Horsemanship is not merely a way to train a horse; it is everything we do with our horses and in our lives. In life and in horsemanship we must have a solid foundation where trust, respect, communication, passion, understanding, love, self-awareness and much more are the building blocks. Whether you know the past or not, being present in that moment is what matters then. However, having the opportunity to learn of the past can certainly propel our own understanding, connection and education. Today you’re going to get a deep dive into the journey, past, present and future, of your host, myself, Colton Woods as the foundation gets laid for The Heart of Horsemanship podcast.
Every week you will have the option to listen to the Heart of Horsemanship Podcast wherever you are, read about the episode on our blog or even watch & listen to the episode on our YouTube Channel! Our goal is to make consuming valuable content as easy as possible for you wherever you are. So lets dive in.
Today my wife and I run one of the most sought after horsemanship programs in the country founded on a mission to ‘Educate Horses and People with a Lifetime in Mind’. Colton Woods Horsemanship brings this mission to life through our world-class boutique horse training program, world-renowned horsemanship clinics, lectures and continuously growing online educational content.
However, this all seems like a fantasy considering I never grew up around horses. It was not until the age of 16 that I ever got involved with horses to any magnitude. In fact I grew up on a golf course with parents who made their living in the realms of international business. A far, far cry from horses to say the least. Not to mention we spent two years living in Mainland China when I was 12-14 years old. Pretty awesome experience to say the least. Basketball, football, golf, tennis, lacrosse… Yep those were the childhood activities I was accustomed to though. Horses were no-where to be seen.
Although, I must mention… There is a story from when I was a week old where his mom helped my Papaw pull a calf at birth and as history has it, I may have got bit by a bug or had some dirt kicked on me from outside the corral that rooted a passion for the land and animals deep down inside.
After working for my parents for several years, I had finally turned 16 which meant I was able to get around town and in my eyes get a new job that had me outside on a farm somewhere. Personally I was thinking a cattle farm, but turns out a good friend of mine, since kindergarten; well her family had a horse farm with hunter jumper horses just 20 minutes away. So that summer I worked as your essential barn helper cleaning stalls, turning in/out, feeding, watering, sweeping (lots of sweeping), grooming, stacking hay and assisting with kids camp. Now mind you, I knew NOTHING about horses! Not a dang thing. So for one, I’m forever grateful they hired me. And two- something interesting happened that summer. They had a trainer working there that one day asked me what I wanted to do for a career with horses. Still not knowing much but enjoying my job with horses, I suggested that I might be interested in training. My remark was followed with a quick scoff and statement: “I’ve been riding since I was 3 or 4, you’re 16 now and never ridden. Folks that are going to be professional trainers grow up riding since they can sit up.” Well guess what… I was a hardheaded 16-year-old kid that took that as ‘Challenge Accepted’. Now later on, I found a much bigger ‘why’ to my horsemanship, but her remark has certainly stuck with me.
From there I went on to work at Rick Gault Training, a world class Arabian show barn where we traveled the East Coast and up to Canada every summer for horse shows. My four summers with Rick and the RGT team and family was instrumental in my education. I got broke in early, 3 days on the job going to my first horse show where we took 32 or 33 horses to Lexington, VA. You read that right… From there things have been pretty easy sailing cause that first show laid a foundation for what became my new normal but later found out was definitely the outlier to the norm. I also had some interesting horse show living accommodations throughout that first show that caught my by surprise as I was definitely not prepared. That’s a whole story in itself we cover in the podcast though.
How I Found My ‘Why’
During my junior year of high school I started into this academic program known as the International Baccalaureate program and part of its requirements were a 150 service hours prior to graduation. In January of 2011 I began working with an organization known as SHERR for short (Safe Haven Equine Rescue and Retirement). Initially my functions as the youngest hands available were assisting with the labor-intensive tasks. Building fence, stacking hay, shoveling limestone into stalls for bases and plenty of other glamorous tasks ;) However after about 6 months of assisting at the farms and going on several rescue excursions with the team, even taking on one of my own which involved capturing and relocating a zebu off a golf course, I began to see a problem with the current system. We were fantastic at rescuing and rehabbing the neglected and abused horses in a timely manner. The problem was when you looked around there was quite a few good-looking, many fairly young, horses that had no signs of leaving. Why…? Well I learned it was as basic as them not having an education that would make them more desirable from the public. Truth of the matter is not everyone is willing or can afford to take on a pasture ornament to live out its days. So with that being said and having worked at RGT for at least one summer, I knew I didn’t have a fully loaded toolbox but I did know a few things that could benefit these horses. So we set up a round pen and I got permission to start working with a few of the horses in hopes of making them more desirable. With lots of time spent in that round pen learning through trial and error and taking things pretty dang slow, I was able to get the horses super quiet and desensitized (maybe too much looking back on it), their ground manners were solid and they could be bridled and pack a saddle around quietly. As I was able to do this with more and more horses, SHERR worked with other local professionals who would donate 30-60 days of their training on these horses after I had worked with them on the bare basics and the next step was their education under saddle. We started rehoming a fair few horses through this model and still today I get updates on some of the horses that we worked with which is super awesome. It was that need for an education that those horses had though that really sparked my journey into horsemanship.
