Year 2 of retraining a former barrel horse (and it's a long one)
 
 

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Year 2 of retraining a former barrel horse (and it's a long one)

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  • Horses, barrels, show
  • Long barrel horse

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    01-23-2012, 01:01 PM
  #1
Weanling
Year 2 of retraining a former barrel horse (and it's a long one)

Hi, I figured I was due for an update on our progress, and since we had our first real setback, I also need some encouragement. I will try to keep it short and sweet. Here is a link to my first thread Retraining a former barrel horse

The good:
Summer in AZ is NOT show season, so we spent the time training, trail riding, and even moved barns to a much more low-key place.
+ Entered him into a local dressage schooling show at an eventing barn in November and he did well.
+ Entered him into another local dressage schooling show at a dressage barn in December and he did REALLY well, winning our classes.
+ Entered him into a dressage and cross-country derby day at the eventing barn and he won the dressage section, but we DQ'ed in the cross-country section because I'm an idiot and forgot jump 9. He did so well, that I wanted him to go around again to give both of us extra confidence, and we won that round (it was just the cross-country, they created a separate division, not part of the Combined Test because enough people did just that part). I was SOFRIGGENHAPPY that day!! Seriously, so high. That was our first time ever over solid fences and over fences at an arena we were not boarding at. It was an amazing day.

Overall, everything has been going so, so well. I am learning a LOT and we are taking it slow and steady. Mick has shown he likes to jump and has some talent for it. We figured out pretty quickly that when we were told he had been trained over jumps, that wasn't exactly accurate, more like made to go over a couple of courses with NO prep work or intro training. When he did it (Because he is a good boy) we was deemed 'Trained In Jumping and Eventing.' Sigh.

Now the negative:
- Took him to his first recognized dressage show this weekend. I did not register him for any classes because I wanted to see how he would do with all of the extra chaos. He did great the Friday before and we rode him in both show arenas and three of the warmup arenas. Saturday comes, there's a scratch, Mick looks just as calm and confident as yesterday, so I enter him. (Read: give away a crap ton of money)

We have a good warm-up, everything is fine, he looks stellar in his braids, and I'm not completely embarrasing myself in the white breeches. I am not nervous because there is NO expectation of greatness, I just want a happy horse and a good show experience. We get to about 20 feet from the arena entrance and Mick stops, spins, and jumps around. I get him pointed back to the safety of the warmup arena, and once inside he bolts. I get him back under control fairly quickly and walk him back out of the warmup arena. He starts to back up again, I get him settled. Get off, and hand walk him into the arena. Attempt to mount in there, he ducks away quickly, so I get off and by some miracle of god, am allowed by the TD to just hand walk him around the arena.

On a side note, when Mick bolted, some stupid idiot started screaming, "YOU'RE OUT OF CONTROL, YOU'RE OUT OF CONTROL, "YOU'RE OUT OF CONTROL!!!!" While I am trying to get him back together. Thanks lady. Now everyone in the 1/2 mile vicinity is staring at us and our breakdown. And I am well aware that he is out of control, I am ON him. Last time I checked, there were about 15 other horses and riders in the immediate vicinity, and my horse was acting stupid enough. No one needs the added stress of people screaming in their ears. I feel horrible for disrupting the other competitors, and if any of you reading this were there, I am so sorry for my PTSD horse. (hangs head)

Anyway, I put him away, cry my frustrated and embarrased eyes out, gather my thoughts and wait for the rest of the show to be over. My trainer says, you need to get him in there tonight. I mount up and do a warmup in the warmup arena then slowly work at getting him into the show arenas. We go back and forth with him until he finally decides 10 feet out of the spookiest arena, that he will go in. I feel the change in him and tell my trainer so she steps out of his way and lets him do it. It was awesome. We have a happy party in there, then I walk him around and ride my test, pretty much in the dark.

Next day, he's back to being nervous, so he gets LOTS of carrots when he is calm next to the arena entries. I also ride him in the warmups again. So, I think I have his two (I know, only two??, hahah) main problems identified. 1. Clapping and people gathered near the gate. And 2. Loud speaker announcements.

