A Lesson from a Peter Campbell Colt Starting Clinic
Sadly, Peter Campbell passed away about 10 days after this article was published. I have never met a clinician more dedicated to the horse than Peter. The paint gelding pictured with Peter at left was a rescue horse from Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society. Peter offered to halve his normal colt starting fee for this horse, and his work with Buster resulted in the gelding’s adoption at the event. Thanks Peter!
A few days ago I spent much of the day watching the Peter Campbell Horsemanship clinic in Giddings, TX. I’ve been a spectator at Peter’s clinics in the past, and I’ve had the opportunity to talk with him at the Giddings clinic and at Legacy of Legends in Fort Worth.
There’s a lot to ponder when you watch someone like Peter work with horses in Horsemanship, Cow Working and Colt Starting. There’s a lesson every minute, but if I spend most of my time taking notes, I miss watching what Peter’s doing in the arena. It’s easy to focus on comments and miss broad principles.
Luckily, I found a blog post by Lynn Reardon that describes five big principles she learned from a Peter Campbell Colt Starting Clinic two years ago. I’ll review Lynn’s five lessons and add one of my own.
Lynn’s Five Lessons from a Peter Campbell Colt Starting Clinic
Lynn Reardon is the Executive Director of LOPE – LoneStar Outreach to Place Ex-Racers. In her blog post, she describes her experience in taking a LOPE horse to the Peter’s clinic in Giddings. This horse had been adopted from LOPE, and then returned when the adopters couldn’t keep him. Although the horse had been ridden and had been through foundation training at LOPE before that adoption, Lynn placed him in the Peter Campbell Colt Starting clinic because the horse had become hard to handle during his adoption. These are Lynn’s lessons based on what she’s been able to deduce from this horse’s behavior and from Peter’s work with the horse in Colt Starting. The quotes are Lynn’s, but I’m to blame for the comments with Lynn’s five lessons.
Don’t Hand Feed Treats
If your goal is to have a happy, safe horse who rides well and is a pleasure to handle, then don’t regularly hand feed treats as a primary bonding tool or training method.
Horses are not dogs. If you feed hand treats, you’ll encourage your horse to nip or bite. You won’t be establishing the respect that you need for a good partnership.
Don’t Blame the Horse
Your horse is a mirror — he reflects back with great accuracy how he has been handled and ridden.
Horses are individuals. Some will “go with the flow” and some tend to test the boundaries of their situation. Spend time with your horse and know the horse you’re working with. They’re not like your car to start up and go for a ride.
Be Honest with Yourself
Sometimes a green horse isn’t the right choice for your capabilities, time constraints and overall goals.
You can have a compliant green horse who’s easier to work with than a test-the-rider well-trained horse. Be honest with yourself about the type of horse you can work with, and try to find that kind of horse in your horse-buying search.
Focus on Educating Yourself Instead of Training Your Horse
Go to clinics, learn from good teachers and put the emphasis on your skills first.
Take some riding instruction! If your riding instruction was several decades ago, get some refresher instruction. If your horse feels like you’re about to fall off, he may help you.
If You Think OTTBs or Ex-Racers Are Crazy, Don’t Get One
They don’t need owners who are already predisposed to bias and the lack of clarity it brings to assessing training outcomes.
Again, horses are individuals. Consider them as such when you’re looking for a horse. Breed, breeding, and background only tell you so much about the horse. Work with the horse on the ground and in the saddle, and be honest with yourself about your abilities before you bring one home.
My Lesson from the Peter Campbell Colt Starting Clinic (and 50+ Years of Experience)
Time is the most precious thing you can give your horse. Perhaps sometimes we’re tempted to hand-feed treats to make up for time not spent with our horses. Time riding our horses, training our horses and caring for our horses helps develop that respectful partnership that will work well for you in the arena and on the trail.
I believe that with enough time spent working with our horses, we can overcome mistakes in training and mistakes in riding. Most horses will fill in for us when we encounter a situation that could cause a wreck IF our horses have confidence in us and trust in our relationship.
During a break in the clinic on Thursday, I asked Peter about what to do if you’re 65 years old (like I am) and not 25 like his assistant doing a demonstration on a green horse. Peter talked about riding at a gallop and jumping tree limbs on that green horse if necessary to gain control over the horse’s feet. I may not be riding on a gallop on a green horse or doing much jumping, but I can sure develop a better seat and a better feel for my horse by riding more hours over varied terrain. More time spent with your horse will improve your skills and strengthen your partnership.
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