I recently bought a horse that had been started on barrels. The more I ride him, the more I think he has been abused. He has a difficult time trusting me and though he works a nice pattern at a walk and a trot, when you ask for a lope, he falls apart. He gets high-strung, forgets his cues, his rate, his pockets and literally tries to run off. I am 20 years old and not a trainer. Would you suggest a trainer or give me advise that would help us work through our rough spots?
Here are the facts. Though your horse may have been started on barrels when you bought him, my feeling is he was not broke before he was taken to the pattern. It sounds like he is an athletic horse with lots of ability, along with a volatile and possibly immature mind, especially under the stress of speed.
Your horse would benefit from training, from the ground up. Ground work in the round pen would help you gain his confidence, work on getting him to feel comfortable in his bit, and at the same time, provide you with a safe area to work on your seat, leg and hand cues. Your horse needs to respond to your request and understand what you are asking of him. Outside trail riding is another way to gain confidence while allowing your horse to relax. Most importantly, your horse needs to be taught a foundation. I would suggest, even though you are not a trainer, that you slow down, go back to basics and work on your horse’s foundation.
The equipment you use will be important in his initial training. I would suggest you look at the Reinsman # 744 Six Training Snaffle and complement it with the German Martingale equipment that we demonstrate in The A.R.T. of Barrel Racing. There are photos of the equipment along with examples of proper adjustments and explanations on how the equipment is designed to work. The book will also introduce round pen exercises and skill building exercises for your arena work. Your horse needs at least 90 days in the training equipment before you consider adding a faster lope and additional pressure on the pattern. I know this is not the advice that you probably wanted to hear, but in order for your horse to gain confidence in you while learning skills necessary to produce efficient barrel runs, you are going to have to take him back to the basics.
Lauren, if you feel you need help, ask for referrals from friends who understand the value of good horsemanship, or contact the American Quarter Horse Association’s Professional Horseman in your area.
You are not alone in your dilemma. In our passion for the sport, we are anxious to work on fast times. This causes us to ask the horse for more than he is capable of giving. If you love your horse and he truly has the ability that you identify in him, the time you spend strengthening his foundation will be well rewarded in the long run. We'd love to work with you at one of our Clinics.
Ride safe and be patient,