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View Full Version : Retraining an ex-barrel racer ... any words of wisdom?



Merle
Sep. 12, 2010, 08:38 PM
I acquired a very fancy horse recently, however I believe she was trained as a barrel racer at some point. I found a thread from June 2009 about some people having success retraining them and I was wondering if anyone had any specific methods that worked well for them.

Right now we're just working on relaxing/moving forward correctly on a loose rein but she's just not relaxing. She'd rather do a choppy trot/try to break into the canter and her neck/back is extremely tense even with my loose reins and easy, quiet riding. She's such a nice horse that I'd like to get her back to square 1 and see what she can do but she's not an easy horse to crack right now! We have very, very brief moments where she will put her ears forward and head down but I'm really not seeing much improvement in the last few weeks. Right now she's building the opposite muscles than I would like her to (she is so inverted and hollow). She does NOT travel like that naturally in the pasture, it is only under saddle.

I'm definitely not a "gadget" person but has anyone tried using a chambon or something along those lines to get them to understand how to travel?

rizzodm
Sep. 12, 2010, 09:29 PM
Your new horse has probally been moving a certain way for years so it will take more than a few weeks of undoing. I don't have first hand exp. with speed horses but hope others will chime in to give you some ideas.

Dawn

Petstorejunkie
Sep. 12, 2010, 09:42 PM
straight line work is your friend
I've never retrained ex barrel horses but I've trained dozens of ex polo.
Also my favorite tool is the hill. there is lots a hill can teach a horse

naturalequus
Sep. 12, 2010, 09:57 PM
PSJ has a good idea with the hills - hills force a horse to work from behind so they are an excellent training tool. And it is going to take more than a few weeks to undo years of incorrect previous training.

I haven't had to undo a barrel horse yet (not long-term) however it's just the same as any tense and emotionally uncollected horse and I have worked with a number of OTTB's, one of which being an extreme example. Circles are your friend - circular patterns (serpentines, figure-8's, etc) force the horse to balance and drive from behind. As relaxation develops, rhythm and suppleness will also develop and she can be progressively pushed into the outside rein with your inside leg, at which point she will start actually rounding and tracking up. Lateral work in small increments at this point. Basically, progressive exercises. 101 Dressage Exercises for the Horse & Rider as well as Progressive Schooling Exercises for Dressage & Jumping (Islay Auty) are my favourite progressive-exercise-books.

I incorporate a ton of groundwork and especially when I have a lot of work to undo on a horse. The groundwork essentially is a variety of exercises that balance trust and respect and that teach the horse to think, relax, and follow my leadership as opposed to reacting blindly. Really makes the difference with the horses I work with and their u/s progress.

Be willing to take the time it takes, don't rush her and skip to gadgets. As a sidenote, it took me a good solid year to undo my 'worst' Thoroughbred, though my work with him was unfortunately sporadic. You can probably do it much quicker if you are working with her regularly, but depending on your level of expertise, it could take you several months to a year to have her relaxed and working correctly in all three gaits. Invest in a good classical instructor, at least periodically, to check in on your progress, offer you tips, and keep you pointed in the right direction.

TKR
Sep. 12, 2010, 10:34 PM
Oh my! My wonderful Rip was a barrel horse -- Florida State Champion in the 60's (twice!) -- what an amazing athlete and friend! Maybe you might consider having a massage therapist or chiro out to check your horse over -- that kind of activity could certainly cause some stiffness. Just take your time -- forget an agenda - trail ride and get the walk, then the trot and progress from there. I don't like devices, I'll bet your horse is already tense and that will just increase that issue. Gain his confidence and get some rhythm in the gaits and find relaxation -- then you can truly progress. Good luck!
Penny G

pintopiaffe
Sep. 12, 2010, 11:07 PM
I find lunging in side reins, a single sliding (draw) side rein on the inside, to be useful for the tight back and upside down neck.

I've also used a neckstretcher with success.

Ground driving/longlining as well.

I think you really do have to go all the way back to the beginning. Sometimes even with some time off to let the strong wrong muscles let down a bit.

Millions and millions of small, quiet transitions into a kind hand.

Merle
Sep. 13, 2010, 12:02 AM
Circles are your friend - circular patterns (serpentines, figure-8's, etc) force the horse to balance and drive from behind. As relaxation develops, rhythm and suppleness will also develop and she can be progressively pushed into the outside rein with your inside leg, at which point she will start actually rounding and tracking up. Lateral work in small increments at this point. Basically, progressive exercises.