Anyone have ideas on how to desensitize him to those things that won't cost me $1000 in show entry fees and piss off the entire riding community where I live? Or should I just give up and if I want to show, just do little schooling shows? I'm too old to make this horse thing anything but a hobby, so maybe I just need a reality check?

Sorry my short and sweet was crazy long
     
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    01-23-2012, 08:22 PM
  #2
Foal
Barrel horses are one of the hardest horses to retrain. I know from experience, as I barrel raced when I was younger, and I've worked with ex barrel horses. My advice is don't give up. Think about how your horse would have been taught when it ran. While practicing sure things get to be slower, but when it was time to compete everything moves very fast in a forward direction. In my experience, teach your horse something that becomes relaxing. Try right and left lateral flexion. Start out flexing when you are just standing around talking. Pull one rein toward your thigh, when your horse stops moving his feet, and gives you slack in your rein drop it quickly. The more you do this the softer your horse will get, but he will also learn the fastest way to get releif is to stand still, relax, and flex his neck. When he understands that he has to to calm down when you do this, take him to excitable situations and make him stand still and flex. As to you saying you weren't nervous, and him being scared of loud speakers and applauses, I don't think its that he is scared its more that he knows what's going on. Even if you truely aren't nervous, that doesn't mean you didn't tense up some, especially after he started to throw a fit. So don't give up! If you have any other questions I'd be more than happy to answer them. Good luck.
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    01-23-2012, 08:54 PM
  #3
Weanling
Thank you for the reply Jamie. We have definitely been working on flexion and other things to supple him. That's not the problem. If he gave some other warning I think I could at least start to manage it. I half just needed to vent, but also welcome any and all recommendations and advice.
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    01-23-2012, 09:10 PM
  #4
Yearling
Hearing you accomplishments gives me hopes for Jake.

Barrel horses are so hard to deal with, that type of showing can just gets them so gone in the brain. I know for Jake, I can go to any arena anywhere, and while he'll be alert, but soon as you thrown in all that is a show he is ready to run. Jake never refused to go into an arena for barrel racing so that is not a problem I have had.

The only thing I can think of is going to shows without competing. Doing exactly what you did on your 'bad' show day. Relax near the gate, ride in the warm up...ect. This is what I am going to be doing with Jake in about a month when the shows start in my area. I will have him at the show grounds, warm him up and not show. I'm going to have him standing around watching the gate...I may take him in and out of the warmup ring a few times, then call it a day. I've even considered paying for a schooling round, trot one lap around the arena and exiting. Its all just a game to help them get over the brain-dead moments.

I'm always afraid of bothering other people too when moving around the show ground with Jake huffing and puffing and threatening to rear. Yet at a certain point that is exactly what he needs, to learn that we just are not going to gallop.

To me it sounds like you are doing an excellent job, are coming leaps and bounds. Look at your accomplishments and understand there are going to be setbacks. Keep it going! Keep us updated more often. =) Plus get some pictures of dressage and xc!
MicKey73 likes this.
     
    01-23-2012, 09:31 PM
  #5
Trained
Quote:
So, I think I have his two (I know, only two??, hahah) main problems identified. 1. Clapping and people gathered near the gate. And 2. Loud speaker announcements.
Coming from a barrel racer...Are you sure that his reactions are from being nervous and not excited? My mare acts like your boy does before she goes into the arena. I even have to have someone lead her in. She gets so worked up because she knows that she's going to run that she becomes an idiot and doesn't focus enough.

If he's an ex barrel horse, he's already heard the loud speaker and seen the crowds of people and horses waiting to run. Chances are, he's mentally going back to his racing days and completely goes brainless for the dressage he's learned.

I've seen some nasty horses outside of the arena. They are arena sour and absolutely refuse to go in, so there will be 2 people leading while the horse is backing, and someone chasing them into the arena with a lunge whip. Barrel horses can be pretty messy. Sounds like your the lucky one that found a messy one.

