Developing the Young Ranch Horse

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Ever wonder what it's like to start a young horse? Or perhaps you've worked with young horses before and are looking for additional training ideas? Tune in as RW crew member Hannah tells us about her experience raising young horses on the ranch, what she looks for, and some tips and tricks we can take away when starting our own youngsters.

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Starting a young horse is one of the most frustrating yet rewarding processes when it comes to training. They will test your patience and ability as a rider. There will be days where you feel defeated and days where you are beaming with pride at their accomplishments. Raising young horses takes time, love, patience, and hard work. Below, I share some of the tips and tricks I use when raising horses on the ranch.

A Little About Us

My fiancé Lon and I live on a working cattle ranch in California where we breed and raise quarter horses for both ranch work and as performance horses.

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Barbie, one of our quarter horses raised for ranch work

Our training routine combines both our backgrounds. I first started off riding English and showed in the Hunter/Jumper ring, but in high school I made the switch to ride Western and Rodeo. Lon grew up cowboying and roping. He has been involved in the cattle business his whole life and has worked for some of the largest ranches on the Central Coast.

Presently, we run a calf cow operation, which involves turning our bulls out to breed, branding, vaccinating, shipping, and sale. This whole process is done on horseback, so our horses are a vital part of running our cattle operation. We use our horses to gather, brand, sort, and doctor cattle.

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Me, Lon, and the crew gathering, medicating, and branding our cattle. It's a team effort!

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Deets helping us gather cattle for branding and medicating

Working our cattle ranch resonates within us and we take pride in furthering these practices to the next generation. Our dream is to continue to breed and raise ranch performance horses that can be used for ranch work, team roping, barrel racing and also used in the show pen.

Starting a Young Horse

Lon and I have different qualities that we look for in a horse, I think this helps us have a well-rounded herd. At the moment, most of our broodmares have cow horse bloodlines.

When we first wean our horses, they get turned out with other horses their age to continue to grow and just be a horse. Once our horses turn two, we send them to a local colt starter to see if they have potential to be shown at a higher level. After 30 days, those remaining come back home to our ranch to continue with their training.

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One of our broodmares, Lena, with her foal, Maverick

We like to stay as consistent as possible when starting out their training regimen and getting them into shape. To start off the training session, we do groundwork with the horse saddled in a round pen.

Groundwork is important because
it allows your horse to learn
respect
for you before you ride them.​

Additionally, it helps to get out some of the extra non-helpful energy that young horses tend to have! I’d rather they get all the silliness out in the round pen, that way they are a bit more focused when I get on (in theory).

We also like to saddle multiple horses at once and tie them in the arena while we ride the others. This teaches them patience, which is important if you plan on hauling to shows or rodeos.

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Barbie patiently standing with Lon at the trailer

Tips on Mounting a Young Horse

Mounting can be the toughest part in the training but these tips will help you stay safe. Keep in mind that a two year old is not used to the motion of a swinging leg over their back or a foot touching their belly.

When first getting on you want to stay towards the front of their shoulder; this is the safest place if something goes wrong. At their shoulder you are protecting yourself from getting kicked if your horse decides to spook out from underneath you or try to spin away from you.

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Prada, one of my three-year-olds. By this age she's pretty broke to mounting and dismounting!

Once you are standing at your horse’s shoulder keep their head turned towards you with a short rein and step your foot in the stirrup. This helps you control their forward motion! If your horse starts to move away from underneath you, your position will allow you to stay with them.

Lastly, when stepping on a young horse, only place your toe in the stirrup. You want to refrain from placing your foot too far in the stirrup in case your horse does spook and get away from you.

Training Drills and Tools

For young horses I like to focus on making them soft and flexible. There are various ways to achieve this.

Some classic yet effective drills to do in the arena are circles and figure eights. Both of these movements encourage your horse to work off of your feet to move their bodies, which in turn makes for a flexible horse. When teaching a young horse these new movements your hands should be there to guide them without pulling, and all movements should be exaggerated.

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Rip, awaiting his turn for training drills and arena work

A training fork is another great tool to use in certain situations to help aid in head placement. When using a training fork, it is best to use a snaffle with some sort of curb chain.

To keep all our horses in shape we like to do long trotting circles and 10-minute straight trots each direction. These two drills are a great way to build up muscle and stamina.

Finally, we incorporate rollbacks off the fence into our training. This is a good conditioning drill to help a horse learn how to be quick on their feet.

Once Lon and I feel like we have a good handle on them in the arena we will start to use them around the ranch.

Working them around the ranch and
riding through hills is hands down
the best way to get any horse in shape.

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Maverick all grown up and working out on the ranch

Improve Your Mental Game

It is always important to remember that your horses will have good days and days where they act like no one has ever ridden them. This can be extremely disheartening; however, it is part of the process when working with a green horse.

When working with young horses, be sure to focus on all the good things that you have accomplished. It is so easy to fixate on the negative experiences that have happened during training.

You have to keep in mind that if
you react from a place of emotion
you can make your horse regress.​

Young horses need someone to confidently guide them in the right direction. Rewards and consequences need to be made clear; horses do want to please so it is our responsibility to make it easy for them to do so.

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Lena and Deets leisurely out and about on the ranch with me and Lon.

Another aspect on the mental part of training is sometimes we get a head of our self and ask for too much too soon.

You have to remember that a young
horse is relying on you to show them the
way
when it comes to a new experience.​

However, also keep in mind that there are times that you should push them. Knowing the balance of this training technique is key to building the young horse’s confidence. For example, I currently have a three-year-old that is a little cattle shy. To combat this, we have her track slow cattle in the arena, which is a low-pressure way to help her train on approaching cattle confidently.

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Badger, Barbie and Suzie tracking some slow cattle in the arena to gain confidence.

Another tip for cattle shy horses is to turn your horse out with a herd of cattle! When exposing your horse to this environment it will help your horse feel more comfortable when approaching cattle.

Final Thoughts

Lon and I are very thankful every day that we get to live a life surrounded by horses. This lifestyle is a very trying yet a rewarding one. We encourage all of you to pursue any dreams you may have when it comes to owning, showing or raising horses. Anything is possible!

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Me, Lon, and the entire crew on the Ranch
 
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