Horses are sometimes rushed to get to a show ring, race-track, or arena. The horse will tell you what he can handle, and quite a bit about yourself ... if you'll listen.
I've been traveling the globe for the last 29 years teaching horsemanship that I learned from great horseman such as Ray Hunt, Tom Dorrance, and Bill Dorrance. In this nearly three decades of work I've never progressed to the point where anyone appointed me to judge others in what they do!
The most successful teachers to me are not those who tell you of others and what they do that they don't like; great mentors have something to offer about themselves.
For me, I don't have a tight schedule to follow according to a show career for my horses, although I occasionally do show. My goal is to make a fine “Bridle Horse” in the vaquero tradition. If you're afraid of commitment, you might as well move on to the next article, friend!
I live in Wyoming and we can have pretty harsh weather, even in late April or early May, so since we foal outside our colts are generally born in May and June, which is very late for a futurity horse. All the mares we breed are proven to be good riding horses, with good feet, number 1 shoes or bigger, and good bone.
In the first month we catch the colts in a confined area such as a large foaling stall, with the mare outside in sight so they don't fret much. I use a catch rope made into a knot rope so it won't close all the way and cut off their air. I do basic groundwork as I teach in a colt-starting class, getting simple control of their feet, and just getting my hands on them and rubbing. I don't use a halter this early, as there's too much power over them. I want them to operate on a “feel”. I mess with them a few days then they go to the hills as there's grass coming! They stay out until weaning time and just become a “horse”. During this time they are in school with their mother, time well spent.
We wean them at seven or eight months as opposed to six, it seems to give you better growth. Then I truly begin the haltering process. I will work with them about 10 days doing basic groundwork.
I then turn them out again for a couple of months. During the first 2 years I might catch them 30 times and play with them. That's enough for me; even if they come in a little worried they will come around fast.
When they are 2 years old I start them and put about 10 rides on them, just enough to get them gentle, where I could swing a rope on them, maybe move some cattle on short rides, maybe catch a couple calves on them at a branding ... simple stuff.
As three-year olds they will get around 30 rides, and still be in the snaffle bit.
When they are four I start to ride them quite a bit more as they are almost physically mature. During this year they will progress from the snaffle to the hackamore. They'll see quite a bit of cow-work and roping and be getting pretty handy.
When they’re five I am then on a steady schedule of work, slowly advancing toward the two-rein and then straight up in the bridle in the next couple of years. If a person wanted to take twice as long it wouldn't matter all that much.
Barring anything unusual my horses are enjoying a very productive life, working way into their teens and early twenties.
We're all doing the best we can with what we know, I believe this about people so this is what I do. When I know more ... I'll get back to you.