Better late than never!!
My gelding is 16 years old and has no joint, muscle, or soundness issues. No heath problems what-so-ever. Is 16 too old to start him back running? I'll just be riding at small local fun shows and exhibitions, nothing big. How should I go about getting him back into shape to run barrels/poles?
I would not say that he is too old, especially if he knows
it and did it in the past. However, I would have him checked by 1) equine vet 2) chiropractor 3) dentist to make sure that he is indeed ready to go, of course along with his normal farrier visits. This is where they say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound!
As far as getting back into shape, you should go about it SLOWLY.
Think about a person who has done nothing but sit on the couch all day for 4 years. Are they going to jump up and go run a marathon? Heck no. You start in baby steps and build yourself up.
Start your rides off by simply walking. And maybe only go a mile or two (or something like a 30 minutes walk). Gradually (over the course of weeks) increase your distance/time riding, and ask for little bursts of trotting. And same for loping. Honestly, expect to take a minimum of 2 months to get your horse into running shape.
For me, my horses get ridden no less than 5 days a week. I expect them to be an athlete, and therefore, athletes need to exercises on a very regular basis.
Also, doing circle work is going to really help get those barrel-turning-muscles back into shape. Lots, and lots of circles.
As far as speed training .... do not even worry about that until you've get him into general shape. Asking him to breeze before his body is physically ready is just asking for injury risk. He is an aged horse
. You've got to work him gradually into it.
He rides in a d-ring snaffle bit, and isn't fond of any shanked bits that I have tried (wonder bit, jr cowhorse, argentine snaffle). Is there a good step-up bit that I could possibly try? I've already tried a hack and he does not work well in them at all. He dislikes a lot of pressure on his nose and chin.
As I mentioned above, getting his teeth checked is going to be very important. We want to make sure he doesn't have an issue there.
Now, does he simply "not like" pressure from a shank or noseband, or is he just being stubborn about responding to it? There's a difference. Some horses truly will have quirks like that. Others are just plain spoiled and need to be made to accept the bit (no matter what's in their mouth).
How does he do in a D-ring snaffle? There are no tack rules in barrel racing. And there are professional barrel racers who run their horses in a snaffle. If he handles well in it (with speed on the barrel pattern) there's no reason you have
to switch him to anything else. But if you feel he'll get too strong and a snaffle won't stop him, then for safety he's just going to have to "put up" with a different bit.
He has a tendency to grab the shanks of the bit in his mouth and chew on them. Would the type of mouth the bit has have anything to do with this or is it completely unrelated? Is there anything I can do to prevent him from chewing on the shanks?
My mother's horse does this. Just a quirk of hers. She rides fine in any bit, but she likes to play with the shanks.
We ride her in this:
Yup, that's your classic "use that as a coat hanger" bit. But she's super soft in the mouth, and neck reins beautifully, so we honestly don't even engage the bit much. But she can't play with these shanks, because they are solid, so she can't get them in her mouth.
So that may be one idea: Find a bit with a solid-type shank so that she physically cannot grab them.
We also used to have a little Nokota/Welsh cross pony that would do the same thing. She was always trying to get those shanks into her mouth and play with them. Same with her, she neck reined great, and was very light in the mouth (anyone could ride her) but she kept playing with the darned shanks. So one day, when she did it, my mom reached up and GRABBED her ear. She didn't like that. Next time she tried to chew on the shank, she got her ear GRABBED again. She didn't like it. We honestly got her to stop chewing on the shank, because she hated getting her ear grabbed, and she knew it would happen if she chewed the shank!! Worked like a charm. (Think outside the box.
So that's something else you can consider, if you've got long enough arms to reach! She was a pony, so she had a nice short neck.
He is pretty well trained and has a quite a bit of motor. Just a little squeeze gets him up and loping; you sit down completely in the saddle and he slows down almost to a stand still (no pulling back on the reins needed). He doesn't neck rein, but responds very well to all other cues to turn (leg pressure, pulling on the reins, etc). He turns pretty quick, too. No issues with basic training. With that said, is there anything else we need to work on?
Doesn't really sound like it. You just basically want your horse broke, broke, broke and listening to you, which sounds like he does.
I would normally say that knowing leads is important, but your horse is already trained for barrels (it comes back just like riding a bike) so he should take care of the lead changes for you.
Like I stated above, I'm new to riding/competing in barrels, poles, and all other speed events. I am good at riding and have all the essentials down, but never concentrated on one particular discipline. Pleasure riding and trail riding is pretty much all I've ever done. What do I need to work on as a rider to prep for competing?
Lots and lots of practice (once you get your horse in shape, that is).
Always remember that you can set up random obstacles to practice make-up speed events. That way, you don't sour your horse on the barrel pattern. He knows the barrel pattern. You don't. So you need to practice, but he doesn't. So you've just got to be careful you always keep things different, so that you don't burn him out.
You could set up 4 barrels, and turn them all the same way.
Or make 2 rows of barrels (using 6 of them) and serpentine from one barrel to the next, across the rows.
Or set up only 2 poles on each side, and practice just the end poles type of turning.
Or set up 1 barrel, and practice making a perfect big circle, and then when you get the barrel (on your circle), turn the barrel.
Just use your imagination. That way, you (as the rider) can practice what works, and what doesn't, for your body language, while keeping it new and fresh for your horse.
Most of our land is hilly, so I have plenty of hills to ride him on. Would it being nothing but grass limit our options for speed or anything?
When he gets in shape enough (I'd say at least a month down the road, if not longer) to breeze him for speed, just make sure you have a SAFE area to do it.