Neu Perspectives

Tough is a Treasure

Every season, we have a good handful of colts that are just, well, really tough. Starting tough colts is never simple and easy.

Every season, we have a good handful of colts that are just, well, really tough.

When we start a colt, often the first question out of the owner’s mouth is, “Does he want to get along pretty good?” And usually, with the types of horses we start and the situations we present to them, they do.  

It is a bit of a loaded question as “get along pretty good” might mean different things to different people. Just because they buck when started doesn’t mean they are broncs. Some colts show up with lots of handling and experience, while others are jumped off the trailer loose into the pen, having never been haltered or taught.

So, the starting point and level of mental maturity with breakers varies greatly. Generally speaking, the “easy” horse takes everything in stride and makes things straightforward and simple with his movements and willingness to anticipate his rider’s thoughts and cues. Nice.

I don’t think it’s always best when your trainer tells you all along that your horse is easy. (Sidenote: it tends to dilute the good job that he or she is doing with your horse. Easy or tricky, training a horse is a taxing process, and it’s only fair to recognize that fact in any situation.) But back to the main point — I’m not saying that the term “easy” is negative; however, I think there are a lot of corners that tend to be missed in the training process with an “easy” type of horse.

Easy horses choose a steady gain. They are moldable, talented, intelligent, willing and compliant to the challenges we present. They don’t cause many ripples in the process, and at the end of it all, they are usually very nice horses that go on to be successful. But sometimes, the “finished” product isn’t as solid and experienced as it could be. The easy horse doesn’t always get the deeper, broader spectrum in the training process that a tougher, trickier horse often does. 

See, when I really look back over our year, I realize that the horses who have been much more of a challenge to get to a certain level of “broke” and experience have had a lot more time spent on them. They have been put through different types of approaches and pressure. They are not one-size-fits-all.

Their depth of experience and hours spent handled and worked with far surpass the gentle, simple colt who just wants to get along. The tough horse often has got a lot of bottom to him. If he has some talent and can retain what he’s learned, he comes out of the training process a strong, knowledgeable, seasoned and broke individual. 

I am by no means knocking the get-along horses. They are a blessing and a wonderful gift to every horseman. It’s what I strive to raise, train and sell. But sometimes, even unknowingly, we often forgive the easy horse for his little imperfections. Maybe he doesn’t stand perfectly to get on, every time, or he can be just a tick dull on the end of the lead rope. Well, that’s ok, he’s a good boy. 

Not the tough horse. The tough horse will learn, time after time, to stand still to be ridden. There is no room for err. He learns to be hobbled. He learns to be tied out alone. He has seen big days and taken long trots that have built his wind, his muscles and his stamina. We have tried, failed, tried again, and then tried once more. He has often drug many more calves, taken on extra work and has been hauled three times the miles as the average ”easy, want-to-get-along” gelding.  

This doesn’t mean abuse. It’s just about taking different approaches to solve issues that the next guy might encounter and get into trouble with. The tough horse presents a challenge, and the right kind of rider will be capable of meeting that challenge with open-mindedness, flexibility and honesty about how to improve the horse. And whoever ends up with that horse, when he’s a more finished product, will have a horse that’s been through many miles, seasons, angles and approaches. A tough horse that ends up on the good side of all that extra work often has the mental tools and education to take his or her rider to whatever level they want to achieve as horsemen. 

At the end of the day, when you’re riding a horse who has questioned the process, who has posed a challenge, who has taught its trainers many new things about training, you are riding a horse that has training, preservation and grit. 

I applaud the easy horse — the one who can build confidence in his teacher and excel in any direction. But I am grateful for, honor, understand and respect the tough ones too. 

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