Horse News

New Zealand’s Teenaged Horse Whisperer Shares Secrets


“…dreams of becoming a world class trainer and, as the home of quarter horses, America beckons.”

“Let’s take Sunday off and hit it again, tomorrow…agreed?” ~ R.T.

Jed Southcombe, 16, dreams of Texas and will head to Germany next month for the World Youth Quarter Horse Championships ~ photo by David Unwin

For reasons that can’t be explained, some horses just can’t stand their trainers.

“He’s a good example over there,” says Jed Southcombe, gesturing at a grumpy stallion hidden in the shadows of another stable. “He doesn’t like anyone at all. He puts his ears back and his look says, `Piss off, leave me alone’.”

The 16-year-old Feilding High School pupil knows his horses. Making soothing clicking noises, Jed coaxes a strapping 3-year-old thoroughbred back into his stable with ease. The horse nuzzles him affectionately, but the young rider doesn’t fold, saying he has become used to a “tough love” approach even with his favourites.

“It takes ages to bond with them because you’ve got to work with them every day. You’ve got to do everything for them like children but you can’t baby them because otherwise they push you,” he says. “You can become great friends with them. But I’ve got a baby at home and I let him get away with stuff so he would play up. He’s a lot better now I’ve sorted him out.”

Jed has helped train many horses at his family home, but this year he will train one solo for the first time. He is also in training himself – next month he will represent New Zealand at the American Quarter Horse Association Youth World Cup in Germany. Manawatu District Council has awarded him a $500 grant towards the trip.

In preparation, Jed has been working at Copperbelt Lodge stables, cleaning up after 60 racehorses for the past six weeks under his school’s agricultural programme.

He is the second youngest in a team of six Kiwi teens going to the world cup. Of the 18 international teams, New Zealand sends the smallest number of competitors. As the big event approaches, Jed has been competing constantly and riding almost daily.

The quarter horse is a breed apart from the thoroughbreds Jed tends to every Friday at Copperbelt Lodge. The quarter horse is a shorter, stockier animal measuring 14 to 15 hands and which excels at sprinting short distances. The name originates from their ability to outdistance other breeds in races of a quarter mile or less, and they are immensely popular in the United States, particularly among cowboys who use them for stock work.

For the event in Germany, competitors do not bring their own steed – instead, the horses choose their master. For each event, be it sprinting, showmanship, pleasure class, or reining, human and horse are matched based on carefully judged rapport.

“You draw the horses out of the hat,” Jed says.

“What they do is they give a range of horses that suits an amount of riders. They put them into a big group for each country and if you don’t suit any horse they’ll change it for you.”

The young rider and trainer is quietly confident. He has represented New Zealand before, winning two golds and a silver against Australia last year in a trans-Tasman competition.

He was also awarded International Rookie of the Year in 2011 and has been asked to work in Australia and the US by trainers Mark Schaeffer and Martin Larcombe.

Jed has dreams of becoming a world class trainer and, as the home of quarter horses, America beckons.

“I want to learn all the disciplines, not just riding, that’s why I’m working in the stables. But I still want a job to fall back on, like engineering or something.”

At the end of year 13, Jed has plans to move to Texas to take up a job offer training quarter horses under the wing of American experts.

11 replies »

  1. Too bad he’ll most likely be learning from Quarter Horse trainers that think starting a 2 year old horse in rigorous training is absolutely the kind, caring and responsible thing to do to increase the horses long term positive mental and physical longevity…..NOT!


  2. Agreed Laura! Horses slowly mature especially Arabians and riding a 2 year old is a big NO! They need to all change the age to 3 for starting and 4 for maybe rigorous training… all horses are so different so you must go by the horses personality too! I’ve owned and trained many breeds but mostly Arabians since 1971. I love horses I miss mine as I lost my husband and had to sell them…


    • Kathryn, I don’t know where you live, but I certainly could use you. I love Arabians and have rescued an Arabian, blind in his right eye, that has no training. I think he would be a great horse if trained in the Natural Training method. I like Monty ROberts training also, but can’t afford the training at present. I also have two Arabians that I hope to bring to So. Calif. from Oregon that were starving to death in a pasture. I would love to work with them and train them. Where are you located? I know it won’t be So. Calif. I’m so sorry to hear of your husband’s death and you having to sell your beloved Arabians. I also rescued an Arabian that has a severe case of Laminitis. She is a doll and I love her. She will never be able to be ridden but I hope she doesn’t get any worse and we can stablize the laminitis. She also was starving to death in a field. Along with her I got a horse that a latino must have owned as he has rope burns on his legs. He also is blind in his right eye. I love all of my horses, they are theraphy for me. I can have stress in my everyday life and when I go muck their stalls and spend they day with them, sixty five miles away from my home due to the cost where I live, I have no more stress. THey are my doctors I guess in some ways. Again, I’m so sorry for your losses.


