Books on colt starting/groundwork/restarting adult horses with positive reinforcement/minimal force

Branching off from this thread about my first horse, does anybody have recommendations for colt starting, groundwork, or adult restarting books that use training methods that aren’t forceful/aversive? Clicker training/pos reinforcement would be great but at the crux of it I don’t want to put money into books that amount to ‘smack them until they move’, etc. Thanks !

Podcasts and youtube channels also loved.

I’d recommend Vladimir Littauer’s Schooling Your Horse

I read it before starting my young horse and it’s worked super for us!


I would highly recommend this book:

You mentioned in another thread that you’re a career scientist. You might appreciate evidence-based training methods, which the above is based on. Only volume 1 is available at the moment, with the rest to be released around April (it says on the website), but this series is an update of an existing volume called ‘Academic Horse Training’ which is a step by step approach to training from the ground up. You might be able to find used copies of that book, if you’re interested. All the groundwork methods translate to ridden work (so all cues for undersaddle work are first taught on the ground). It’s not liberty or round pen work, it’s training cues using a halter, bridle and contact. While it’s primarily using negative reinforcement as a motivator (ie pressure/release) the use of positive reinforcement (mainly scratches) is incorporated and promoted.

The goal is to remove confusion for the horse, and replace it with clarity, consistency and predictability.


I recommend Common Sense Horsemanship by Vladimir Littauer. He actually does mention using treats, despite the book being otherwise very old school.

One book I wouldn’t recommend—though you might want to read it just to say you did—is Hannah Weston’s Connection Training. No big revelations in that book. If you’re familiar with the basics of clicker training and behavior shaping, it will only tell you what you already know. It didn’t get me past the trouble I was having getting my horse to relax, focus, and cooperate under saddle, but instead just repeated the thesis that if you consistently reward good behavior and develop positive associations, everything will eventually fall into place. I could see it working for a barn sour horse who is otherwise confident, but for a green horse, you need a more solid foundation than what Hannah’s approach can give you.

Another influencer to follow if you’re into R+ in the horse world is Shawna Karrasch. She’s the “sea world lady” (the former marine mammal trainer who switched over to training horses). She has a podcast. It’s ok, but Karen Rolfe’s podcast is probably better. I will say it’s hard to learn much from a podcast. Personally, I can’t say I learned much practical horsemanship knowledge from either Shawna Karrasch or Karen Rolfe, but I’ve enjoyed listening to both.

And if you just like to watch pretty videos of liberty riding and groundwork, you should follow Featherlight horsemanship on Instagram. She uses pressure and release, not R+, but she has some really successful and inspirational case studies. That said, I paid for her online course for a month and found it pretty disappointing. She’s very good at describing the feelings and goals associated with her techniques, but doesn’t explain in clear, practical steps what she’s doing and what you should do. So you walk away with a good sense of the feeling you’re trying to achieve, but then you’re in the round pen with your horse and you realize you didn’t really learn anything. IMHO she’s better just to watch on Instagram. Her instructions are most likely so vague and horse-focused because she doesn’t want it to be formulaic, but when you’re just starting out, you NEED a formula.

Let’s see…who else? You can read lots of online diatribes by Shelby Dennis, but just take it with a grain of salt. I went through a radicalized R+ horse training phase myself, so needless to say, I read all her blog posts and was very fired up on the subject. But at some point you re-emerge from the world of blogs and aphorisms and carefully edited videos, and you realize it’s a lot of hot air from people who frankly aren’t doing much with or asking much from their horses.

I had a lot of success clicker training my horse to do many fun, cute things, including run over from the other side of the arena to line up at the mounting block at liberty. So I know it works. But it did not stop said horse from bucking me off at the slightest provocation, rearing in the cross ties, striking at the farrier, or working himself into a sweat in a stall.

