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Denali’s Training Journey, A Spirited Young Horse

From the moment of first contact to his advanced riding sessions, we’ll delve into each significant milestone in his training journey. Welcome to this special blog post that takes you through the incredible journey of training Denali, a spirited young horse.

Phase 1: Groundwork Training – Laying the Foundation


The first phase of training with our new equine friend, Denali, is all about first impressions, establishing a basic relationship, and setting the groundwork for future training sessions. The first phase is on mutual understanding and setting expectations for what’s to come.

First Impressions

Initial Contact

Starting with the first time I had the opportunity to put my hands on him. He arrived right at dark last night, and I wanted to get an initial impression of his temperament, responsiveness, and overall demeanor.

Owner’s Information

The owner has informed me that Denali has been handled quite a bit. While this information provides a useful starting point, it’s crucial to validate these details through hands-on interaction.


  • Temperament: He’s not overreactive, which is a positive sign. He seems curious about his new environment but not overly anxious or jumpy.
  • Movement: He’s not jumping all over the place or invading my personal space. He’s just kind of looking around and taking things in, which is a good sign.

Initial Key Training Principles

  1. Awareness and Responsiveness: Denali needs to be aware of his environment but also respond when asked to do something. This balance is crucial for both safety and effective training.
  2. Work Ethic and Routine: Every horse is trained as if it’s going to show, even if it’s not. This approach establishes a routine and instills the work ethic required of a show horse. It also prepares the horse for new environments and situations.
  3. Space and Boundaries: Maintaining personal space is non-negotiable. Denali should not come into my space unless invited, as this could lead to dangerous situations.

Initial Exercises

Lunge Line Work

  • Direction Changes: Denali needs to learn to change directions smoothly. This is initially done by meeting him at the fence and using the lunge line to guide him. He’s not yet comfortable changing directions in open space, so this is an area for future focus.
  • Shoulder Movement: Denali also needs to learn to move his shoulder over when asked. This is a more advanced skill that we’ll delve into in later sessions, but initial impressions are promising.

Face and Send Technique

The “Face and Send” technique involves asking Denali to give his face when asked and then being sent in the direction indicated. This is crucial for control and safety, and it’s one of the first things we work on.

Footwork and Grooming

  • Picking Up Feet: Denali should be comfortable with having his feet picked up. This is especially important for grooming and shoeing. He responded well when asked to pick up his foot, which aligns with the owner’s information.
  • Grooming Routine: Grooming is typically done after the work session as a reward and to get Denali used to the routine. Today, we did minimal grooming just to get him comfortable.

Challenges and Solutions

  • Ignoring Commands: If Denali ignores a command, the “Ask, Tell, Demand” method is employed. I start by asking with a hand gesture, then telling by slapping the ground, and finally demanding by using the whip if necessary. This method was effective in getting him to respond.
  • Distractions: Denali needs to focus on the trainer, even when there are distractions like water or mud. He initially ignored me because of a water puddle, but after some correction, he started to focus more on my commands.

Conclusion and Next Steps

The first phase of groundwork is all about establishing a foundational relationship and setting boundaries. It’s about making Denali understand what is expected of him and ensuring he responds to basic commands. This sets the foundation for more advanced training in the future. Overall, the initial session was promising, and I look forward to documenting our progress in the upcoming phases. The video titled, Pushes into me when the work gets hard, is the video of the first time I worked Denali.

Phase 1 Continued: Groundwork Training – Laying the Foundation

Addressing Aggression and Pressure

Initial Lunging

We’ll start by lunging Denali to get his feet moving. The goal is not speed but responsiveness. We want him to move his feet when asked, without resistance.

Ask, Tell, Demand

We’ll continue to use the “Ask, tell, demand” technique. If he tries to say ‘no,’ we’ll be insistent. This is particularly important for a colt like Denali, who tends to attack when uncomfortable, rather than shy away.

Working Through Aggression

Denali’s tendency to attack when uncomfortable is a behavior we need to correct. We’ll use this session to teach him to be a safe horse while also imparting life skills he’ll need later.

Skill Building for Riding

Following the Nose

We’ll work on getting Denali to follow his nose without rearing up. This is a crucial skill for when he’s ridden. We’ll apply gentle pressure and reward him when he responds correctly.

Long Lining

We’ll introduce long lining to teach him to steer while moving forward. This is another skill he’ll need when ridden. We’ll use the end of the line in our hand like a lunge whip to encourage forward movement.

Addressing Lack of Forward Movement

Denali tends to put his head down and stop, which is a sign of disrespect. We’ll correct this by insisting on forward movement. If he doesn’t move forward, we’ll escalate our demand.

Dealing with Distractions

Denali needs to learn to ignore other horses and focus on the task at hand. This is important for when he’s ridden in a group setting.

Safety Measures

Rope Work

We’ll also do some rope work to ensure he doesn’t panic when the rope touches him. This is part of making him a safe horse to handle.

Dealing with Binds

We’ll intentionally let him get into a little bind to teach him not to panic and to wait for human intervention. This is an important safety lesson.