And then there is this story… I had been volunteering with SHERR for just over a year or so when I had a pretty bad accident with a horse (totally my lack of experience which proved later to be bad judgment which is now chalked up as experience). The same night of that accident we were headed to see a film that was debuting in a local theatre. That film happened to be Buck. Yep, you cannot make this stuff up… I got there with hoof prints on my back and leg while sporting what is suspected to be a pretty good concussion, the whole town had already heard about my mishap just an hour before and then I sat there in amazement. Amazed because I connected so much with the style, feel and approach but also because there was someone out there in the world, doing what I had been trying to do in the round pen with these rescue horses, with so much finesse and actually making a living doing it. I left hooked and thirsty for knowledge.
Later I attended my first Buck clinic at Flintrock Farm in Reidsville, NC and began doing whatever I could to learn more about and from those that were teaching and taking horsemanship to the highest levels. Of course the style of the Vaquero style horsemanship and what it stood for spoke to my soul, but at this point I had not even latched onto a specific discipline.
“If you get hurt or something happens you’ll still have your education.”
It came time to go to college and I was headed to the University of Kentucky initially set on earning a degree in Sustainable Agriculture and Agricultural Economics but the day before classes started I changed my major to Equine Science and Management with a Business focus and a minor in Agricultural Economics. However, I landed my first internship before I ever started classes. It was at Taylor Made Sales Agency, one of the premiere leading Thoroughbred Consignments and Breeding operations in the world. There we spent one week on their farm in their Yearling Division learning how to prep, care for, exercise and show thoroughbred yearlings to the top international customers in the world. It was here, before I even started college, that I made the connection that would become my first job out of college. Then we spent a week at the September Yearling Sale at Keeneland working. This entire experience was extremely eye opening to a whole new world and league of the horse industry.
Throughout my college experience I took on two more internships before graduating. Hands down I believe internships are one of the most valuable experiences anyone can pursue to take their knowledge, experience and networking to the next level. One of those internships was courtesy of the Legacy of Legends Scholarship Program founded by Buck Brannaman and Carolyn Hunt, wife of the late Ray Hunt. During my LoL internship I was blessed to spend several weeks with horseman, Kip Fladland, in Griswold, Iowa where I got my first big splash into the vaquero style of horsemanship with someone who made their livelihood training horses for the public. I was still very green. In fact I was pretty much learning to get my seat while learning to start colts. The internship not only provided some extremely valuable horse experience but it fostered incredible life and business experience. Many nights I laid awake watching the ceiling fan go around and around wondering if I’d ever get the simplest things figured out with my buckskin filly. By the time it was time to depart, as I was headed to North Dakota to meet my RGT team for my final trip to Canada with them for Canadian Nationals, I felt like I was just scratching the surface. I was thirstier than ever for more knowledge and still had two years ahead of me in college before I’d graduate and that was still with graduating a year early.
So over the next two years I started colts before and after class, was extremely active in growing the brotherhood in Alpha Gamma Rho (AGR), the top agricultural social and professional fraternity and had my sights on furthering my horsemanship post college.
The Beginning of the Rest of Our Lives
Or something like that… At least that is what they stereotypically say at the commencement ceremony. Regardless, graduation finally had arrived and I was ready for the next step. Now many may think that sounds ridiculous and strange so let me clarify. College was a blast, class was not. And when you know what you want to do, you’re ready to get that ball rolling. So, lets roll!
I had a week between graduation and flying to Chicago, Illinois where I joined the Double Dan Horsemanship USA team. Over the next 17 months I worked as the Assistant Trainer for Dan James caring for the team of horses, traveling to and assisting with clinics and expos all across the country fulfilling my three main goals of 1) Furthering my Horsemanship 2) Seeing the Country and 3) Meeting New People. I learned a lot during my time with DDH.
Then in October of 2016, my girlfriend became my fiancé and we decided it was time to embark on our own journey. We set up in Paris, Kentucky at Meadow Haven Farms, home to Mallory Quarter Horses where we started our training operation.
Today at our home facility, Queenslake Farm in Georgetown, KY, we run a very specialized, boutique training program catering to a select number of clients and their horses. Coupled with the training program, we also teach a variety of private and public clinics all across the nation helping people and their horses take their horsemanship to a whole new level. Our client horses and clinic participants range from those who ride recreationally to FEI level competitors whom participate in disciplines from dressage and reining to trail riding, hunter jumpers, cow horses and the list goes on. And as if that was not enough, we have been building our Performance Horse breeding program which has been a huge passion project of mine as I have always been breeding or raising something since I was a little kid. Honestly, I love the process. So we have all of those things going on plus my wife also runs her own Equestrian Lifestyle Branding and Marketing business, Maredith Davis Design. I have her to thank for this awesome website and amazing graphics.
Now you’ve had the deep dive into where I’ve been, what we are up to and now I’m super excited to share what we have in store.
The Heart of Horsemanship Podcast is going to be both a solo and collaborative show. What that means is there will be episodes where I exclusively dive deep onto topics that get to the heart of horsemanship and then there will be shows where we welcome incredible guests on to share their knowledge, wisdom, experience, journeys and much more. We will continue building upon our mission to Educate Horses and People with a Lifetime in Mind and it is our focus to bring you the absolute most value we possibly can on a weekly basis.
So if you have read this far, thank you! It is humbling to say the least. Now lets get to it and dive into Episode #2 on the Heart of Horsemanship Podcast! Click here to read and listen.
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