to all horses by just varying the amount of formula they eat.

During the Horse Expo, participants also learned about several riding disciplines, horse shoeing, massage and loading a horse in a trailer.

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..