The absolute best thing that you can do for him, is continue to take him to shows like you were and just ride around. Feed him carrots and apples and peppermints. Go in and out of the arena as much as possible. If there's a lunch break, I'd be working on him just walking into the arena, going around and coming back out. No expectations.

I've worked with some pretty arena sour horses and it literally took me HOURS to get the horse to walk/prance into the arena. They would throw a complete hissy fit, backing, rearing, sidestepping, bolting, anything but forward motion. They'd be dripping sweat and foaming but the second they took a step towards the arena, I'd turn them around and walk away. They got the hint and by the end of the session they'd be walking into the arena and walking back out. The next session, probably a half hours worth of a fight, then they realized what I wanted. Third time out, one little hissy fit then into the arena we went. About a week later, the horse would walk right in.

It takes time and patience but I think that you are doing everything perfectly. I think your horse just loses his brain and thinks he's still a barrel horse when he's at a horse show.

Keep your head up. Best of luck...
MicKey73 likes this.
     
    01-23-2012, 10:55 PM
  #6
Weanling
Quote:
Originally Posted by CLaPorte432    
Coming from a barrel racer...Are you sure that his reactions are from being nervous and not excited? My mare acts like your boy does before she goes into the arena. I even have to have someone lead her in. She gets so worked up because she knows that she's going to run that she becomes an idiot and doesn't focus enough.

If he's an ex barrel horse, he's already heard the loud speaker and seen the crowds of people and horses waiting to run. Chances are, he's mentally going back to his racing days and completely goes brainless for the dressage he's learned.

I've seen some nasty horses outside of the arena. They are arena sour and absolutely refuse to go in, so there will be 2 people leading while the horse is backing, and someone chasing them into the arena with a lunge whip. Barrel horses can be pretty messy. Sounds like your the lucky one that found a messy one.

The absolute best thing that you can do for him, is continue to take him to shows like you were and just ride around. Feed him carrots and apples and peppermints. Go in and out of the arena as much as possible. If there's a lunch break, I'd be working on him just walking into the arena, going around and coming back out. No expectations.

I've worked with some pretty arena sour horses and it literally took me HOURS to get the horse to walk/prance into the arena. They would throw a complete hissy fit, backing, rearing, sidestepping, bolting, anything but forward motion. They'd be dripping sweat and foaming but the second they took a step towards the arena, I'd turn them around and walk away. They got the hint and by the end of the session they'd be walking into the arena and walking back out. The next session, probably a half hours worth of a fight, then they realized what I wanted. Third time out, one little hissy fit then into the arena we went. About a week later, the horse would walk right in.

It takes time and patience but I think that you are doing everything perfectly. I think your horse just loses his brain and thinks he's still a barrel horse when he's at a horse show.

Keep your head up. Best of luck...
Thank you for your thoughts and reply. I appreciate your thoughts and suggestions, and definitely think what you are suggesting is the way to go. He needs good memories to replace the bad.

As for the part in bold, I am positive he is NOT excited in a happy way when this happens. He is nervous and out of his mind scared. He is running AWAY from the arena, AWAY from the stress. I have seen him nervous/excited and it looks completely different and is, above all other things, manageable. When he switches off, he is for an instant, unmanageable. He was exactly one of the horses you described. In fact, he used to win a lot of money for his former owner who only sold him down the road when she and a small army could no longer drag him into the arena.

As a barrel racer, maybe you can help shed light on why, if a horse needs to be dragged into an arena, they keep being used for that purpose. Not knowing a thing about barrel racing, I am hesitant to be critical, but I really just don't get it.

So here's to my now English horse acting a fool at your local gymkana. Cheers!
     
    01-23-2012, 11:07 PM
  #7
Weanling
Quote:
Originally Posted by Horsesdontlie    
Plus get some pictures of dressage and xc!
Ask and you shall recieve!


I will be sure to follow your progress with Jake. It's nice to know someone else is fighting the battle too
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barrelbeginner likes this.
     
    01-23-2012, 11:19 PM
  #8
Trained
Holy smokes! He's got one hell of a jump, doesn't he? What a gorgeous boy!