This is exactly what I've been doing (large circular patterns, some straight aways, transitions, keeping it simple and easy) so I will keep doing it. It makes perfect sense that if this is how she's been going, it will take a while to undo it. I have some small hills/knolls that I've been riding on and I do see moments of her relaxing/stretching down more. I think I'll try lunging her in side reins to try to build a bit of the correct muscle. I'm just afraid that me letting her go around inverted will continue to build the wrong muscle, which it sounds like it will, but eventually it will pay off and we can work the correct way. She's a sweetheart and has beautiful gaits (when she's not choppy/tense) with a big overtrack at the walk and surprisingly she (even right now) has a beautiful round canter under saddle so I'm very excited about where she can go when she's "normal" again. She had about a year off from work before I got her (only 3 light rides during that time) and I have lightly started her back up recently. Thanks guys! :)

Petstorejunkie
Sep. 13, 2010, 12:17 AM
I have two horses i'm working. one is my personal dressage horse and the other is a rehab TB project that needs muscle and a brain rewire. they both get 10 minutes of hills 3x a week, and 30-45 of hills 2x a week.
hills aren't just for marching up and down. in fact i rarely just march up and down hills.
go lunge on the dang hill, do all the stuff you have been doing, but do it on the hill. it will take the potential for argue, or alot in the saddle work on your part out of it.
If she gets rushy and choppy down hills, throw a few ground poles in the crucial spots she gets choppy. This is my favorite exercise with my rehab project. I place one slightly raise cavaletti on a slight decline and do 30m circles. where to the left he likes to drop his shoulder and clench the bit, using the cavaletti helps counteract these habits of his and teach him how to use his body correctly... and we aren't riding on contact yet ;)

Straight line work helps them to understand that exercises have a beginning, middle, and an end. it gives them a specific segment to focus on.

Merle
Sep. 13, 2010, 12:24 AM
I did drag myself over to the hill a few days ago to lunge on it (I didn't have enough time to ride). I have been strictly riding in that area so I figured I might as well lunge on it too! :D Oh goodness, I guess I am in it for the long haul. I'm a veterinary student so my time is quite limited but I'll squeeze her in. She's a sweetheart and deserves a chance at working correctly.

Candle
Sep. 13, 2010, 05:16 AM
I had an ex-barrel horse with bad memories apparently, and he never relaxed with a snaffle. It took me years to put him into a western correction bit, and he immediately relaxed, put his head down, back up, and sighed, like "Oh, now I know what you want". If nothing else works, I wonder if putting your mare in a double bridle for a little while may work so that she starts to understand what the snaffle is for. I wish I'd tried that with mine, but he was too broken for real dressage by the time I got him anyway.

Cheese183
Sep. 13, 2010, 08:57 AM
I am currently retraining my mare. She had lost that spark for barrels. So I decided to try some lower level eventing. Well the dressage has been our main focus since it is our weak point.
I did a lot of long and low work and hill work to develop the top line muscle. If the muscle isn't there you can't begin to ask for any real work. Keep figures a bit on the big side. As a barrel horse they are taught to rate for a turn and dig in and take off on the straight aways. Circles and spirals seem to work the best. Leg yeilding ia another great tool. It gets the horse stepping up under themselves and thinking lees about forward.

Personally I don't like gadgets. My mare will tend to fight them. Do you know what kind of bit she was used to? Finding an in between bit for those days when the horse is a bit hot may be a good idea.

Make sure you are totally relaxed. A good barrel horse can be ridden off of seat. Post the trot. Post as slow as possible. Help the horse to think slow. I am going to guess the horse needs not a lot of encouragement to go. You can add more forward after the horse learns to relax more.

Yes this is going to be a long haul. Do not force a brame. I have had a couple trainers get frustrated and had meask the horse to work without getting her to relax. Ye the horse will go on the bit and step ubder a bit but it creates more tension and an unhappy horse. Is there any event trainers in the area you like? They tend to be able to deal with a hot horse better than a dressage trainer. A few lessons from one may be a good idea.

Most barrel horses are ridden with some contact. So the loose rein may be a little to much for her. How is she with light contact? Now it is depending on her barrel training (unfortunately you see a lot of bad at the lower levels because everyone thinks it is easy to kick a horse around the pattern) is how she will respond to contact.

Now for a few question. How does she respond when you use your hands? Does she bend around you leg easily? How is she for trail riding? How is her downward transitions.

