Exploring Different Methods of Horse Training

Exploring Different Methods of Horse Training

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Exploring Different Methods of Horse Training

The cowboy climbed aboard and gave a wild yell. The men holding the head of the horse let go and jumped back. Almost immediately the horse began bucking. The cowboy stayed with him though. The horse bucked around the pen slamming into the fence and off the post that was set in the middle of the pen. Finally the horse began to slow down and the cowboy got him under control. It would take another week of this before the horse would allow himself to be handled without blowing up.(Rashid 102)

This is the way horses used to be broken to ride, but is that the best method to use? This is the oldest method used for breaking horses, but it is also the roughest.

The first method researched is the old ranch method used. This method was used mostly on the big ranches in the west. The main reason this method was used was because they had to be able to use the horses immediately. The horses on these big ranches were usually started at four to five years of age. They were started at this age because that is when a horse is usually physically mature enough to handle the rough work on a ranch.(Campbell 55)

To start a horse in this method, a cowboy would bring a horse into a pen. The horse would then be roped and snubbed up to a large post that was set in the middle of the pen. Two other men would hold the horse down while the cowboy threw his saddle on the horses back and cinched it down. The horse was then fitted with a rope Bosal. The cowboy climbed aboard and the horse was turned lose. The cowboy was then supposed to stay with the horse until he quit bucking. It was a rare thing for a horse not to buck when started this way. (Miller 25)

Times have changed though people no longer have to have their horses trained in such a hurry. Very few horses are used very hard today. Not all horses were started in such a rough manner then either. The Spanish vaqueros of the 1800's used the bosal to start their horses, and they took their time in doing so.

The Bosal

The California Bosal or Hackamore is an oval nose band made of rawhide. The top piece of the bosal is called the nose button.

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This part of the bosal will go over the horse's nose where the cartilage and the bone meet. On the side of the bosal there are two ridges where the bridle is attached. These are called the side buttons. At the bottom of the bosal is a large knot, called the heel knot. The reins and mecate attach to this. The mecate is like a lead rope that is used for really green colts. A green colt is a horse that has very little training. The bosal will be on a headstall and a Fiador. The Fiador is attached to the bridle; it is like a halter and can be used to tie a horse up.(Miller 55)

The Old Spanish Vaqueros really liked very light reining cow horses. Since the bosal does not require the horse to carry anything in its mouth, it helps keep a young horses mouth soft. The bosal method takes a considerable amount of time compared to other methods, but the end result is usually better. The bosal method can take anywhere from six months to four years to get a finished horse. This is one reason that this method has become less popular than it used to be.(Connell 5)

To start a horse in the bosal, the cowboy or the vaquero would put the horse in the round pen and sack him out. Sacking a horse out means to take either a saddle pad or an old burlap sack and rub it all over the horse. The object for doing this is to get the horse used to being in contact with different things and to prepare him for saddling. The horse will next be introduced to the saddle and pad. Usually the horse will be lounge with the saddle on to get it used to carrying the weight. Lounging is where the horse is placed in a round pen and the handler stands in the middle while the horse does laps around him or her. Once the horse has excepted the saddle it will be introduced to the bosal and lounged with it on.(Connell 9)

Once the horse is quiet while saddled and has excepted the bosal the handler can continue with the training. While still in the round pen, the handler will very slowly start to put weight in the stirrup. He will gradually increase the weight until the horse allows him to swing his leg over and pick up the other stirrup. The handler should mount and dismount several times from both sides until the horse stands quietly, not until the horse excepts this should the handler move on.(Rashid 29)

For the first ride the handler should leave the reins slack and allow the horse to do whatever he thinks he needs to. This way the horse can figure out how to move with the rider instead of being forced to figure it out the first time. Once the horse has figured out how to move with the rider on his back, the rider may begin to lightly guide him around the round pen by applying light pressure on the reins in the direction he wants him to go. The pressure should be very light, and slack should be given as soon as the horse responds correctly. If the pressure is not released the horse will become confused and then angry. The horse should be worked in the round pen until it can stop when asked, back up, and turn in both directions with no problems. This may take a few days or a few months depending on the horse.(Connell 12)

The "O" ring or broken Snaffle.

The broken snaffle bit is probably the most popular way of starting colts today. The main reason for this is it is faster than the bosal method, but is still very gentle. The broken snaffle bit has a ring on each side shaped like an "O". The middle is hinged, so it is softer on the horse's mouth. The mouthpiece of this bit is made out of either copper or sweet iron with a copper inlay. The copper is to keep the horses mouth soft and flexible. The rings of the bit should attach to the mouthpiece in such a way as to not pinch the corners of the horse's mouth. The headstall will be attached to the rings on the bit, as will the reins.(Miller 60) The headstall should have a brow band and throat latch. There should also be a curb or chinstrap that runs from ring to ring under the horse's jaw. The bit should fit the horse in such a way as to create two wrinkles at the corners of his mouth. The bit should fit tight enough so the horse can't get his tongue over the bit, but not so tight as to make it uncomfortable. The reins should be made out of flat leather and be about seven to eight feet in length.(Wolter 10)

