Horses Don’t Know How To Read The Clock

Everybody with any interest in horses seems to have an attraction for colt starting clinics.

These events have become a popular attraction around the country and always draw a large audience. Most of them have strong similarities, typically following the “Horse Whisperer” techniques, which have become more known and popular since that movie of the same title.


Yet, each session has uniqueness, generally with at what pace the horse is progressed. It is typically related to what are claimed as differences in individual horses. However, most clinicians climax their presentations by riding the horse, with which gait determining the level of accomplishment.

Ken McNabb was unusual in the workout with his project horse that no attempt was made to mount and ride it.

From Cody, Wyoming, McNabb was raised a rancher and continues a ranching operation with his wife, DeeDee, and their two young sons, Kurt and Trent. Training horses from an early age, McNabb became interested in the psychological approach and gentling techniques used by John Lyons and became one of the fist certified John Lyons Trainers.

Now committed to transferring his expertise to students, McNabb spends many days as a clinician from coast to coast and from Texasto Alaska. “I want them to become the rider-trainer themselves,” he noted. “I believe that with the right training, mediocre horses can become good horses, and good horses can become great.”

Additionally, McNabb emphasized, “ I believe that any rider and any horse can find their best  potential given the right opportunity.”

Proof of McNabb’s personal abilities comes in his winning several colt-starting competitions, including the Mane Event Expo in Vancouver, Washington, and the Trainers Challenge in Chilliwack, B.C. Canada.

It’s in the blood, because his sons, billed as the McNabb Brothers, presented an EquiFest program: “Ground Control For Your Pony.” DeeDee McNabb’s EquiFest program on“Secrets To Simple Dutch Oven Cooking” was also a crowd-pleaser.

With a gentle Paint Horse that had been handled since birth, McNabb opened his “Colt Starting –Part 1” by moving the horse around the round pen at leisure with no halter or rope.

He had his 60-foot cotton rope in hand to prod the horse if there was no response from body and verbal cues. “I can reach out and touch him if necessary,” McNabb  said.

“I don’t do anything with my horses out behind the barn that I don’t do here in public,”McNabb emphasized. “He needs to become used to the pen, the people, the lights and the environment which is strange to where he came from.”

The biggest problem with people in handling their horses, according to McNabb, is “lack of patience.” He insisted, “Way too much pressure is placed on horses in the
beginning. We live by the clock, but horses will never, ever be able to read time. This horse needs time to play, have a good time and get it out of his system in order to learn.”

Horses are flight animals by nature and will run when feeling threatened. “In the wild, a horse will look to his band leader in time of possible harm and follow that horse away from the danger,” McNabb explained. “However, once this horse realizes you and I aren’t trying to hurt him, I can become his leader, and he’ll look to me for direction.

“We can’t be equal partners though. Somebody has to be in charge. There is the actor
and the reactor,” the clinician continued. “I must be the actor all of the time and cause the horse’s reaction.”

As the horse came from a run down to a fast trot and then a walk, he started looking toward McNabb instead of glaring at the audience. Soon, he’d again move out, and at that point, McNabb prodded him on faster. “He must learn that he can rest and relax
with me, and it is work to go away,” the trainer explained.

All levels of horsemanship can be developed through body and verbal language, McNabb contended. “We  must establish a relationship that we both understand,” he noted. “When I turn away from the horse, I’m ignoring him, and he becomes inquisitive, wondering why? As I face him and point my shoulder to him he’s learning to move.”

Again, the Paint stopped, relaxed and licked his lips. “He’s beginning to understand that I’m not such a bad thing after all,” McNabb evaluated.

When the horse moved away, again he was prodded for speed, to make it work and not play anymore. Each time he moved away, the horse stopped sooner and eventually faced McNabb. Before long, he was moving toward the trainer, who could eventually touch him, but again the horse took flight.

With persistence of the pattern, before long the Paint came to the clinician, accepted his comfort-point, becoming more relaxed and seemingly appreciating the affection
instead of the pressure. “I’m not going to beg for his attention, but he’s found out it’s much easier than running off,” McNabb critiqued.

Then the horse was haltered, touched all over with the rope, rubbed down with a blanket, and saddled, without any negative response.

Instead of putting personal weight in the saddle or attempting to ride the Paint, McNabb removed the halter and worked the horse again around the pen.

“I’m riding this horse from the ground,” McNabb related as he put his lariat around the saddle horn and continued moving the horse in the pen.

Although appearing excited initially, the Paint soon relaxed and responded to McNabb’s requests, with pressure placed on the saddle, through the tightened rope.

“He should be ready for me to get on tomorrow,” McNabb remarked. “We are building a program for the horse. We always want to give him the best deal.

“We always want to say thank you to the horse for what he has done,” the trainer said as he let the horse relax and rubbed him on the neck.

“We never spend enough time saying ‘thank you’ to our horses,” McNabb concluded.

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