Starting the Performance Horse

Training Thru Trust with Kade Mills

by Allison Trimble, Willfully Guided Horsemanship and Kade Mills


There is no arguing that a horse’s introduction to training, his start, is crucial. This is the time of year that 2- year-olds across the nation are beginning their journey to become show horses. I have strong beliefs about initial training and was thrilled to meet a guy who not only does a fantastic job of colt starting, but also clearly articulates that to an audience. I asked Kade Mills to talk to us about his program and approach to starting colts and this is what he had to say.

I think that having a solid philosophy is key to starting colts. A performance horse is no different than any other horse in the beginning. Any horse that is started properly will thrive based on his individual talents and abilities once he is put to a given discipline. Many people believe every horse is different, others say a horse is a horse. I find most horses will fall in to two general categories, timid and dominant. Understanding and recognizing the difference will help the conversations between horse and rider go smoother. My philosophy, or direction, will remain the same, but my approach to things will change depending on which category a horse falls into. 

The timid horse will always be the easiest to read. They instantly show respect for personal space. A timid horse will not fight for title in the natural pecking order with the herd or with people. A dominant horse will want to challenge personal space by trying to move the person. He will seem pushy and will seek higher position in the pecking order. 

Regardless of the type of horse, my goal is always to create the same balanced horse in the end. To accomplish this, the two things the relationship must be built on are trust and respect. With the timid horse I will spend a lot of time building trust, and the respect comes rather naturally. Dominant horses will build trust fast and then I can begin working on respect. A timid horse will take a lot of time in the beginning, but will make up time when I have his trust. A dominant horse will catch on quick and then use his dominance to be resistant.

To gain trust and respect I use very clear cues. All horse training is based on cues that originate from a pressure and release system. A horse that truly understands pressure is very easy to teach. I want them to understand to move or give to it and not react to it. The pressure can come from a rein or a leg and with timed release we show them a pattern we can follow for the rest of their life. However, it is important to remember that it is not only building cues. The manner in which cues are delivered is what solidifies the relationship of trust and respect. My horse’s reactions will reflect my delivery of pressure. If I am fast and abrupt, my horse will be fast and abrupt; if I am dull with steady pressure, my horse will be the same. I strive for a happy medium in my delivery and focus more on the building of pressure and the timing of release.

I build my pressure on a scale of 1- 10, 1 being the lightest pressure possible and 10 being strongest. I teach my horses I will always begin at a 1 and build until I get the desired response and then release. This is an easy way to motivate a horse to stay soft. If my pressure starts to climb to the top, I build my pressure slower the closer I get to 10. This allows me to stay mentally connected while adding pressure, and helps ensure I don’t miss the timing with my release. If the horse can respond to light pressure and we give them that chance he will start to become willing and develop “try.” Through this foundation, I have created a horse that is trainable. Now I can begin to train him.   


Photo credit John Mortensen

Kade Mills: Kade has worked as a professional horse trainer since he began homeschooling at 15 to work with his father, well-known horsemanship clinician, Doug Mills. Kade made his mark in Trainer’s Challenges. Winner of both of the Mane Event Trainer’s Challenges in the past year, he credits his success to the “Training thru Trust” program that his family practices. It is a very easy program to teach and implement and remains a crowd pleaser because of its black and white results. Visit www.kademills.tumblr.com



Published February 2013 Issue

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