Arena sour, needing a break, or both?
Just recently, my 10 y.o. gelding has began acting up, BAD. Daughter and I barrel race him. We have been going every weekend for the past 8 weeks. Doing NONE for the next 3 weeks. He has always "bowed-up" at go time, and prances to the gate before taking off into the arena.
Last week, he absolutely refused to get near the gate. Backed, spun, kicked...you name it. He did it again this weekend.
Saturday after the show and his dinner, I saddled him up to walk him in and out of the gate. No running. He did okay the first couple times. then he started up again.
Today, he only made 1 run. Normally he makes 3 a day without problem. Again he fought a little.
he flexes normally. I can saddle him and ride around and he relaxes quickly. Until he gets near the gate. He only does this at shows, not at home.
Once in the arena, he is all business and calms down quickly after.
Changed his saddle pad today to see if that helped. No.
Aside from getting his back (alignment) checked and 3 weeks no barrels, any suggestions? I don't plan on even putting a saddle on him for a week, then just trail riding. Is he just getting sour? 90+ degree heat? both?
It seems like he may be getting sour -from doing the same thing over and over. So, as you said - I'd suggest taking him off the barrels and giving him a break from that fast paced work.
Take him out on the trails, walk/trot around the arena allowing your horse to slow down and do something completely different for a change.
There is also the option of - teeth, saddle, feet, back, etc.
Sitting here on the couch thinking back to this weekend, he was shaking his head a bit too. It was quite hot. Sweat in his ears??? We use have used a hack on him for 2 years, and his teeth were floated in March, so I rule that out too. Was at the farrier 4 days ago. Not limping or favoring a leg/foot.
You have a training problem. You need to do 2 - 10 times as much slow work and fast work. Horses 'burn out' badly on too much fast work.
You also need to pull your horse up and leave the arena a different way on practice sessions. You DO NOT need to teach a horse or practice running out of the gate.
Let me play this scenario for you. It may or may not apply in your case, but it shows the disconnect between what people think a horse is learning and what the horse is actually learning. Sometimes there is a world of difference between the two.
Many barrel horses are reluctant to go in the arena. Could it be because they go in the arena, are whipped and spurred around each barrel, have the reins jerks and pulled on at each barrel and then are whipped and spurred all of the way out of the gate.
When they get out of the gate, the reins are dropped, the whipping and spurring stop and the horse is petted on for doing a good job.
Now, lets look at it through the horse's eyes. Rather than teach him to run hard, check and turn, he is whipped and spurred all of the way. Now, he is again whipped with an 'over and under' or spurred all the way out of the gate. As soon as he gets out of the arena, all the whipping, spurring an jerking stops and he is rewarded for leaving the arena. Why on earth would he rather be in the arena than outside where he is petted and ridden on a loose rein. Of course, he dreads the arena.
If you watch the top barrel futurity riders, you will see trained horses that do not get whipped, spurred and jerked around. They are TRAINED. Many run in nothing more than a snaffle.
When barrel horses get pushed too hard, run too many fast runs, get too many hard runs out of the gate, etc, many get really sick of it and want to stay outside where they get pulled up and petted.
I have helped many riders with arena sour horses. Most (but not all) have come back pretty nicely. There are several things that you can do that help rehabilitate a blown up horse. The most important thing is to do a LOT of slow work in the arena. If you go in and trot a couple of patterns, stop the horse and rest at the 3rd barrel (if that is possible), go to the far corner of the arena, get off, loosen the girth and tie the horse up there for an hour.
Give the horse 'relief' in the arena and not just after it runs out of the gate. Horses figure out pretty quickly where they would rather be. It is up to the rider / trainer to make their lives more pleasant in that arena than outside.
Hope this helps. If this is not what you are doing wrong in this particular case, please do not take offense at it. I just know this is one of the problems with many of the horses and riders. Pain, of course, can be a reason why horses do not want to go in and run, but you seem to have addressed that already.
You can change the bit and the pad and have 10 different chiros look at his back but untill you change the way you ride him he will only get worse. The above advice is very sound and reflects my experience as well.
I appreciate the advice. I do not use spurs. At home, we rarely work the pattern and when we do, it's never more than an easy lope. I never ask him to run harder than he wants to. No bit in his mouth. Always use a hack. He goes in and out of the arena at home just fine.
Your horse is definitely arena sour. With his being barrel raced by both you and your daughter and has up to 3 go-arounds per day he is just burned-out with it all. He needs to be taken out for slow, easy trail rides. A complete change of lifestyle is going to help him immensely for a while. Not riding him at all in any arena will help him mentally. What I'm suggesting is just a remedial let-down until he has a chance to recoup from the load of fast arena work.
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