    • I can’t imagine what you’re going through Kathryn being without horses after being with them for so many years……hopefully you’re circumstances will change and you will be with them again. I would love for someone like you with a true and total love for horses to come to our rescue and interact with some of the mentally, emotionally and physically challenged horses that we take in here. We take in the horses (and mules, burros, ponies, and also dogs, cats, birds, ferrets, etc) that the other rescues won’t take in because many are not ever going to be adoptable to new homes. I rehab them into understanding the hierarchy around here with me as the over-all top horse, so most of them become well adjusted but would not be O.K. going to new homes because it would stress them into bad, and often dangerous, behavior again.I have a lot of people want to volunteer, but due to the fact that many of our horses have been knocked around and even abused by people to the point where they snapped and hurt people, (and we have a 25 year old appendix gelding that put two people in the hospital in the space of a week–however, it was their sheer ignorance that pushed him over the edge but then he was blamed for being a dangerous horse), I take care of all of the horses and don’t have volunteers on the property.
      And as to the starting of horses far too young: Dr. Deb Bennett wrote some very good articles on how horses mature skeletally and the last thing to mature on ANY horse is their vertebra/backbone. No horse, according to her studies, matures completely in terms of their skeleton until they are at least 4 years old, and many such as Thoroughbreds, Arabians, some draft breeds, etc do not fully mature until 6-8 years old. I NEVER start a horse in what I call “career or serious training” until the age of 4, so while I sometimes start a horse in ground training, saddle them, bridle them, mount them and ride at a walk, etc as a long 2-year-old, and then I leave them alone for another year on the riding thing until they are close to or over 4 years old, I also quite often don’t start a horse in any kind of under saddle work until 4 or 5 years old or even older than that. Some “trainers” say they are more difficult to train when older, however, I never train from an intimidation approach anyway (and most 2-3 year olds are far easier to intimidate and muscle around if thats what a “trainer” relies on for “training”), and certainly not from a power approach because I’m 5′ 5″ but only 105#, so muscling a horse clearly would not work for me or the mostly teenage girls and adult women I have trained over the past 35+ years. I train more from the psychological approach, whether just starting a horse or rehabing them, and that approach has always worked for me with any and every horse I’ve trained over the past 40+ years. I’m thinking the writer of the article about Jed doesn’t know much, if anything, about horses because this quote is kind of “telling”: “For reasons that can’t be explained, some horses just can’t stand their trainers.”—the reason why a lot of horses don’t like their trainers is clear as glass to me: its because their trainers push them too hard, they abuse them and scare and/or turn the horse mean, they are not fair, they are not consistent and clear with the horse in training, and just like with a human training, you push someone, you aren’t clear, consistent and fair in your approach, and although people might become frightened and/or embarrassed at first when they’re not sure whats being asked of them or if things aren’t clear and fair, they then often get angry and fight back—-difference with horses however is that when their fear turns to anger, they can really hurt or kill people (similar to people who “go postal” and shoot other people) and then they are dubbed “a dangerous horse” or a “horse that killed someone”.
      In my opinion, better to train or retrain a horse with the mixture of herd hierarchy and “positioning” in our “herd of two”, be clear, be consistent, know when you’ve done enough with the horse in a session (IOW, don’t be obsessive and a perfectionist when training horses because you may drive them crazy with your own nerosis), and always be fair in your approach and dealings with the horse–those are the things horses instinctivly understand and they will appreciate and respond to those traits in a human just as they do with other horses.
      I sure hope Jed doesn’t end up training with the typical QH trainer because he will learn some really bad habits that send a lot of relatively young horses to slaughter because they were started as long yearlings/early 2-year-olds in rigorous training to get them ready for the futurities where the big money is at in QH’s, put on drugs in order to compete, and then thrown away to slaughter if they are unlucky enough to be a gelding or they don’t make the grade for the breeding farm. 😦


  3. Jed appears to have a great way with horses and sounds like a very ambitious young man. Let’s hope too, because of his love for training them, he will always be a spokesperson for their welfare.


  4. I wish Jed all the best in his future training horses. I wish I had my life to do it over again and I would have spent more time with horses. I am 70 years old now and own three with two more hopefully arriving later this year. None so far in my present existence are rideable. BUt they are loved anyway.


  5. Not impressed. He is coming to the US to work within the quarter horse industry. Don’t particularly care for the mentality that speaks of “sorting the horses out” and “tough love” either. Often that can be a euphemism for stupid human domination training. Maybe not in this case ! But given his penchant for quarter horse showing, I doubt if I would let him touch one of my horses. :o)


    • Yep, I have more then a few horses here that would stomp him into the ground and/or take his head off with their teeth if he tried his “tough love” approach with them; thats why they are at our sanctuary and will live their lives here, because people screwed them up with idiotic training approaches……although, sounds like he’s selective about what horses he would interact with, so many of the horses that have come to me through the years that had been to multiple other trainers that dubbed them dangerous and I was their last stop before the horse was being sent to the kill sale or euthanized, he probably would not work with anyway.
      Sorry, this just sounds like a kid like so many others that are just learning and now will be corrupted by the QH industry when he comes to the US which is pro-horse slaughter because they ruin and throw away so many horses that they don’t want to have to pay to humanely euthanize…..if the “trainers” in the QH world would clean up their acts and really learn how to interact with ANY horse, and if they wouldn’t wreck and ruin so many horses by starting them in rigorous training as long yearlings and early 2 year olds, the so-called “need” for horse slaughter for all the so-called “unwanted” horses would be non-existent IMO.


  6. I hope going off to explore the horses of North America does not change this young man. There will be many that are older and intimidated by such a natural talent and this does not bring out the best in some people. With horses and people there is always someone who wants to tell you why you are doing everything wrong and how you should do it their way! Stick to your intuition and talent with creating your relationshps. Inspiring story. Jacquie in Canada


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