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I rush and rush until life’s no fun. All I gotta do is live and die, I’m
in a hurry, and don’t know why. (Lyrics from a song by Alabama, or the theme song of most performance horses)
Another line that comes to mind from the song is “Zero to sixty in five point two, I’m in a hurry to get things done." All of you that ride barrel horses are adrenaline junkies and want the most speed that is possible from yourself and your horse. This is a piece of your sport, but I feel that in trying to reach your goals of more speed, you can actually hinder yourself and your horse by forgetting about the basics that you used when you started training them for the barrels. I guess that I would ask the rider “what have you done that has told your horse that this is the behavior that you want?" Your horse is a pattern learner and will repeat his actions as long as his actions work for him. When the pattern becomes uncomfortable for him or is interrupted, it will be broken. I tell students here on a regular basis that training is no more than recognizing the patterns that you want and encouraging them, and seeing the patterns that you do not want and discouraging them.
Patterns that we might want in a horse that enters the arena could be for them to wait for the rider to ask them to turn on the speed. Many times the horse takes over the controls and the rider is just there as baggage. How did this happen? On what day did we become the monkey on their backs? Probably it happened when you started the transition from “I am getting this young horse ready to compete” and then we feel the potential that they have and “let them go”. It can be intoxicating to feel an incredible horse open it up for the first time and frustrating or frightening when we realize that we have lost control. Ok, the horse has taken over, we no longer have the control that we desire, what do we do?
Rewrite the contract, plain and simple. Take over again. Go back to your basics and find the piece that is broken. All of you have access to the very best information that is available to start your barrel horse. Go back to those basics and you will find the problem, and then the pattern will be interrupted. In my program I would check out my seven things that I use as a format to start the horse and check out in particular the following:
1. I can never get my gait transitions too good.
I would like to have my horse to the point in their training that any time any where I could ask them to make a downward transition and that they would respond immediately. I might suggest that in your patterning of the horse that you change things up on them by walking into the arena, trotting the first barrel, cantering around the second and walking around the third. So what if my horse will not walk into the arena? Do not go around the barrel. Go back out of the arena. Try again. If they walk in, great! If not, repeat walk out again. Let your horse sit for a couple of minutes to think about things, then try again. Stick with them and be patient. We are trying to tell them that we need to do things differently. It may take some time. This is just an idea, but I would figure out a way to break up the pattern to get the horse to listen to what I need and to not make assumptions as to what we will do. Personally, I think that in any equine competitive endeavor the most common mistake made is to over pattern the horse. Once the horse knows the job - cross train, trail ride, move cattle and run the barrels as part of the horse’s life, not as his whole life.
2. I can never get my rein too soft.
If you watch (or ride) a horse that is charging into the arena it is fairly obvious that the horse is doing everything in his power to ignore and run through the rein. The rider might think about going back to ground work and checking out just how soft their horse is to the rein (lead rope). It will probably be revealing. When the horse is really good on the ground, take the same principles to the saddle with you, and get your horse to where they will respond softly, willingly and immediately. I would then take my new horse to the barrels and maybe try some version of the above exercise. I would like to add for this refresher course to a softer rein that I would probably go back to my snaffle bit. There is a good chance that I would have to pull on my horse more than I want to, and I do not want to make him apprehensive to the bit or my hands, or hurt or scare him.
Ok, I have just tried to give you a couple of ideas to break the patterns that we do not want. I am sure that you can come up with a lot of ideas on your own now that you are thinking about it. What about taking your horse to an arena where there is a cutting going on and coming in by yourself nice and relaxed like you were going, well, to a cutting! How did your horse respond? Bet he just walked in? What does this tell you about your part in your horses behavior? How do we maintain our horse once we have fixed the problem of an anxious entry? Do not repeat the patterns that got you in the spot in the first place! Think about and control your emotions and watch every indicator that your horse gives you. He will let you know what he is thinking. If it is what you want, reward him with a pat or a scratch. If he is not, let him know at the first sign of the old jacked up attitude or behavior. Let him know that you will not go back to that ugly place. Do what you must even it means walking away from the event. It is one event and we are trying to establish and maintain a pattern that will ensure us and our horse a long and productive career.
I really hope that this helps, but more than that, I hope that it causes you to think. As long as you keep thinking, you have a chance. Good luck and let me know how it goes.
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