Fireworks, Loud Music and Different Dirt – It’s almost summer, and we rodeo athletes are ready for the heart of our season! With schools and colleges being out there are lots of great rodeos and events scheduled. It is an excellent opportunity to hit the road to experience competing in some competitions across the country without having to worry about being back home before the weekend is over. Many rodeo competitors are already preparing for their summer of hauling. Your trailer may be stocked and ready to go, YOU may be ready to go, but is your HORSE ready? Not for just the long drives, but is he ready for all the competitions he will be facing? He is going to be running in many different arenas under many different conditions over the next three months. Your horse must be seasoned and ready.
A horse needs to get used to different grounds, various arena sizes, crowds, noises, lights, other horses and travel to help him become a winner. He is expected to perform and remain consistent in a competitive world that is very different from his own world at home.
You will find that every arena varies. For barrel racers, arena sizes and patterns are different. Things happen more quickly on a small pattern, and the barrels will be a stride or two farther apart in a larger pattern. Your horse must be aware of this and learn to adjust to each pattern accordingly. The alleyway is a little different in each arena and is not necessarily in the same location.
I have pulled up to arenas where the ground was so slick you could skate on it, so muddy you could lose your boots by walking in it, so wet you could swim in it or so dry and dusty you could get lost in it.
You need to know how to ride your horse under different conditions. On a good turning horse, you usually have to push him more in deep sand because the sand slows him down. A free-running horse that works on good ground might not turn as well on hard ground. Be prepared to rate him!
It is a good idea to haul to some rodeos and playdays to get your horse used to the crowds. Ride him in the grand entries. Sit on him behind the chutes so he will accept the crowds as well as other horses around him.Your horse needs to get accustomed to strange noises. What he will hear will be very different from what he has been used to at home. Music will be played, live bands may be performing, crowds will be yelling and loudspeakers will be blaring. Accustom your horse to these sounds by playing a radio at the barn. If noise affects his performance in competition, try putting cotton in his ears. After the run, be sure to remove the cotton.
Teach him to perform in the daytime and at night. He must learn to look for the barrels in a well-lit arena or a dim one. Many arenas have flags and banners around or over them. The way the lights shine on them sometimes creates a distraction. To get him used to this, try tying some flags overhead in his stall and in the practice pen.
When you start competing, go to playdays, jackpots or smaller shows where the entry fee is low. That way you will not feel pressured to push your horse too much. Give him the opportunity to work on his own and save the pushing for later.
At this stage, he doesn’t realize he’s racing against the clock, but you do, so ride him quietly and keep him calm. As time goes on he will learn that he is being asked for speed. When another horse runs out of the arena, he’ll begin to get nervous because he’ll learn he is about to run. At this point, keep him calm. As he gains experience, gradually increase your speed. After the first few competitive runs, you should be able to tell whether you need to return home to retrain or if you’re on the right track.
Hauling and seasoning require time and can get very expensive. By hauling two horses, one for competition and one for experience, you can save time and money. Some rodeos and jackpots will let you make your competitive performance and then make an exhibition run on your novice horse. It is also another way to compare your time with other good horses.
After a couple of months of limited competition and continued work at home, a rider will know if the horse is ready for top speed and performance. The rider should be able to ask the horse for all he can deliver and not have to worry about a poor performance or a bad pattern. If you do have an occasional problem, drop back to the training basics and reinforce the fundamentals
If a horse doesn’t improve with hauling and seasoning, he might remain just a fair horse and never become a top horse. Many barrel racers are top competitors, riding tough horses. You have to be mounted on a good horse to outrun them. You don’t have to win all firsts, but you should place consistently. Otherwise, you may need to look for another horse. Your horse may make championship runs at home in his own arena, but he must also learn to make them on the road. Don’t continually make excuses for him if he is not placing – (the ground was too deep, the timer missed me, he stumbled, I lost my balance or I didn’t hustle enough). Sometimes, we get so fond of our horses that we make too many excuses to ourselves. If you want to win, be objective about your horse’s strengths and weaknesses. If he is not a winner for you, just accept it and be constantly looking for your next winner.
Seasoning, like training, takes time. Don’t try to hurry your horse. Give him the time he needs. When he passes this part of training, he should be a proven barrel horse and capable of winning. When you and your horse are ready, pay your entry, then run to win! When you know you can make a competitive run with other barrel racers and barrel horses, enter him, pay your entry fees and count on your…
You can find many great inside horse training tips and advice on my website: www.barrelracers.com. We are constantly updating videos to not only help just barrel racers, but anyone who owns a horse. Also, my new book, Run to Win with Me is a great reference guide that covers prospecting for a horse, proper equipment and safety, training exercises, how to recognize warning signs of health issues and so many other great subjects you should know as a horse owner. For more information, horse sales, products, or training questions, please call the Josey Western Store at 903 935-5358.
Martha Josey personifies barrel racing for many people. She was the first and only cowgirl to qualify for the National Finals Rodeo in four consecutive decades. She has the distinction of winning both the AQHA and WPRA World Championships in the same year. Her career has stretched, win-to-win, over four decades. For more information, visit BarrelRacers.com.
- About Martha Josey
- Articles by Martha Josey
- Current Issue of Performance Horse Digest
- Follow Us & Subscribe
This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 9, Issue 5