As a barrel racer myself, I do feel your pain. My main mare right now is a total nutjob, very sensitive, very ding-dong-y, and even though she is such a wonderful horse to ride and has a wonderful personality, her limited amount of times running has caused her to get a little bit out of touch with what little sanity she already had For every time I ran the pattern, I did a hundred low excersizes. For everytime I did one drill, I did another hundred counterarc circles. My biggest issue with her is getting her to put her head down and just CHILL. She likes to get worked up and ignore the bit, but I put her back to a snaffle instead of the leverage gag and it did effect our brakes a little (working on it) she became a million times more relaxed.

But that's enough about me. I'm very impressed that you've stuck with him so long, you two look like a wonderful team! I know some people who would have just completely given up on him by now, and that makes me sad.

Keep up the good work!
     
    01-23-2012, 11:39 PM
  #9
Trained
Quote:
As a barrel racer, maybe you can help shed light on why, if a horse needs to be dragged into an arena, they keep being used for that purpose. Not knowing a thing about barrel racing, I am hesitant to be critical, but I really just don't get it.
Honestly, those are the people that probably shouldn't own a horse. They forget about the horse's happiness because they are so engrossed in winning. As you said, his previous owner won quite a bit of money on him, and she wanted to continue to win money. Instead of spending money to get another horse that LOVES his job, he/she continued to use a proven money winner.

My ex barrel horse had been run for 15 straight years. He loved it but he wasn't trained correctly and would knock stuff over. I spent a whole season re-training him. The next season we were unbeatable. The 3rd season I had him, he was DONE with racing. He got arena sour. He ran me into the barn one time. He became unmanageable and dangerous. I retired him. That was the responsible thing to do before he hurt me, himself, or an innocent bystander. Not everyone thinks like that though.

My current mare really likes running, but like I said, she gets hyper. Which I like. That way she's on her toes and I know she'll be at her best in the arena because she's ready to go. She's not being lazy on the sidelines dreading her run. But when we come out of the arena, she's calm and really really good. But you get to the entrance of the arena and she knows her business.

Your horse is arena sour and is freaked out. Maybe something happened to him while in the arena. Maybe he fell? Or his previous rider beat the crap out of him every time he refused which just escalated into more and more problems and finally she gave up on him. I wouldn't want to ride a horse like that, I've been there and it's not fun or rewarding. But I take steps to make sure my horses don't reach that point. To keep them both physically and emotionally fit.

If it takes a "small army" to get a horse in to run, the horse is trying to tell you something and thank God the owner decided to let him go as opposed to causing anymore damage to him.

He's an emotionally wreck and the only thing that's going to help him at this point is just proving to him that the arena isn't a bad place to be. That it's actually fun and a place that is rewarding. (Treats!)

If there is an arena that you can haul him to and just work in while no one else is there, that'd probably be for the best. A nice relaxed environment to do your training is what he needs. Like I said earlier, no expectations. Maybe just lead him into the arena and play around with him. Groom him, feed him some grain or treats. Make it a fun place to be. Hop on him bareback and just walk around. If he starts acting up, get him to do something good first, and then get down and focus his mind on something else. If he refuses to go into the arena, have a friend or parent with another horse in the arena. That'll confuse him. LoL. "What another horse doing in there? Aren't I supposed to run all by my lonesome? That horse isn't freaking out, maybe that arena isn't such a bad place to hang out." It's worth a shot...

Or if he still won't go in. Have a bucket of grain or treats and shake it as your walking into the arena. My horses will follow me through a fire if I have cookies. LoL. That way his attention is on the food and not the "big bad arena" and pretty soon, he'll be standing in the middle like "How'd I get here?"

I definitely would keep riding him around at shows for as long as you have to. The day he steps into that arena and you complete your first dressage test successfully, will be worth all the blood, sweat and tears that you've put into rehabilitating him.

You WILL get there. I promise. :)

BTW: He's gorgeous! What a big jump! In the first picture, his eye is so soft and content. That right there, is a major success in your training.
     
    01-23-2012, 11:41 PM
  #10
Weanling
Thanks! We both need improvement, but we are having fun as we go. (Except this weekend lol)
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