Training Colts with ranch work is essential and practical.
Article and photographs by Ainslie Nielson (Wilson), written October 2001
Colts are a part of everyday life on the Wilson Ranch in Arthur County, Nebraska. Since I began working for Brad Wilson, my life has revolved around horses of all ages and at all stages of training, both outside colts and those bred here on the ranch.
Up to date Brad has started around 3,500 head of outside horses, including Quarter Horses, Morgans, ponies, Percherons, mustangs, Walkers, Thoroughbreds, Arabs, and many more. The horse is an essential part of life on the Sandhills ranches, as he is all over the West. He is used in every aspect of ranch work on a daily basis, from checking heavies during calving, sorting cows, feeding and fixing fence, to dragging calves in the branding corral.
Training a colt is a progression through stages. The colt starts with groundwork in the round pen. He learns to face and join up, and is then saddled and left in the round pen to get used to the feel of something strange on his back and to the squeak of leather.
After Brad mounts a colt a couple of times, we have worked the colt in the 130-foot round pen, and the colt’s been ridden outside, he’s ready to be put to work.
The first job a colt is given is to wrangle the horses. This is especially good for young horses who have been raised in a stall or any other small area. The wide open spaces can be a little overwhelming the first time or two, and the colt may not want to go.
Wrangling the horses encourages a colt to move out into a lope and not wander from side to side or go around in circles. Green horses tend to drift and leak out to the side, like pushing a rope uphill. When they see the other horses, they realize their feet can move forward, and it becomes their idea to go.
When it becomes the horse’s idea to move, his mind focuses on going, instead of on being afraid, and his feet free up. If he wants to run off, Brad bends him around until he slows, then lets him move out again.
We also ride colts to check windmills, fences, and heavy cows during calving. If we have a purpose and a destination in mind when we leave the barn, the colt can pick up on this and move out better. Instead of riding aimlessly around the pasture, we ride somewhere, do what needs to be done, and ride home.
Giving the colt a job makes him a more willing partner. If he knows he isn’t going to be worn out riding all over the hills all day long, his attitude will be positive and willing the next time he is ridden out on a job.
We prefer not to trailer the colts. Instead Brad saddles up five or six and ties them together to lead, or we will trail them. Nothing can substitute for the miles you put on a young horse when it comes to getting him broke and gentle.