Basically, the colt will be started in much the same way as a bosal horse. First he will be sacked out, then introduced to the saddle and bit. It will usually take much longer for the horse to except the bit than it would to accept the bosal. Then he will be lounged, then mounted, and given the chance to accept the rider. It is of the utmost importance that the rider has very soft hands and not jerk the horse around with this method. If the rider is heavy handed the horse will become hard mouthed and unresponsive. The main difference in this method and the bosal method is the amount of time taken at each stage, and the fact that the horse is started with a bit in his mouth. Typically, a horse started in this method will remain in the broken snaffle for about thirty days before being moved to a more advanced bit. With the bosal method it could be a year or more before the horse is advanced.(Wolter 11)

One reason that horses are advanced so quickly out of the broken snaffle, is that if a horse is left in it for to long, he will become unresponsive. As soon as the colt is ready to advance into another bit he should be.(Rashid 72)

The Side Pull

The side pull is basically a headstall with one or two pieces of rope running over the horse's nose. On the end of the rope on each side is a ring. Attached to each ring will be a seven to eight foot rein.(Miller 62) The side pull is good for horses that are having a lot of trouble accepting the bit while being ridden. The side pull is different from the bosal in that the pressure is applied in a different place. With the bosal the pressure comes from directly under the horses jaw. The pressure from the side pull is more direct.(Campbell 56) Some horses have trouble with the bit or bosal but are ready to be ridden. In this case, it may be a good idea to start the young horse in a side pull. Again the side pull is simply a training tool and horses should not be left in it for too long.(Rashid 108)


Spurs, while not being a specific method for starting colt's, are definitely a tool that has been used to start many horses. Spurs are built to slip on the heel of the rider's boot, then be attached with leather straps over the front of the boots. The straps will be attached to the button looking object at the left of the spur pictured.(Miller 60)

The main purpose of spurs is to get a faster reaction out of the horse you are riding. While the spur pictured above may look nasty, it is actually not that bad because the rowel is not sharp. Spurs can vary from blunt button spurs that just slip on the heel of the rider's boots with no straps to the old silver inlay spurs from California. No matter what the spurs look like they all have basically the same purpose, to make the horse respond quickly.(Miller 55)

Some trainers will start every colt they ride with spurs and some that don't even own a pair. For the most part spurs should be used very carefully. If a colt is spurred too much to often he will become unresponsive. Also over use of spurs may create a horse that hates to be ridden and will start to ring his tail and shake his head.

Horses that are spurred while bucking may become worse rather than get better.(Connell 11)
Colts should be started without spurs and then the trainer should determine whether or not the horse will need them. In some ways you are letting the horse decide whether or not it needs them. Most colts, if given the chance, don't need to ever be ridden with spurs. A horse that is started in spurs will almost always have to be ridden in spurs.(Rashid 80)

Feeding the horse in training.

It used to be that horses were starved just before they were started. This was done to keep the horse from bucking. Now people realize that a horse should be started in their peak condition. The reason a horse should not be started when it isn't in good flesh is because when the horse is in good flesh, the trainer won't know what it is going to do. A horse that is just starting its training should be fed good quality, mold-free hay. The breed of the horse may help to determine how it should be fed. A horse that is very high strung and can't seem to hold still should probably not be on a high concentrate diet such as sweet feed and alfalfa hay. A horse that is high strung should probably be put on a diet of quality grass-alfalfa- mix hay.(Wgoner 56)

Another thing that should be taken into consideration is what the horse is in training for. If the horse is in training for racing then the diet should be very high in protein and can have a lot of concentrates. If just a weekend trail horse is wanted, the diet should probably be mixed hay.(Wgoner 60)

Starting a horse no matter what the purpose is a big responsibility. If the job is done correctly, the horse can lead a highly productive life. If trainers are rough with the horse and force it to do things, rather than let them figure it out on there own, they will probably do what is asked of them, but they will be nervous and will not enjoy their time around people. In short don't lose your temper take your time and the end results will be great.


Campbell, B. Jim. "The Cowboy Way." The Quarter Horse Journal. June 2000: 54-57.

Connell, Ed. Hackamore Reinsman. The longhorn press, 1988.

Kreiltler, Bonnie. "Pen State." Horse Illustrated. Dec. 1998: 22-27.

Lynch, Betsy. "Hobbles Teaching The Art of Standing Still." Western Horseman. May 2001: 180-186.

Miller, Robert. Western Horse Behavior and Training. Doubleday Dolphin, 1975.

.Rashid, Mark. Horses Never Lie. Spring Creek Press, 2000.

Rashid, Mark. Considering The Horse. Spring Creek Press, 2000.

Rashid, Mark. A Good Horse Is Never a Bad Color. Spring Creek Press, 2000.

Stewart- Spears, Genie. "In Ground Control." Western Horseman. July 2001: 57-59.

Wgoner, Don. Conditioning to Win. Equine Research, 1974

Wolter, Joe. "Starting Colts." Americas Horse. Mar, Apr. 2001: 10-11.

Wolter, Joe. "Starting Colts." Americas Horse. May, June. 2001: 12.
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