She sounds like a sweet mare. Kudos to you for taking the time to do things right and not rushing through things.

minuspride
Sep. 13, 2010, 10:35 AM
I acquired a very fancy horse recently, however I believe she was trained as a barrel racer at some point. I found a thread from June 2009 about some people having success retraining them and I was wondering if anyone had any specific methods that worked well for them.

Right now we're just working on relaxing/moving forward correctly on a loose rein but she's just not relaxing. She'd rather do a choppy trot/try to break into the canter and her neck/back is extremely tense even with my loose reins and easy, quiet riding. She's such a nice horse that I'd like to get her back to square 1 and see what she can do but she's not an easy horse to crack right now! We have very, very brief moments where she will put her ears forward and head down but I'm really not seeing much improvement in the last few weeks. Right now she's building the opposite muscles than I would like her to (she is so inverted and hollow). She does NOT travel like that naturally in the pasture, it is only under saddle.

I'm definitely not a "gadget" person but has anyone tried using a chambon or something along those lines to get them to understand how to travel?

Oh wow, do I know exactly what you're going through right now...I'll tell you what we did, and maybe you can figure out what parts of it will work for you.
To each his own as far as bits and saddles, so once you find the combination that works for your girl, then you are well on your way.
Our barn happened to have a great solid older mare who knows her job very, very well. I rode the ex-br, and put another rider on the mare. We would follow her at a slow walk, and we would see how many steps our ex-barrel racer would take before he got all antsy,speedy and whatnot. If it was one step, we would take one step and whoa. The ex-BR didn't always stop but luckily the mare always nailed her whoas, and he followed suit. Then, when he could do that, we moved up to two steps, and so forth.
Something that really helped our guy was to give him a rhythm, and count his steps, at the pace that we wanted them to be at. Now, when he gets very antsy, we count out his steps for him, and he slows right down. It's much better than pulling on his mouth, or shouting whoa damnit!!! or any variation of that.
This can be done in the ring or on the trail, we did both, to be sure he responded well to either. Our guy was not pastured with the solid older mare, so they didn't get buddy sour, but you may want to be careful of that and switch up horses if possible.
Another thing we did try was he would take a few steps of walking, and when he got antsy or tried to speed up we would circle him until he faced the fence and then basically use the fence to whoa him. That excited our guy more, but might work for some other horses.
Best of luck, I know how frusterating this can be.

Merle
Sep. 13, 2010, 01:20 PM
Thanks for the encouragement! Thankfully I think it has been a few years since she ran barrels. I do not know what bit they used with her. Her walk is generally great and she doesn't get antsy there. I did take her on a loop around our big pasture the other day (just at a walk) and she felt like she was a fire rocket. ;) It must have been the long straightaways, which I had never done with her before.

I have just been using a snaffle and haven't played around with bits. I don't think I own anything remotely close to what they probably used with her! Perhaps in this case I will need to find a stronger bit to just get her to use herself correctly and then gradually introduce the snaffle again? She is definitely pulling down on the bit and trying to root out of my hands with this snaffle.

She does respond well to leg, however once she gets sticky in the trot and wants to canter, she will start ignoring my leg aids. I have tried tapping her with the whip to get her quicker off my leg and to move out in her trot when she gets like that but that just makes her more anxious (which is what the problem is in this case - she wants to canter and I want her to trot). So I think I will just start circling her in the trot instead of trying to get her to slow down when she gets antsy. I think that will be a great tactic! The serpentines, figure 8s, etc do slow her down at the trot and make her think rather than the antsy, I need to go go go attitude.

I used to event (Preliminary level) so I'm fine with lots of energy and she is nothing like some of the horses I have sat on! She's actually a pretty mellow, laid back horse. It is just that she would rather canter than move out at the trot right now. I just wish I could get her to connect, stretch down, and work through instead of being so inverted and hollow. She is not very flexible in her neck at all so we're working on becoming softer and she's making progress with that at the walk.

arena run
Sep. 13, 2010, 01:47 PM
Why do you believe this horse ran barrels? Is this based strictly on her inverted way-of-going under saddle?

If a horse is correctly trained for barrel racing or any speed event (or any event at all) he/she will NOT have an inverted way-of-going. The horse being antsy can be attributed to many things, incorrect dressage training would be one of them. :) Incorrect training for trail riding would be another. Incorrect "anything" training for that matter. A few others that come to mind are bad saddle fit, rider giving mixed signals, rider not knowledgeable in how to ask for collection, rider being tense, too much of the wrong kind of feed, not enough turn out, new place, new rider, new feed, pain from injury, pain from bad angles in the feet, pain from just about anything if the horse has a high flight instinct... they will run from whatever they don't feel they can deal with.

