Young Horses – Teaching them to learn

Jonathan and Cameo

Jonathan and Cameo

I love when I get the chance to run in to a horseman that has raised and trained young horses for a lifetime.

I was at the Saskatchewan Equine Expo this past February and there were horses brought in for the Trainers Challenge event.  After my clinics were done, I caught the final Trainers Challenge session with these 3 year old quarter horses.  I noticed they were a really nice crop of horses, and when I asked who brought them I was introduced to a gentleman named Tom King.  Tom and his family have raised and bred horses at Diamond K Ranch in south eastern Saskatchewan for 40 years.
With that many years of working with both horses and young people under his belt, Tom was able to really boil things down to what matters when starting a young horse.  So I asked Tom the same question I’ve asked many other horseman I’ve had the pleasure of meeting: “What is the most important thing you start with when teaching these horses?”

He had so much to share!

When he sells his young horses, Tom likes to help people that are willing to get started on the right foot, so he offers some advice and ideas that may help.  One of his first bits of advice is “The first thing we are going to do is teach this colt how to learn”.

I love that!  What amazing advice to start with!  And so often overlooked with both young horses and started horses.  Many times people get wrapped up in:  Here is a task, exercise or goal – let’s get to it.  Sometimes without considering if this horse is even in an open, learning state.  But before that, does he know how to learn?  As a clinician, I sometimes take it for granted that we are always asking ourselves that question. But it struck me to think about when was the last time I took it as a teachable moment with my students.
This simple first step really relates to any horse and rider.  Let’s take the time to teach our horse how to learn, then ask ourselves if he’s in an open and learning state before beginning something new.

Only after we can see this horse is processing and taking something in can we begin to move to a task that we may want to teach him.

One horse Tom had was very standoff-ish and challenging, so he took a barrel into the pen, haltered the filly, and just sat on the barrel holding the end of the lead rope with all the slack hanging between them.  He sat there for quite some time while that filly stayed as far away as she could before the rope would get tight.  After some time passed, she slowly came up behind him and gently sniffed his back.  Then a bit more time passed.  Still standing behind him, she very gently reached around and rested her nose on his on his leg.  Tim repeated this exercise a few more times with this filly, each time giving her a rub after she approached him, then turning her out – leaving her with a good impression.  It was these sessions that caused this filly to begin to open up to learning.

Let Tom’s story be an important reminder to make sure that your horse is in an open learning state with a brain to train.  Anything you want to introduce won’t be learned by your horse if they’re thinking about the barn or their buddy more than you, or if a previous training session left him particularly sceptical because the above step wasn’t asked ahead of time.  Before you jump in to the plan that YOU have, be sure you have a brain to train and your horse is ready to learn.

If you have a horse that is difficult to connect with and teach, or if you’re unsure how to tell if he’s even ready to learn, this information is covered in my latest DVD series, The Start is Everything – The Ultimate Guide to Staring your young horse.  On the DVD set, you’ll notice we’ve included (re) to the title, as the pathway to success with many horses is to be re-started.  The information provided in this DVD set is not only for young horses, but is also how  you’d approach a horse that has holes in his foundation that cause problems moving forward in any discipline.  After massive amounts of effort, I created this DVD set based on many years of study and all of my experience with young and previously started horses.  This set includes information about the horses that are difficult to connect with and teach, and where you’ll learn about overcoming that ‘wall’ that many riders tell me they encounter when trying to teach their horse something new.

The reStart is Everything DVD Set

The reStart is Everything DVD Set

Thanks for a great reminder Tom!  You can visit Diamond K Ranch at .  Next time you get to visit with a older, experienced horseman or horsewoman, leave some time and space between your thoughts about your horse and iPhone photos to see if you can draw a gem of knowledge or inspiration from their years of experience.

All the best to you!
Stay, Inspired by Horses


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2 Responses to Young Horses – Teaching them to learn

  1. Gail Fagan says:

    Great article. I’m always seeking to better read and understand my horse more deeply.

  2. dustidub says:

    Great post jonathan. I really think animals have to learn how to learn. If we can teach them HOW to think and learn then the rest is easy street. Thanks for your insight. I love it when the really good guys think the same thing that I do!! LOL

    Have a great day…..dusti


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