During the winter and spring we feed with a team of Percheron work horses named Sodbuster and Silver. They respond to voice commands, allowing Brad to ride a colt and work the team at the same time.
There are usually two or three other colts saddled and tied to the wagon so Brad can change horses down the road somewhere. Occasionally we take along a colt who has never been ridden, just for the experience.
We cake the cows, check windmills, and pair out along the way, the type of work the colt will be doing when he goes home. Jobs requiring just one person are an opportunity to get the colt used to being by himself, and the earlier it’s done, the better.
Riding out alone away from the wagon and the other horses to check a windmill is a big accomplishment for a young horse. He might be unwilling to leave the other horses the first time or two, but it’s very important that he is ridden through this or it could become a problem later on.
Brad also starts colts to drive. Anything and everything from saddle horses and mustangs to half-ponies and Tennessee Walkers have been harnessed to the cake wagon.
Sod and Silver have been hooked up beside so many green-broke youngsters they’ve learned to give the occasional nip when the colt gets out of line or isn’t pulling his share. After a couple of days if Sod or Silver so much as gives a colt a sideways glance, the colt shapes up and pays attention.
During the final stages of training, Brad often uses the colts who are almost ready to go home to start the colts who have just arrived. He works a new colt in the round pen from horseback until the colt faces and joins up. Then Brad saddles colt has a calming effect on the youngster, and Brad achieves the same result as if he had worked the new colt from the ground.
Using colts for ranch work during their training is essential and practical. Most colts will be used to work cows and ride pastures after they go home and have to be comfortable with a swinging rope and with pulling a calf.
It’s as important at the end of 30 days of training to make the horse our friend as it is to be able to saddle him. When we go out to the barn in the morning, our horses are waiting at the gate for us, ready for the day. It doesn’t take long for the colts to figure it out; in a day or two they have their heads hanging over the fence ready to be caught.
There’s nothing better than a good horse with a lot of heart and a willing mind who will give 101 percent if you ever have to ask for it.
Ainslie Nielsen grew up on a ranch in Victoria, Australia, and worked on cattle stations after high school before attending Agricultural College in the Northern Territory. She moved to the United States in 1996 and now works in Nebraska, where she helps Brad Wilson start colts and is a member of the Wilson Cattle Company ranch rodeo team.