Wes Ashlock’s on-foot round pen work instills two essential principles in a two-year-old: Go and whoa.
“Every horse needs to learn two things right away: how to move their feet, and how to get their feet still. It’s true for any discipline, whether it’s a cutting horse, rope horse, barrel horse, any kind of horse,” Ashlock says. “They must learn how to travel well and then they need to learn how to load up on their hind end to effectively do the disciplines that we’re doing.”
“My father-in-law, Tom Merriman, told me this saying he learned from Buster Welch. He said, ‘The minimum amount of effort produces the maximum result.’ And so, I think about that every day and I try to get the horses where I can do as little as possible to get the best result.”
Like most colt starters, Ashlock utilizes a round pen when first working with his horses.
“I let them figure out the concept in here,” he says. “I’m using my voice versus trying to do a physical action, like pulling on the bridle reins, to get a response.”
The technique is accomplished much like anything else he’ll eventually teach the horse and says, “It’s just the same old pressure and release philosophy, that’s basically all horse training is. Every time the horse doesn’t get still when I ask it to, it creates more work for itself.”
Along with his voice, Ashlock has a few simple tools to help get his point across to the horse: A flag, a halter or hackamore-type headgear with a long lead rope attached.
The time spent on-foot will ultimately give Ashlock a head start when he goes to riding his horses. He likes, too, the opportunity to watch the young horses travel and stop.
“The ones that take this process good and naturally want to load up move their front end across, allows you to see their athleticism and intelligence, how will they listen and respond to you. I think it tells you a lot about what they’re going to be.”