The Pasture is our Lab

Recently I’ve been getting horses in for training, or retraining because they are found to be hard to handle out on trail rides.

As much as I hate to say it, I’ve produced my fair share of these horses as well. I believe the basic reason for this is the lack of exposure to “the world”.

I think we spend too much time in the artificial environment of the arena.

Those wet saddle blankets need to be produced out in the pasture, where “old pony” is faced with variety , instead of a wall or fence.

Once we get a handle on them so that we are pretty sure they’re not in a mood to buck, then we need to go outside. This is easier if you can arrange the first few rides to be with an older settled partner. We call those horses the Padrinos, or Godfathers.

These rides are at a walk, and at first short and sweet. We want to show the colt that there are a lot of “things” out there, but they aren’t harmful. They need reassurance.

With time the rides get longer, then as the colt builds confidence, the Padrino may not be there. Ultimately, we go check cows, and trot long stretches.

Eventually we cross water, negotiate steep creek banks, and lope across level ground.

By doing this the colt learns to have trust in his rider.

The next phase is the time when the colt goes along on a cattle gathering with a team of experienced horses. With time he gets to sort cattle in the pen, then maybe learn to handle a rope, open and close gates, and gallop down a fence to return a bunch quitter to the herd.

After that, not too much will bother our young recruit.

A friend who trained hunting dogs once told me that once you have taught a dog a certain lesson, you need to repeat it in four different locations. I believe this is true for horses as well. A horse that you plan to take to a show or to a parade, or other event needs to have seen different country, and learned that trust in the rider.

Of course this process can’t happen in just thirty days. That’s why it takes a couple of years to “finish” a ranch horse or a recreational horse. Multiply that times three or more for a dressage horse, or a reiner.

In all this phase of training which is known as the “campaign” or “outside” phase, safety is the watchword. Remember; it’s a long walk back to the house!

Or put another way, a cowboy who gets bucked off out in the pasture gets even by making the colt walk home by himself!

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