For this month’s Myths and Facts, I turned to Professional Barrel Racer and Veterinary Assistant, Shelley Hawthorne for help. With her vast knowledge of horses and all creatures, she has taught me a great deal over the past few years. Thanks, Shelley.


MYTH: My 4 year old barrel horse was going great all of last year and most of this year until the last month or so, then he started to hit the first barrel, then runs to the wall, ignoring the second barrel. I took him to a 4 day Barrel Racing Clinic and the Pro racer teaching it said it was because I pushed him to long and to hard for his age. I did go to a lot of races this year but he loves it. My Vet examined him and says he is 100% sound. She's not right is she, because this year he is crazy in love with running. In fact he goes snaky if I don't let him run full out. Any suggestions?

FACT: You don't say whether he is "Doing All Other Things" asked of him correctly this year, just that he is crazy in love with running, and goes snaky if you don't let him run full out. And now refusing to complete the pattern like he used to. I don't believe either your veterinarian or the Pro Racer holding the clinic were "Incorrect". I believe your horse may be 100% sound, but mentally he is not ready. I believe he is wanting to run full out because this "May Be All He Knows" or is "Feeling Pressured Big Time". Horses are mostly willing participants, and if they like what they are doing they are usually willing to behave. He may be feeling "Rushed or Panicked" which can make him jump out of his turns or refuse to turn at all. Often young horses will tend to drift in to the first barrel, which may make them hit it. As to going snaky if not allowed to run full out, this is just not acceptable in my books. You are the BOSS. If you are not ready for him to go, he should be waiting for your cue. Some wait more eagerly than others, but they wait and don't go snaky. Any horse that behaves in the alleyway going in and coming out is priceless. This is one area in which the rider needs to be in control of the situation. These mistakes need to be corrected immediately. As soon as horses start doing things like this wrong at this age, they are telling you they need to SLOW DOWN. So slow down now, and show him the correct way. He has learned and remembered the bad tricks very quickly.

Anytime a horse is feeling stressed and begins making mistakes for no reason, it's time for a rest. "There "Is No Substitute For A Good Rest". In order for this horse to reach his full potential, he requires a daily regimen of riding, training, and tuning but after a long rest. You need to start back with slow and easy basics, keeping his mind and body soft and relaxed. Keep him fit with lots of "Long SLOW Distance Riding", working barrels SLOWLY only a couple of days a week. Lots of trotting and loping large circles. Start SLOWLY and gradually work back up to full speed. If he's making good competitive runs he shouldn't need a lot of barrel work at home. I feel this keeps them fresh and wanting to work. It's a treat and they stay relaxed and focused instead of dreading or anticipating turns. To maximize his talent, and have yourself a willing, successful, competitive partner for years to come you need to remember he is just a baby and will usually try to do what you ask. So learn to think like a horse, ask only what they can give both Mentally and Physically. Especially when so young.

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