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Starting your own colt
Colt Starting Quiz
Problem Horses, part 1
Fear Problems, part 2
Bad Actors, part 3
The Cold Backed Horse
Want to Compete?
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Common Sense, Horse Sense
Horsemen's Christmas
Rainy Day Training
Try Something Different!
Green Broke
Resolution Time
Going in Circles
Hot Enough for Ya?
Pleasure or Equitation?
Return to Work Carefully
Saving your "Good Stuff"
Holding Western Reins
Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
Cold Weather Warm Up
Expect the Unexpected, 1
Expect the Unexpected, 2
Bad Attitude
Horse of a Better Color?
Power of Exercise
Importance of the Herd
Bath Time
Even Up
Choosing a Martingale
A Good Night's Sleep
Alternative Therapies, Part One
Alternative Therapies, Part Two
Get the Most out of a Clinic
Blanket or No Blanket?
Does Practice Make Perfect?
A Change of Pace
The Power of Observation
On Line Horse Trading

The Right Horse at the Right Time

My first horseback rides were on an ancient Shetland pony. Dottie was pretty much the typical stubborn little horse, and the rides consisted of being led around the yard by one of my older cousins, because Dottie would stop to eat at every available clump of grass. I was under five years old, but it was very obvious that I would have stayed on that pony all day, if my poor cousin could be made to keep leading me around. When I was about seven, my Uncle promoted me up to riding his seventeen year old, less-than-sound gelding, a huge horse with a heart of gold. I rode under Uncle Bill’s tutelage, until he announced that once I could saddle, bridle and mount up by myself, I would be allowed to ride when he wasn’t there. This was quite a challenge considering that Apache was 17 hands tall! Still, it wasn’t long before I had engineered a way to meet the requirements (I tied Apache next to a cattle chute and lugged the saddle up the ramp to where I could get it over his back and still keep the blankets even). I then rode several times a week, all within shouting distance of the house where my mother and aunt would visit with the windows open, just in case. Eventually, I was riding around the quiet back roads of our neighborhood, and by the time I was twelve, Uncle Bill and my folks had decided that I had outgrown Apache and I got my first horse of my own, a five year old gelding chosen for me by experienced Uncle Bill.

This story sounds pretty mundane and typical in the retelling, but there were some aspects that I now look back and appreciate, though I didn’t even realize it then. First, I had an experienced horseman choosing my horses for me. Uncle Bill made sure I was on a horse he could trust, a horse that he knew well. He also made sure that I knew the correct and safe way to handle the horse, the saddling, and the unexpected. While he let me ride on my own some of the time, he also rode with me. Uncle Bill wasn’t into ordering me around, but he was often “reminded” of some horse story that seemed to have some little thing to do with whatever problem or challenge I was facing with the horse or my riding. Those gentle stories, plus his own examples, did more to encourage me as a young horsewoman than any hours of disciplined lessons could have.

Second, I was learning to ride on a horse that knew a lot more about it than I did, but also was a generous soul. There are some horses that recognize a rider’s inexperience or fear and then take advantage of it. There are others who seem to take care of their rider, bolstering her confidence and encouraging trust. Apache forgave my mistakes, and I learned to forgive his. He didn’t learn this overnight – remember he was seventeen years old when I started riding him – but his years of good training before I ever came along made him a perfect learner’s mount.

By the time my Uncle Bill deemed I was ready for my own horse, I had been riding for nearly eight years. I thought I knew everything, but the horse that Uncle Bill found for me quickly set me straight. Fadj was five years old and what I would now call “advanced green broke.” He was plenty of challenge and excitement to keep my interest through my early teens. He also gave me the opportunity to learn about training, to test my commitment, and to explore what specialties of the horse world I might be interested in – kind of like taking an unspecified major the first year of college. I tested out endurance riding, jumping, Western show events, and casual trail riding during the years that I rode Fadj. I learned where my interests were, and also learned the valuable lesson that not every horse is suited to every event. As I became more involved with Western Pleasure, show Trail and Equitation, I also had to come to the realization that these were never going to be Fadj’s strengths.

Most of all, these early years on horseback gave me a wonderful education and a unique perspective on how young riders develop. I often hear tales of kids “growing up with their colt” but in my experience as an instructor, the riders who learned on untrained horses often carry fear and bad habits instead of confidence, even into adulthood. Young riders who are given “the best of the best” and never learn to deal with a challenge might not go as far with their horsemanship as they could, either. That guiding hand, that advanced me to the next horse, and the next challenge, in a careful manner and at the right time, had a great deal to do with the horse person I became.

Doris Eraldi of Eraldi Training in Potter Valley, specializes in training for all around horsemanship. She can be contacted at 707-743-1337, or by e-mail, or read her blog at Horseman's Diary

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