Colt sorting and colt starting are two completely different areas of horse training and ownership. Colt sorting refers to the process of taking a herd of wild horses and separating the colts from the mares. Colt starting refers to the initial training of a colt to make it into a competent, well-behaved animal.
Some people think the term “colt” means any juvenile horse. However, a colt is actually a male horse under four years old. These young males are the target of colt sorting.
To begin this process, wild herds are corralled using helicopters and a “pilot horse.” The helicopters will round the horses up and herd them towards the desired area. Mothers and their offspring are protected from being trampled by the rest of the herd. If the horses start to run, they are turned around to slow them down. That way, no young foals are hurt in the process.
The pilot horse has already been trained to run ahead of the herd of wild horses and lead them into the corral. The point of a corral is to make it easier to sort the colts from the rest of the horses. When the horses are segregated into groups from within the one big corral, mares and their young ones are kept together.
Some people may think it is cruel to take young colts from their mothers, but in the wild, the stallion of the herd will eventually force out the male colts anyway. The colts that are taken from their mothers as a result of human colt sorting have usually been weaned from their mothers already.
The best way to separate a colt from the mare is to send the mares and colts in small groups through narrower passageways connected to their corral. Step between the mare and the colt after the colt runs down the passageway. Do not let the mare follow the colt but make her go back to the main corral.
Starting colts, also known as “breaking colts,” is the term used to describe the procedure used to teach a colt to carry a rider and use necessary equipment.
The most important trick to starting a colt is to gain the colt’s confidence. If the colt cannot trust you, you will not be able to train him successfully.
Part of the process in gaining trust is “sacking out.” This means teaching the colt not to be afraid of or “spooked” by your movements.
You can start this process when the colt is one year old. The colt will simply be tied and groomed at regular intervals to get him used to human touch and movement around him.
Colt training moves slowly. Again, the reason for this is to establish the colt’s trust. So by the time the colt is approximately two years old, most trainers will actually begin the more hard-core training.
You can start this more in-depth training with your colt by leading and running him around a round pen. The next step is called “driving.” You walk behind the colt in the round pen, and teach him to respond to your commands and tugs on the rein. Important verbal commands to be taught at this time are “whoa,” “stand,” and “back.” You will teach him to go to the right or to the left just by using the reins.
If you feel the colt is ready, get him ready to carry weight on his back. Have him regularly wear a blanket until he loses all his nervousness about it. Some folks will tie a rope around the colt and have him wear that to prepare him for the feel of a saddle. After he is used to the blanket and/or the rope, put the saddle on him. You can tie the two stirrups together on the saddle to get him used to some weight and force coming from the stirrups.
Eventually, you will want to start putting some weight in the saddle. Begin by putting your foot into just one stirrup; when the colt gets used to it, put both feet in both stirrups. Ride the colt for a few minutes around a small pen. After that short ride, just lead the colt around the pen for a while. Eventually, you can progress to rides for a quarter of an hour in duration.
Never introduce pain when you are starting a colt. The colt will then just associate pain with what you are trying to teach him. If he is afraid, he will be nervous, and he will not trust you.
My advice is to get a trainer with special experience in colt starting if you have an untrained colt. Even a really good horse trainer will not be able to break a colt properly if he is not specifically experienced in this area. You do not want your colt taught bad habits that are hard or impossible to correct later on.