Horse Training on the Range

Horse Training on the Range

Use these ranch-horse training tips when riding pastures.

ranch horse training on the range (Credit: Jim Jennings)

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By Joe Wolter with Andrea Caudill

I have found that if I think more about the horse’s feet and what they’re doing and focus on that, then all other ranch-horse training troubles go away.

That being said, you have to know what the horse does before he decides to do whatever you want him to do. If you pay attention and notice what happens, what the progression is and when those feet are moving, you can start setting him up for what we do want him to do.

When those feet are moving, when can I influence them? When in that horse’s stride can I be effective? That’s what you need to figure out. There is a time in a horse’s stride when you can almost do anything with the horse. There are many other times when you can do nothing with the horse.

So we are looking to get control of the feet. My idea of control is that the horse moved his foot where I wanted it to go and there was no resistance. That’s what I’m after.

The time of control is just before that foot comes off the ground. It is an opportune time to move a foot over, or I can let the horse run into a little resistance to shorten the stride, and it won’t reach as far. If I want to slow it, when that foot hits the ground, I can hold the horse. As the left front foot hits the ground, the right front prepares to leave. I can hold the left and let the right one go. Pretty soon he’s stopped.

There’s nothing you can do with the horse after a foot has left the ground. When it’s in the air, it’s already committed. To the horse, it’s like, “Why is he pulling on me and there’s nothing I can do?”

It’s like trying to turn him when his foot is already on the ground and he has all his weight on it. What is he supposed to do with that? The horse just gets used to be being pulled on, and then he gets stiffer because he thinks about getting pulled on instead of getting directed.

This can be difficult, but if you’re dedicated, you can learn this. When you get a little taste of what togetherness feels like, you will understand.

About the Expert

Joe Wolter grew up around horses, but didn’t start cowboying until after high school. Along the way, he worked for and with Ray Hunt and Bill and Tom Dorrance, and their work inspired his gentle training of horses. An accomplished showman in Versatility Ranch Horse and cutting competition, he started colts for legendary cutting trainer Lindy Burch, and AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeder and Best Remuda winner Four Sixes Ranch.

Joe authored the first training column, “Another Approach,” in our sister publication, America’s Horse, 19 years ago.

Joe and his wife, Jimmie, offer clinics around the country, including at their home ranch in Aspermont, Texas, and their summer facility in Ballantine, Montana. Find more information at