Colts And Kids

Posted in: Featured, Horse Training, Ranch Life

While in high school and on breaks from college, I started colts for a handy lady named Laurie Robustellini in northern California. She started backyard horses, performance colts, racing mules, re-started older problem horses, and tuned up horses for her clients. If it had hair and would fit under a saddle, Laurie would mess around with it until it was a respectable member of equine society. I learned a lot from Laurie that I took with me when I rode horses for a living in various other settings, and I’ve noticed a lot of concepts transfer to parenting as well. Here are a few of the main ones.

The look in their eye is everything.

Learning to read a horse’s eye is of paramount importance, and so is reading the emotion behind a child’s eye. Sure, colts are going to jump and kick sometimes, or even set up and buck, and kids are going to throw tantrums and glare at their parents, but paying attention to and caring about the look in their eye is huge. A person can tell if a colt is going to buck or is ready to ride by the look in their eye, and a parent needs to be able to tell if a child is bored or fully engaged in an activity by the look in their eye.

Focus on the positive.

Laurie would tell me to focus on and feel good about the positive parts of a ride, even if the best part was watching them run off through the pasture after being turned loose. If Grace throws a fit about going to bed, I’ll tell myself, “Well, at least she didn’t kick me in the face while I put on her pajamas.” There’s always a positive aspect, and we must cling to it no matter how tiny it is, or we’ll get discouraged and give up.

One of the main similarities between kids and colts: both fit nicely in a horse halter.

Girl and halter

Ride your horse where he is, not where you wish he was.

This has become my potty training mantra. My daughter is two and a half and only a little bit interested in doing her business on the toilet. Last summer, I thought that MY child would FOR SURE be fully potty trained by her second birthday. I would do more research, work harder, stay up late, get up early, whatever it took, because I was a goal-oriented, hardworking individual. I overlooked the whole part about the other living, breathing, thinking individual on the other side of the equation.

After many messy mishaps, I quit pushing Grace to sit on the toilet to go. Kids and colts learn and progress at their own pace, and trying to shove a concept down their throats only leads to frustration and anxiety for everyone. Some colts aren’t ready to lope on the first ride, and some kids aren’t ready to use the bathroom by age two. They all get where they need to be eventually.

Colts aren’t consistent.

And, as it turns out, neither are babies or small children. I learned that just because a four-month-old baby sleeps through the night once, doesn’t mean she’ll ever do it again before her second birthday. If a toddler helps pick up her toys one day, don’t place any bets that she’ll do it tomorrow. Colts and kids progress and regress constantly, but if you look at the big picture over time, you’ll see steady progression toward the end goal. You just have to forgive their inconsistencies; they can’t help it.

Work on their minds.

Laurie taught all her assistants to work on our horses’ minds. She is a small woman, about 5’5″ and wears a size 3 Wrangler, so she couldn’t muscle a 1,000-pound horse around even if she wanted to. She taught us to take the time to teach the horse to willingly walk into the trailer rather than drag or shove them in with a mechanical device. I try to teach Grace to decide to do what I want her to do on her own accord. I learned that potty training is much more successful when I allow her to decide to walk to the bathroom on her own, rather than picking her up and rushing down the hall. Of course, a toddler isn’t a horse, so I do use physical strength when necessary, such as when she is kicking and screaming about leaving a friend’s house. Sometimes, you just have to be grateful you are four times larger than your child and pick them up.

Here, Grace is working on Shorty’s mind; notice the slack in the lead rope and the willing look in his eye. He’s like, “Sweet, where are we going now, shorty? Oh, no, wait – I’m Shorty. But you’re short. Can we both be Shorty? I’m so confused right now. Oh, look – a flake of hay!”

Girl and horse

Posted in: Featured, Horse Training, Ranch Life

About Jolyn Young

Jolyn Young lives near Montello, NV with her cowboy husband and 3 small kids. For more, visit

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