I didn’t make progress in those areas until I started using pressure and release training methods and really looking at myself and how unclear I was being (ie, while trying to be soft, I was being vague). I know this is the last name you’d want to hear on this list, but the videos that ended up helping me the most were Clinton Anderson’s, and believe me, I only tried it as a last resort. I think it’s unfortunate because the people who probably would most benefit from his approach are the ones most put off by it. He comes across as a bully, but he does make things black and white. Sometimes you have to look at yourself and take that into consideration combined with your training approach. Me doing my best Clinton Anderson impression is more like Yvette from featherlight horsemanship in practice. Me doing my best impression of Yvette is just nonsense as far as my horse is concerned. So, these are my $0.02! Just take everything on balance and don’t give up.


If you’re looking for generic horse training resources, you might get more responses in the Off course section of the forum. Looking forward to seeing everyone’s suggestions.

While I haven’t started a horse using Warwick Schillers new attuned horsemanship way, it’s done wonders for my three horses just in ground work and reducing anxiety and reactions to scary things. I wouldn’t hesitate to start a horse using his methods.


I liked “Right from the Start” by Mike Schaffer:

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The Man Who Listens to Horses - Monty Roberts

I like Linda Tellington-Jones’ books and videos. Lots of innovative groundwork and communication, with a healthy dose of physical therapy.

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Why do we say colt starting and not colt and filly starting?

I mentioned him on your other thread too, but Phil Haugen has a handful of free videos on YouTube. Not a ton, because as rightly so, he’s paid for what he does for a living. He does have a weekly podcast too.

I think don’t social media links are allowed, but I am also lucky to have an exceptional horsewoman only a few hours from me, and she is just excellent. It’s about reading the horse, listening to them, and working with them. No force is needed. (because honestly … you aren’t going to force a 1,000+ pound animal to do anything). Her ranch is Muddy Boot Performance horses.

Don’t worry that they are western cowboys/cowgirls wearing a cowboy hat. Basic colt starting fundamentals is universal no matter what discipline the horse is going to be doing.

Sure, there are BOOKS out there too, but the big piece that written literature can’t contain is timing and feel. Videos are a little better to help with that as you can see what the clinician is doing with their body language. But even better yet is in-person one-on-one instruction, to help develop that time and feel.

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Because for decades, a colt could refer to a young horse of either gender. By definition it’s a young male horse, but ask any old cowboy and the young horses are all generic “colts”.

It’s not some woke gender thing. :woman_facepalming:


And back then there were “filly colts” too…

Colt starting sounds cooler than gelding starting, which is more often the case.

Thank you! It’s been bugging me!

I think like lots of animals the male and the species get conflated. I’ve certainly heard in old books of “dog and bitch” or “horse and mare,” contrasted.

And then there’s “cows” for “cattle.” Go figure… or maybe it’s because the female is more valuable/desirable? 🤷

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This is what I was going to suggest. While it’s not R+, it revolves around doing things without stress. All the materials from her are good and carry a consistent theme, but she has a book called “Training and Retraining Horses the Tellington Way” that would really fit your bill.


Another vote for Warwick Schiller. Once you unlock they key of being present with your horse and really listening, everything comes so much easier. It just requires a lot of patience and changing from the mindset of the horse does what the human asks to a partnership with buy-in from both sides. He’s got a book out now, and a great podcast with other trainers and their methods, as well as professionals in the human behavioral health fields. Fascinating and has definitely transformed how I approach my relationship with horses.

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Purely R+ and hot on shaping? These are UK / European resources, but all available worldwide online

Ben Hart does great shaping plans and has written a couple of books on reward based training. They are a bit dry which is weird because in person he’s a hoot. I’ve done several in person courses with him.

For absolutely force free stuff there’s a group called Horse Charming run by a lady called Max Easey. Again they have produced step by step guides on a variety of basic training requirements.
Max can be a bit much for some people, she’s quite vehement about not using pressure. And as a reformed high level Parelli person she knows all about the application of pressure

Reward based art of Riding have a good FB group and online courses - a more classical slant, but great groundwork courses you can work through.