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Competition

Jess from California, writes:

Dear Sharon,

When I run my barrel horse at rodeos, I lose control of him. He turns the first barrel pretty good, but the second one he just blows. I can't get him to turn it tight. He acts like he wants to go back to the first barrel, which messes up my whole run. But when I practice at home, he rates on his own and turns tight like he's a pro! I've tried everything. I've had his teeth done, had him checked by a chiropractor, and had him checked by a vet. I can't figure anything out. Thank you.

Dear Jess,

The key statement that I read is, "when I practice at home, he rates on his own." It is very difficult to put the same pressure on a horse at home that he feels in a true contest. You are much more relaxed, there is no external stimulation like he faces at a rodeo, and the biggest deal is that he is comfortable and relaxed in his home arena. This is a common situation. There are many "back yard" champions, both human and equine, that are unable to reproduce their winning runs in public, even if "public" only consists of two competitors.

Before you set up some practice situations in arenas, or smaller competitive venues away from home, make sure you truly can control your horse at home. Try running to the first barrel and take hold of your horse's face just to see if he is paying attention to you. If he falls forward, shakes his head or runs through the bridle, odds are you do not have enough bridle on him to control him in competition with increased adrenaline or added pressure. One of the greatest pickup men of all time is Gary Remples. I watched him chase broncs on one of his very nicely broke pickup horses on a recent trip to Rodeo Houston, and complimented him on his feel and timing as he controlled and handled his horse. I also asked about his choice of bridle and I loved his comment. He said, "I would rather have too much bridle on my horse and not have to use it, than a lighter bit that does not have the control if and when I need it." This is a statement from a true horseman. I replied back to him that I wish I could get my students to understand that concept.

Jess, I would look into incorporating a bridle with additional control when you run in rodeos; consider something with less gag and quicker response. I personally believe in using a leather nose band tiedown, especially in competition. In training, I would incorporate a snaffle type bit, or a Six Bit with a Cowboy German Martingale, even in warm-up. Both are available through Reinsman. This helps keep your horse in-between your hands and under control.

One additional thought is to ride your horse down, and make sure he is warmed up and listening to you before your run. Incorporate a sprint or two, some stops and reverses, and roll backs into your warm-up routine, just to make sure your horse is listening to you before you go into the arena for your run. Your sprint to the first barrel in competition should not be the first time you let your horse run.

Remember to rate with both hands so your horse will shift his weight to his hind quarters – the balanced position he will need to stay tight and balanced in his turn. A solid rate helps your horse leave his barrel in the position he will need to be set up for his approach and turn to his next barrel.

Jess, this is a critical time in your training and seasoning. Do not become frustrated. Prepare your horse during the week for his rodeo runs. Evaluate recent performances and use the practice pen for corrections and repairs. Warm him up athletically until he is peaked and ready to go into the arena, prepared to do his best job for you. Use your visualization resources and do not watch the majority of the competition. Success is catching and so is failure.

Ask yourself what your job is and then go do it!

Sharon