Today’s session with Denali was focused on addressing his aggression when faced with pressure and teaching him essential skills for riding. We made good progress, and we’ll continue to build on this in future sessions. The video,  Ground work with a pushy dominant horse, documents this part of Denali’s training.

Phase 2: Saddling Denali – Preparing for the Next Step in Training

Grooming and Preparation

Initial Grooming

We’ll start by grooming Denali to get him comfortable with the process and to prepare him for saddling. Grooming is an essential part of horse care, and it’s also a good bonding activity.

Checking for Sore Spots

Before saddling, it’s crucial to check for any sore spots that could cause discomfort. We’ll do a thorough check to ensure he’s in good condition.

Saddling Process

Introduction to the Saddle

We’ll introduce Denali to the saddle gradually. We’ll start by placing a saddle pad on his back and letting him get used to the feel. Then we’ll add the saddle and cinch it up slowly.

First Reactions

Denali’s first reaction to the saddle is crucial. We want him to be comfortable but also to understand that the saddle is non-negotiable. We’ll monitor his reactions closely and adjust our approach accordingly.

Lunging with the Saddle

Once the saddle is on, we’ll lunge Denali to get him used to the feel of it while moving. This is an important step in preparing him for riding.

Challenges and Solutions

Resistance to Saddling

If Denali shows resistance to the saddle, we’ll use the “Ask, Tell, Demand” technique to insist. The saddle is non-negotiable, and he needs to get used to it.

Dealing with Anxiety

If Denali shows signs of anxiety, we’ll take things slow and give him time to adjust. The goal is to make the experience as positive as possible.


Today’s session was all about introducing Denali to the saddle and preparing him for the next phase of training, which is riding. We took things slow, paid attention to his reactions, and made adjustments as needed. The video, First time saddling pushy aggressive horse, shows his first saddling.

Phase 3: Riding Denali – Taking the Training to the Next Level

Preparing for the First Ride

Safety Measures

Safety is our top priority, so we’ll start by ensuring all equipment is in good condition. Denali’s first ride will be while being ponied by Bob. This makes the first ride much safer as Bob helps to give him confidence and can hold him if he does decide to buck. The first ride will be done by my 10 year old granddaughter Lakota.

Mounting Block Training

Before the actual ride, we’ll do some mounting block training to get Denali used to the process. We’ll practice stepping up and down on a mounting block beside him to ensure there are no surprises.

The First Ride

Initial Mounting

The moment has come for the first mount. We’ll approach this cautiously, ensuring Denali is comfortable with the rider’s weight. Ponying him with Bob helps to ensure that everything goes smoothly.

First Steps

Once mounted, we’ll take the first steps cautiously. Lakota will give gentle cues, and we’ll monitor Denali’s reactions closely. The goal is to make the experience as positive as possible.

Challenges and Solutions

Resistance to Riding

If Denali shows resistance, we’ll use the “Ask, Tell, Demand” technique as before. Right now the goal is for Denali to just walk with Bob with Lakota mostly just sitting there. As he gets used to walking with the weight Lakota will start doing some steering.

Dealing with Anxiety

If Denali shows signs of anxiety, we’ll take things slow and give him time to adjust. The goal is to make the experience as positive as possible.


Today was a significant milestone in Denali’s training journey. We successfully introduced riding, took all necessary safety precautions, and made the experience as positive as possible for him. You can watch that first ride in the video, First ride on Denali.

Phase 4: Advanced Riding Techniques – Preparing Denali for the Real World

Skill Building

Canter Work

We introduced canter work to get Denali used to the faster pace. This is an important skill for any riding horse, and we’ll take things slow to ensure he’s comfortable.

Steering and Control

We worked on advanced steering techniques to give the rider more control. This involves teaching Denali to respond to subtle cues from the reins and legs.

Obstacle Work

We introduced obstacles, logs, bridges, ropes, cows, and trail riding for real-world experiences. All of these things are part of the things that a horse is asked to do as a working ranch horse.


Challenges and Solutions

Dealing with Distractions

Denali needs to learn to focus on the rider, even when there are distractions like other horses or obstacles.


Today’s session was focused on advanced riding techniques to prepare Denali for real-world experiences. The blog post, Teaching a busy minded horse to Focus, details the techniques we used to teach him to focus I what we were asking of him when he was distracted.

Denali is now past the initial starting phases of his training and progressing on to be a using and show horse. He attended his first show as a spectator for the experience. Because of the trust and basic skills he learned when he was being started, he is easily making this transition.

Denali’s training journey is a testament to the power of trust, patience, and consistent training. From the initial steps of building trust to mastering advanced riding techniques and preparing for real-world experiences, Denali has come a long way. All of Denali’s videos can be seen in his play list, Denali

I have learned through 25+ years of horse training and showing, I share with you to help you to improve your equestrian knowledge.

2 thoughts on “Denali’s Training Journey, A Spirited Young Horse”

  1. All of your training post are very informative whether you are training, riding or are just have a lifetime love for horses. Thank you for sharing this knowledge, this has probably helped many horses and their riders. I have referred your site to my 19 year old granddaughter who travels the USA competing in polo on her quarter horse.

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