Getting the Out of Shape Barrel Horse Back To Work (Tons of Questions)
Barrel racing has always been a dream of mine, but I've never really pursued it before. I've had the horse to do it for 7-8 years, but never the time to start working with him. One of his previous owners (and their child) used him for both barrels and poles a few years ago. He hasn't been run since shortly before I got him and he has only been ridden a few times here and there in the past 4 years due to a real lack of time. So, needless to say, he is a bit out of shape. He is very well trained, does pretty much anything you ask of him, and is just an all around great horse.
I would consider myself new-ish to barrel racing. I have watched it, read about it, and talked to a few barrel racers about it. But never competed in it. Played around a bit on a makeshift pattern, but never really serious or on a seasoned horse. Therefore, I have quite a few questions, so bear with me.
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?
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.
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?
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?
That's all the questions I can think of for now, but I'm sure there will be more as I go and as y'all respond to the above questions. Thanks in advance for all the replies, comments, suggestions, and answers.:D
Sixteen is a fine age. There are many horses barrel racing around here that are in their twenties and even thirties. To get him back in shape, lots of trotting and loping. For lack of muscle, slow trots and stops work great. If you have any hills trot him up and down those hills. If he doesn't like anything shanky, you can always keep trying in the D-ring or O-ring, or even search around for a bit with a very short shank like this one. Since the longer the shank, the more pressure, smaller shank, less pressure.
Just to get him back into shape would be a lot of trotting and a lot of loping and definitely some breezing in a straight away to get his stamina back under his belt.
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? The bit you posted is very similar to the jr cow horse bit I tried on him, which he didn't exactly like. It was this type of mouth though:
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?
With my mare who bites at her shanks, I put some thick foam bit guards to put some space between her shanks and her mouth. Now if he doesn't like the bit, but doesn't respond in an O-Ring, it's riders safety first. He may just have to get used to the little shanks you are placing on him. Grass will limit your options for speed on HILLS. And on hills you want him to mainly slow trot up or extended walk, it will work the fat that he has on top of his abdominal muscles and on his rear end. The bit you posted has a nice short shank, and it should work.
Now are you looking more to turn his chubby weight into muscle AND get his lungs and heart ect. back up to competition level? Or what exactly?
These are the thickest bit guards I have been able to find, they are foam and not thin rubber. They work best for me and my horses in protection and keeping a bit aligned etc..
I'm looking to get him muscled up and back into competition shape/condition by this time next year or sooner if possible. That is my main goal. I know he has competed before and was pretty good, but hasn't in a while. He is trained, just out of condition and not really muscled up.
I may have to look into getting some bit guards then. I thought that might be one solution, but wasn't sure if it would work or not.
Better late than never!! :lol:
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.
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.
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. :wink: )
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.
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.
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.
He rides fine in a d-ring at a walk, trot, and slow lope. Don't know how well he rides/stops going any faster or on the pattern though. He is pretty hot-headed once you really get him going. My concern is stopping/controlling him at that speed with just a snaffle. I wasn't sure if there was some bit that would be better for him just in case. I'm pretty light-handed and stay out of a horse's mouth unless absolutely necessary. So, I could use just about any bit, but don't want something that is too much for him.
Hmmm, you know it just really sounds to me like he is plain SPOILED when it comes to accepting a bit. Especially if a child rode him at one point, he probably didn't get corrected when he needed to be, and developed these bad habits.
Still definately get his teeth checked out by a dentist, just to be sure.
But if everything shows up fine, you may just need to open a can of worms with him, and MAKE him respect a bit in his mouth. He needs to understand that throwing his head and "temper tantrums" are not acceptable --- that includes the halter too.
There's a fine line between allowing a horse to have his quirks, and allowing them to just plain have bad behavior. Now I don't know your horse and I haven't seen him in person, but based on the things you have described, I think he just has bad habits.
I currently have my horse Red with a reining trainer. I took him there because his previous owners were inconsistent with him and never taught him to soften to the bit properly. He too would throw his nose, toss his head, and just was not soft at all. I was just up to see him last night and took a lesson, and he is doing SO well.
For him, the trainer put a ported bit on him. She told me that ported bits work well for re-training head throwers because when they do throw their head, that port will hit the roof of their mouth and will hurt. They'll eventually make the connection that it hurts to throw their head and they shouldn't do it.
She had my horse in this bit last week:
And last night, they tried this one on him and he is responding SO well. Almost zero nose throwing and head tossing!
If you are not comfortable using these bits on your own to CORRECT him, then enlist the help of a trainer who knows what they are doing.
I'm not suggesting these as a permanent bit for your horse, but they may be necessary to fix his head throwing/ nose tossing and soften him up.
For a barrel bit, I'm a bit fan of the Jr. Cowhorse, especially like the one you posted. I know you said he "didn't like it" but I really think he may just need to be taught to accept it.
A Tender Touch bit can also be a nice step-up from a snaffle.
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