I am often asked what a person should do to get their “hard to get in the arena” horse into the arena. Recently, I attended a barrel race as a spectator. This doesn’t happen often but it certainly offered an opportunity to learn. It was one of those “how not to do it” learning experiences for the most part since its always easier to do our best barrel racing from the fence!
There was one rider that had a heck of a time getting her horse in the arena and it came with a lesson for me that I’d like to share. Something that I know, but appreciated the reminder so I’m passing it on.
The horse was beautiful and built for the job. The rider had a good seat and was confident on the horse. She did everything I would have likely suggested. She rode assertive, rode with forward motion at a posting trot towards the arena, she looked where she was going, she never panicked, never got mad. The rider had quiet hands and a balanced seat. She after several attempts she upped the ante and swatted the horses butt with her over an under. It refused one more time, she lined back up, raised the over and under and off they went. I was astounded that all these “tricks” I would have used or suggested weren’t working and I didn’t know why. It only took from the gate to first barrel for me to figure it out.
The horse ran focused and level to first barrel. The rider was soft and asked for the turn. The horse CRANKED out a turn about half the size it needed to be and BOWLED over the barrel. The rider remained calm, slowed the horse down and went across to second. I thought to myself, “well there’s an old issue there she’ll get the next one handled” . So she high lopes over to second and CRANKS out a mini turn and bowls it over! She lopes down to third calm as can be and CRANKS a turn out on top of third! The horse was so worried in her turns it was like someone had taught her to sneak up on the barrels and mow them over. No wonder she didn’t want to go in the arena! The horse thought “if this is barrel racing I don’t like it” and why would it if that’s what its being taught!? Now, I have no idea if the gal riding it was in the process of fixing the horse or she was the cause of this horses anxiety. Either way this particular horse needs some slow, relaxed work on the barrels to open up those turns. Fixing this horse is the least of our worries…how do we make sure this doesn’t happen to us!?
How do you get your horse that is refusing at the gate in the arena? Take a close look at why your horse doesn’t want to go in! In this case it was a training issue. The horse has been training in a way that is causing a lot of pressure around the turn where it literally thinks that is how it is supposed to turn. This horse doesn’t like barrel racing because she is confused about what she is actually supposed to be doing. There is no confidence there.
Another reason your horse may refuse at the gate include Pain – they may even run fine at home, but along with the pressure of competition the pain causes them to look for and “out”. A good vet or equine therapist check including teeth, feet and chiropractor is a good place to start. You want to eliminate any reasons and take care of any problems your horse may have as soon as your horse starts to refuse. This can become a bad habit really quickly if it isn’t nipped in the bud.
It takes a lot of time and patience to retrain your barrel horse from refusing at the gate. Prevention is the best cure so keep your training fun for your horse. Instill confidence in them so when they see that gate they are keen and ready to work. Be sure to not intimidate or confuse them on the barrels. Barrels need to be a happy place.
If your horse is not happy on the pattern and tells you so by not going in the arena to barrel race, its your job to take a step back and figure out why. Once you know, it will help you get on track to get that horse in the arena.