Colt Starting - Part 4

Patrick Hopgood takes Ruby through her third and fourth month under saddle.Objectives for Months 3-4 • To turn around correctly 1-2 times • To start to hunt a circle • To soften at the lope • To continue improving the side pass • To stay soft in the face

Training the turnaround

Training the turnaround

The Turn Around (Spin) By consistently working through the steps in the last three articles, Ruby knows how to roll back on her hocks when I direct her into the fence. Now it is time to teach her to turn off the fence. I start this by walking a circle. If we are working on the left side, I pull my direct rein (left rein) to my hip and hold it there. I bump with my inside leg and get her to walk a nice small circle with a diameter of around two meters. I want Ruby to be really soft through her body, bending round on the circle.

When she is really soft and relaxed I will apply my indirect rein (right rein) onto the side of her neck and stop bumping my inside leg (left leg). In the future this will be the cue for her to start turning so I wait one second to give her a chance to think about this cue. She will not do anything as she does not know what this means. However if I give this cue every single time with the exact same amount of pressure and feel, Ruby will realise that when the outside rein touches her neck she is to start turning. After waiting a second I start bumping with my outside leg, in this case the right leg. I will keep bumping lightly with my leg until Ruby takes one step to the left like a turn. This will feel like she has stepped really quickly in the direction I want to go and as soon as she does, I immediately stop applying the pressure with the outside leg and rein in order to reward her. However I will not just stop and let her rest, which I have done a lot of so far when teaching a horse a new manoeuvre. This is because if I do, Ruby will become stiff when she turns, therefore not able to turn correctly. So instead of standing still I will continue walking the small circle I was on before.

As we know from the previous articles horses naturally want to push into pressure and will always look for a way out or an answer when put under pressure. Be aware of this during the teaching of this exercise. They are most likely going to try every other direction before they find the one we want them to take. The horse may try to push into the outside rein, go faster straight ahead or even go to the right instead of our intended goal of going to the left. If this happens all you have to do is continue bumping with your outside leg lightly but keep applying the pressure until he turns the way you wish.

Do not panic if this takes even as long as a minute or two to achieve, just don’t stop applying the pressure. If you do you will reward him for pushing through your rein and will be teaching him to run off instead of turn. He may also try to stop and back up. If your horse does this it is not a problem, it is a normal reaction. Just stop applying pressure with your hands and bump with both legs until he goes forward, as soon as he goes forward continue asking him to turn.

Once your horse understands to step across once with his front legs every time you apply the outside rein, you can then ask for two steps. This should happen on the second or third day of doing this exercise. I keep stepping up how much I ask my horse to turn. By the end of three months riding the horse should be able to turn around one to two circles every time

Turn Around Tips

  • When teaching your horse to turn keep it slow, do not try and turn fast. Your horse may turn one good circle and then step out of the turn before continuing on with the turn once again. This could be because you are asking too much of your horse and he is not ready for it so reward him sooner and build up to a full turn later once he rebuilds his confidence.

  • Your horse might start tripping over his own feet. This is often because he is stiff when he tries to turn. Help your horse by making sure you keep walking a circle before and after you turn. This will teach him to stay soft through his body as he steps around.

  • If your horse is turning on the wrong pivot foot (if you are turning to the left the horse should be pivoting on its hind left foot) you are pulling too far back. To fix this I open my inside hand out wide. I still keep it in line with my hip but further out away from my body trying to encourage the horse to step across with his front legs rather than the back.

Circling Now that I can steer Ruby to where I want to go I can start to teach her to circle. I try to keep this really simple. I imagine there is a set of train tracks forming the circle and my goal is to keep Ruby in the centre of these tracks. If she leans to the outside I steer her back to the centre. If she falls in I steer her back to the outside and so on.

Circling Tips

  • The key to teaching your horse to circle is to not hold them on the circle. You have to let them make the mistake of coming off the circle and then correct it. When the horse is on the circle you have to let him go, otherwise your horse will never circle by themselves.

  • Look where you are going otherwise you will not know if you are on the correct tracks. Break the circle into four quarters. Concentrate on each quarter separately.

Collection I now have Ruby collecting at a trot quite comfortably. Every time I pick up my reins she will lower her head and soften straight away so I can move on to ask for a little collection at the lope. I do the same procedure as in the trot. I apply my legs first, using plenty of inside leg, and half a second later I will pick my hands up about as high as my belt loops and hold them still. I will keep bumping my legs until Ruby softens. This should not take very long if I have done my work well in the trot. As soon as Ruby gives to the bit by lowering and giving her head I will give the reins completely back to her. If I do this every day for the next two months I will have Ruby quite soft.

Collecting the western horse

Collecting the western horse

Collection Tips

  • The worst thing you can try and do is to collect your horse for too long. If you are going around at a lope and have done over a circle and your horse has not given to the bit you need to go back to a trot and make it more simple and clear so your horse can really understand what you mean.

  • If you cannot get your horse to soften at the trot you need to hop off and go to the round pen or arena and bit them up (see the earlier article in the series). You cannot do step 6 if your horse does not understand step 1. Make sure you can walk before you can run!

  • If your horse is giving really well to the bit, a mistake you might make is to get excited and start asking him to hold the collections for a few strides longer. This is a big mistake as your horse will not be solid enough at collecting and will start to lean on the bit. In the first three months riding I do not hold a horse collected for over a second. This way, after three months riding, when I do collect a horse for four or five strides they will know to stay soft and wait for me to release the pressure.

Bitting Up Once a week I will bit Ruby up. This is to make sure she continues to keep soft in the face. If Ruby does start to get a tight spot anywhere I can try and bit her up a certain way to help. For example, if she is a little tight to the right I will tie the right rein to the back right D ring and see if I can get her to bring her nose around a little as I work her in a round pen. The rein must not be tight, only enough to bring her nose around a couple of inches.

Bitting Up Tip

  • I will normally bit Ruby up on a Monday as she is going to be fresh from her weekend off. This way I can put her into ‘work mode’ for the week ahead.

Bitting up

Bitting up

Side Passing I want to make sure I keep side passing Ruby every day. I will continue to use the wall as an aid to stop her going forward. I want Ruby to start to move her head, shoulders and hip in one motion away from my outside leg. This will take four to five months to achieve if we do a little every day.

Side Passing Tip

  • If I am side passing to the left I will walk off to the left once I have completed the side pass. This is because I want to engage the ‘left’ side of the brain.

About Sovereign Quarter HorsesPatrick Hopgood is past assistant trainer at Sovereign Quarter Horses which was established in the 1970s by David and Sarah Deptford. Committed to the breeding, training and showing of Quarter Horses in all disciplines, the Deptford’s are at the forefront of the British western horse scene. Numerous shows are also held at the facility which boasts one of the largest reining arenas in the country. The facility also stands four Quarter Horse stallions, the offspring of which are competing at all levels in the UK and abroad. Visit