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Problem-specific Corrections

Jessie from Mississippi, writes:

Dear Sharon,

I have a four year-old mare that I trained myself. We have one problem. She goes to her pocket really good on all her barrels, but when we get there she forgets what to do. She does so well at home and at the practice arena at the show. I think I freak a little or maybe I don't trust her, I'm not sure. When we get to the barrel I get in her mouth a little but she doesn't shake her head or anything. I need help.

Dear Jessie,

Thank you for your question. In general, young horses can easily get confused, intimidated and become resentful if they are schooled repetitively on the pattern.

Your mention that she "goes to pocket" fine but then has problems, probably related to the fact that she has not learned how to shorten her stride or rate before she starts her turn. Difficulty in the turn is most often caused by a failure of the horse to shorten his stride before starting into the turn. It could be that the horse is resentful and loses focus at the barrel and looks for ways to avoid the tight turn that is coming next.

My suggestion is for riders to focus on the skills that will be needed in order for the horse to complete elements of the pattern and not do repetitive pattern work. Skills the horse will need are the ability to ride in straight lines, lengthen and shorten his strides easily and be able to complete even sided circles or varying sizes.

My approach to the barrel pattern involves emphasis on the rider being able to pre-select start points, lines of approach and pocket points for each barrel. The three elements of the pattern, the approach, the rate and the turn make up The A.R.T. of Barrel Racing as outlined in my Western Horseman book.

You indicate that you feel part of the problem is that you "'freak" at the show. As you have determined your mental state, be it nervous or tentative, be aware that it plays a huge role in the outcome of you and your equine's performance. It's easier to remain calm and in control if you always have a game plan. One of the biggest helps will be when you develop your eye and you can analyze your course and know exactly where you want to ride your horse. Ride one barrel at a time and focus on the approach, the rate and the turn for each barrel. Focus on having a smooth run and the time will be reflected. You and your horse need to have fun!

Also visit our Spirit and Self section to read Dr. Will’s information on “Taming Tigers” to help with your competitive focus.

If you have the opportunity to come to one of my Clinics, I would enjoy the opportunity to work with you and your horse.

Warm regards,

Sharon