Colt Starting - Part 5

Using his programme for months five to eight of training a young western horse, Patrick Hopgood adds refinement to some basic manoeuvres applicable in all disciplines.


To stop from any one of the three 'stop' cuesTo lock into a turnaround and turn unaidedTo collect by breaking more at the pole than withers while circlingTo counter canter at least two large circles on each reinTo be able to move the hip softly in both directions at a walk


Now that Ruby stops every time I ask her, with the reins and from my voice, I'm going to start to isolate the 3 cues I use to stop a horse. These are saying 'whoa', pulling the reins and putting weight in the stirrups (by pushing my feet slightly forward). If I can get Ruby to stop great on three different cues, then when I go to show her I can use all three at once and know that there is a lot more chance she will stop.

I start this process at a trot. I make sure to leave my hand down, my reins loose and say 'whoa', with just my weight in the stirrups. If ruby does not stop then I go to the reins. I repeat the procedure by saying 'whoa' and pulling the reins. When Ruby understands the three different cues I will start to speed her up a little and ask her to stop. However, I only want to speed her up enough so she is just out of her comfort zone. When she does get comfortable with the pace, I can then speed her up a little more.


  • When isolating the cues, don't cheat. Make sure you give your horse half a second to stop before you pull the reins

2Turn Around

Ruby is at the stage where she can turn a couple of circles comfortably every time I ask her to turn around. I now want to teach her to really lock into the turn and to start wanting to turn herself. Ruby has to be able to turn around one to two times correctly every time before I can start to teach her to do this. I like to do this as I want my horses to want to spin. If I am holding them in the turn and making them spin, I will never be able to maximise their turn. I continue doing what I was doing before with the turn around, this is to walk a circle and apply my indirect rein. She will now start turning but I have to hold her in the turn.

colt starting

colt starting

I want to be able to release the pressure with both reins and keep her turning. When I first release she will most probably stop, so I will then bump her with my outside leg to ask her to keep moving. Now Ruby may pop out of the turn and walk forward. If this happens I pull her back into the turn and help her to start turning again. I try not to turn over two to four turns otherwise I will lose my turn all together! I keep doing this until Ruby realises that when I apply the outside rein she is to start turning and keep turning without my help.


  • Once your horse does turn by itself you will have to keep swapping back and forth from helping your horse to letting them turn by themselves otherwise the turn will start to become incorrect.

3Circling and Collection

Ruby can now go around on a circle herself and if I pick up on the reins she collects. I now want to teach Ruby to go around collected on a circle without me having to keep picking up the reins to collect her. This is very simple but takes a long time so I try to achieve just a little each day. I do this by changing the way I collect Ruby. I now pick the reins up a lot higher, almost as if I am trying to pull her head up; I still make sure I apply my legs first though. The first couple of times I do this she will take a couple of seconds to give her face to the bit but if I have done my previous work correctly she will not take too long to figure this out. I collect her like this for a number of reasons - it makes her break over the bit at the poll more and will help connect her body to her face.

Once again I do this at a trot for a couple of days before attempting it at a lope. If I just collect straight back all the time I will get Ruby breaking over at the withers which is not what I want. When Ruby becomes comfortable with this form of collection I then want to put her on a circle and every time her head comes out of frame I collect her like this and put it back. I do this over and over until she starts to leave her head where I want it. Be patient as this can take several months.

Colt starting

Colt starting


  • One problem you may findis that your horse startsputting their head too lowwhen you are collecting themor after you have collectedthem. This is not a bad thingas this is what you areteaching them; however itcan become a problem so tofix this I just drive themforward with my legs. If youare collecting them keepdriving them with your legsuntil they bring their head upto where you want it.

4The Counter Lope

The first step to changing leads is to teach your horse how to lope on the wrong lead correctly. This is called a counter lope. For example, if I am on my left lead and I am loping a right circle I am counter loping. The reason I do this is because it allows me to control my horse’s lead change, it stops my horse anticipating the lead change and also breaks up the lead change into a couple of parts.

As I explained in my first article, horses have two sides of the brain and when we change leads we are changing sides of the brain. If we are counter loping and change leads we are not changing sides of the brain which is a massive advantage. If I am loping a circle to the left on the left lead I will put my right leg on Ruby, move her head around to the right and start to guide her round on a right circle. I want her to be soft in the neck and bending her nose round more than normal to the right. The main thing I want to remember when counter loping is that Ruby does not fall in with her shoulder.

If she changes leads I will not punish her as eventually this is what I want her to do. I just stop her, roll her back onto a normal circle (staying on the same lead I was on) and go back on the counter lope as soon as I can. Your horse will figure this out quite quickly but it is important that you counter lope your horse one or two circles everyday for a couple of months before you even attempt to change leads otherwise you will lose your counter lope as it will not be solid enough.


  • When counter loping for the first time, counter lope big circles as this will help give your horse confidence as it will be a lot easier for them.

  • It is very important to get your horse to counter lope correctly and to be confident doing it. The danger is that when you come to change leads and your horse isn’t confident in the counter lope, he will start trying to change every time which can lead you into a lot of trouble.

5Shifting the Hip

By now Ruby knows how to side pass very well so I now want to teach her to shift her hip across. This is very important as without achieving this I will not be able to change leads properly. This exercise will also help my lead departure and many other manoeuvres like stopping and the turn around. I keep it simple. I walk Ruby in a straight line bumping both my legs pushing her into her face. If I am pushing her hip to the left I will take off my inside leg (in this case my left leg) and apply my outside leg (right leg) putting it on and off as if I am side passing. If Ruby tries to side pass I will use both legs to push her forward a little. Once she goes forward I will ask her to push her hip again. This is just a juggling technique, but as soon as she gives her hip to the right I will walk forward again pushing her into her face and softening her. It is important to keep a forward motion as it will help the horse pick up the manoeuvre properly. The softening also helps the horse to push its hip softly, which is what we want.


  • Keep forward motion. Don’t let your horse stop or even side pass too much. If they do, apply both legs and make them go forward and then ask for the hip again.

  • If your horse is fighting your outside leg and does not want to move off it go back to side passing your horse. Do not try and push your horse’s hip if your horse cannot side pass.