There are lots of things that will cause a horse to act the way you described your horse acting.

Anyone who has any long-term success w/running horses in a pen knows you don't train them to be inverted. You train them to carry themselves correctly and to use their rear end so they can sit down and turn and stay sound. sylvia

walktrot
Sep. 13, 2010, 01:48 PM
Horses have very long memories, as we all know. My b/o has a 32 y.o. mare who did barrels sometime in her previous life. She has been a therapy horse for at least 15 years and is still going strong. We have fun shows for the kids from time to time, just walk/trot equitation and a few games. She's fine until you put a barrel pattern in front of her. When she gets to the top of the pattern and rounds that last barrel she breaks into a nice little canter.

LauraKY
Sep. 13, 2010, 01:55 PM
Hmm, think I'd have the chiro out before I'd blame it on previous training. Have you checked saddle fit?

Cheese183
Sep. 14, 2010, 11:17 AM
Double check the saddle fit. Play with a few different snaffles before bitting up. I knew a more would lug around on your hands unless it was a fullcheek. Then she was a dream to ride. If you decide to bit up get a mouthpiece that mirrors your snaffle with short shanks. Right now I use a dog bone argentinesnafflr(no it is not a snaffle it is just called that) to mirror her Oring with the bean in the middle. I do try to keep to the snaffle for 80%of our rides. However there are instances, like trail riding, a snaffle would get me killed.

A little to reminder when you go to circle your mare:btreathe. I don't notice I am holding my breath and as soon as I breathe and relax my horse follows.She is probably one of those horses the trot will come in time after the walk and canter. I know with my mare I have done a ton of work at the trot. She likes to pick up speed a bit but not break into the canter. I don't do a lot of canter work. So when I dod focus a little on the canter, it seems so much better. Like if you see something every day you don't notice the little changes compared to something you don't see every day.

If your mare had decent barrel training than all the basics are there.It just will take time because you are asking her to move in a different frame and use more top line muscle. As fourh mom stated a properly trained barrel horse will not travel inverted but neither are they asked to come round except for the turns. So it will take the time to build the proper muscle.

So take your time, enjoy your journey, and good luck

baylady7
Sep. 14, 2010, 02:44 PM
Peyton Morris' horse, Holly Fourbarrel (aka Tyronne) is a national and world rated games horse (retired). More about them here:

http://www.vadanova.org/membership/newsletters/News2010/Mar2010.pdf

and picture here:

http://www.vadanova.org/membership/newsletters/News2010/Apr2010.pdf

They won the BLM Championship in 2008.

katarine
Sep. 14, 2010, 03:34 PM
how old is this mare?
How much do you actually know of her history? Meaning did some kid race around with their rein hand up around her ears or their's...or was she well ridden and run?

Barrel horses *should* know how to reach out there and trot, really trot. Her aversion to reaching in the trot sounds more physical than mental. They *should* also know ALL about moving their various parts around, picking up a shoulder, etc....

example- this horse is not the picture of 'running around inverted' based on his build:
http://www.barrelhorseworld.com/horsedetail.asp?ID=105839

or this one:
http://www.barrelhorseworld.com/horsedetail.asp?ID=105034

Really if she was a 'good' barrel horse your biggest issue would be coming down the centerline and actually getting a whoa :) LOL

best wishes- but I'd put barrel out of your mind. She's just a horse who needs rewiring :)

dressappy
Sep. 14, 2010, 04:50 PM
Peyton Morris' horse, Holly Fourbarrel (aka Tyronne) is a national and world rated games horse (retired). More about them here:

http://www.vadanova.org/membership/newsletters/News2010/Mar2010.pdf

and picture here:

http://www.vadanova.org/membership/newsletters/News2010/Apr2010.pdf

They won the BLM Championship in 2008.


Knowing Tyrone and knowing how he was trained, switching him wasn't as drastic as maybe taking a barrel racer who may have had a bad history. I remember when they took Tyrone to an english show because one of the Gilles girl's horse was lame. He actually did well. Tyrone had great training and was already a pretty cool dude to begin with. A lot of dressage folks are so amazed at his switch, but a good horse with a great temperment and all he needed was dressage training to make him into a dressage horse. I don't know how long it took him to switch, but like with all training there is no short cuts.

Some barrel racers aren't trained by the best of folks. Some are inverted because of folks who ride incorrectly and just add harsher and harsher bits and odd gadgets instead of correct training and riding.

So honestly patience. Don't rush them. And know that it has been done, and the journey is all the fun.