top of page

The Information Is Good But Results May Vary

This coming weekend I’m off to Brooks, Alberta, to be one of three judges for the Heart Of The Horse competition! Heart Of The Horse (HOTH) is a colt starting competition put on by the very talented Nikki Flundra. She’s created quite an incredible event, and I was honoured to have her ask me to be one of the judges!

It should be a fun weekend with mini-clinics, and demonstrations put on by the three competitors, as well as Nikki herself. These colt-starting events are becoming more and more common, and I think they’re a real opportunity for the spectator to see multiple different horsemanship methods put into practice while starting two-year-old colts. These competitions give you a birds-eye view of multiple strategies, and for the keen-eyed note-taking viewer, they can be a real learning experience!

The HOTH competition will take place over three days, with the competitors working with their previously unstarted colts and preparing them to be saddled, ridden and finally, shown over an obstacle course on the third and final day.

The goal that all three competitors have is similar, to take their colts the furthest, in the short amount of time, while not overwhelming or overburdening the horse. But how they meet this goal will vary! This is what I think makes these sorts of completions so interesting.

Each of the three competitors will bring their own skillset. A skillset that they have gathered from their mentors and the horses that they have worked with. Although I think I’ll see a lot of similar methods being used, I’m certain that how and when they are applied will vary.

Starting and working with your horses early on in their life has been heavily influenced over the past 20-30 years by the likes of Tom Dorrance, and his student Ray Hunt. Great strides were made in the horse world when colts were started and not broken. It's possible that this may be a play on words more than anything else, but the intention and the mindset shift it creates are important, in my opinion. The shift from "breaking" to "starting" has a lot to do with introducing our will to the horse rather than forcing it. See why I refrain from referring to my horses as "broke" in this video.

Tom & Ray both like to set it up so that what they were asking of the horse became the horse's idea and not their own. They would set it up and then encourage the horse to find it. Once it became the horses' idea, it was easy!

You hear a lot of trainers say they use “Ray Hunt's method” or “so and so’s method,” and I don't think that’s entirely true. What they are really doing is utilizing their interpretation of someone else's method. Although you're paying homage to the person who taught you the skills, which is appreciated, it's possible Ray Hunt would look at your process and not recognize it as his own at all. It's an interesting thought to explore, so let's dive in!

To my knowledge, eyewitness testimony is some of the most flawed and unreliable evidence used in a courtroom. Very often, you will have many people witnessing an event, and if asked to recall it, you'll have as many versions of the event as witnesses. To no fault of the viewer, everyone brings their own biases and preconceived notions. So in saying this, what the individual takes away from his experience, let's say, attending a clinic or taking a course, will be similar to the other attendees, but never the exact same. In practicing the skillset that you acquire, it will vary slightly among your teachers as well as the other students. Everything that we learn gets put through a filter of our own level of understanding and competence and then is applied. So, it becomes your rendition of the method that you learned and will not be the exact same method as the original, if you catch my drift. This is a long way of expressing that your horsemanship methods will always become your own.

The horse will tell you how well you have put into practice what you have learnt. Your horse will always tell on you as to whether or not you’ve been doing your homework. Your horse will progress as far as you take them and will learn as much as you teach. If you’re attending HOTH or a similar event, my advice would be to watch carefully, take notes and take as much away from this learning experience as you can. It’s not often you get to be a fly on the wall during a horse's first colt-starting sessions.

As I said, earlier, I expect to see similar methods used this weekend, but they won't all be the same in practice or outcome. The horse will tell the competitor if they are on the right track, and it'll be a fun weekend seeing it all come together!

If you’re at the HOTH competition this weekend, please stop me to say hi. I enjoy meeting those in the CCU Community in person!

- Keith J Stewart

If you liked this article, you'll love our Cowboy Campus Connection newsletter! Sign up and get all of our best content delivered weekly to your inbox! Sign up here.



bottom of page