ImageFive questions for colt trainer, horsemanship instructor and ranch cowboy Joel Eliot of Sonoita, Arizona

1. Eventually, I’d like to use my young horse for roping. What can I do to prepare him?

I like to expose young horses to a rope right away. In the round pen or another safe environment, rope the horse around the neck, remove the rope and begin again. Rope each foot and have the horse yield consistently to the pressure of the rope.

With a horse under saddle, gently toss the lead rope toward him and have it dangle softly over his hindquarters and feet. While riding or while straddling the fence with the colt standing next to you, gently rock the rope back and forth on both sides, working up to where you can swing it around several revolutions. If your horse gets troubled at any time, just stop and start over.

Before roping a live animal, have a friend play the part of the calf. Encourage the colt to follow the rope, tracking the “calf,” and dally while slipping rope and eventually stopping your calf. Your friend could even shake the rope, imitating a calf kicking.

Keep the coils in your left hand, low and close to the horse’s neck, to guard against the rope slapping. If this progresses well, move on to dragging a light log or hay bale.

2. Can you give advice on how to gather slack between the calf and my horse safely and efficiently?

Ride your horse forward while coiling your rope, picking up the slack as you coil and never taking your eyes off the animal. As you ride forward, rate the speed of your horse and the coiling of your slack with the calf’s speed, so the rope is straight out in front of you.

3. How can I polish my horse’s back-up?

One of the first things you need is for your horse to go forward freely and smoothly. After that, you want to be able to take the slack out of your reins and have your horse give a soft feel or yield at the poll. Once he can do this standing still, hold that soft feel until one or two of your horse’s feet begin to shift backwards, and then release.

In the beginning, you should even release for a backwards shift in your horse’s weight. While encouraging these few steps, use your legs only to maintain straightness in your horse’s body and not to kick him backwards. Soon you will be able to add more steps and more speed to the back-up.

4. I have been riding my horse with two hands, but I would like to start doing jobs that require one-handed riding. How can I make that transition?

Ride your horse while holding the reins in one hand and guide with your legs. When you need to, pick up a rein in each hand to support him—generally, this is for directing, or slowing or stopping the feet. When you can guide your horse with your supportive leg and little direct rein contact, you can increase the time you spend riding with one hand.

5. I hear a lot about the value of good ranch geldings. Why doesn’t anyone mention using mares?

Typically, a herd of geldings will get along peacefully without mares. Geldings usually have steady, reliable dispositions without complications from hormones or heat cycles.

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