Recently, I attended a Colt Starting clinic taught by master horseman Tom Curtin and held at Hycourt Farm. I brought Lightening Ball (actual spelling), one of our favorite older racehorses here at the LOPE Ranch. While Lightening Ball of course already knew how to be ridden (after racing for 7 years and winning $300K), I thought the Colt Starting class would be a good experience for him.
Sometimes racehorses are started quickly under saddle, often having full-time racing careers as two-year-olds. Because of that, they can have gaps in their foundation work – for example, they might never have learned to stand still while being mounted (since jockeys don't mount from the ground).
And Colt Starting clinics are also good for older horses that might have problems with spooking or bucking or other troubled behaviors.
Tom Curtin grew up in Montana and has had a long career working with some of the most famous ranches in the US (King Ranch, The Four Sixes, Johnson Ranch and 7D Ranch). He counts such horsemanship legends as Buster Welch and Ray and Carolyn Hunt as his mentors.
Tom is adamant about getting along with the horse instead of punishing the animal for doing wrong. He states simply that if you have a job for your horses to do, you have to cooperate and if you fight against your horse it will eventually sell out on you. "When I work with a horse, I want my ideas to seem like good ones to the horse." he says "I approach him in a manner that makes sense to him. I don't go against his instinct. I work with him and not against him and I try to fix it so that my ideas are his ideas." This communication between horse and human is a key point for Tom and is easily seen in all he does with his horses. Tom explains, "My main goal is to have my horse want to help me, to want to be around me."
Lightening Ball is a terrific horse, but he occasionally gets nervous in new situations, sometimes tensing up and spooking slightly in place. And while he and I always had good rides together at the farm, I worried how he might react to new places and situations. He and I had fallen into a bit of a rut, always riding the same pastures, never really stretching ourselves.
So I decided the clinic would be a good "growth experience" for both Lightening Ball and me. And I was right: I learned how to be a better, more confident leader for Lightening Ball – so I could help him through scary situations like walking toward Tom and his flapping training flag.
Lightening Ball was not happy about that flag at first. And I was pretty wary myself, as he started to back up rapidly, trying to escape that dangerous, horse-eating flag. But with Tom’s help, Lightening Ball and I both steadily worked through our nerves – until finally, Lightening Ball successfully (and voluntarily) walked up to the flag and touched his forehead to its flapping fabric.
Lightening Ball and I had many training breakthroughs (and a lot of fun) at Tom's clinic – it was a wonderful learning experience for both of us, thanks to Tom Curtin and the great people at Hycourt Farm!