Everyone takes training their performance horse seriously. I would like to talk about another part of that training that often gets overlooked: making sure your horse is ready for all arenas and all conditions. Hauling and seasoning are as much a part of training as the turning of three barrels. 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 run, 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. Arena sizes and patterns are different. The barrel horse must learn to pay attention to what he is doing. 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 been to arenas that used lime to make a starting line. It’s quite a surprise when you get to that line and all of a sudden your horse jumps it! 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!
Adjusting to Sights and Sounds
It is a good idea to haul to some rodeos and play days 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.
Never try anything new in competition that you haven’t tried first in the practice pen!
Teach him to run the pattern 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.
Your horse must learn to accept traveling and new surroundings. He must always keep his mind on the pattern no matter what the circumstances.
Conditions may vary,
but his performance must remain consistent.
When you start competition go to play days, 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.
Your performance horse is your partner and your investment; an investment not only of your money, but your time and the effort you put into your training. As with any investment, you seek results and rewards. Make sure your training is as thorough as possible. You may be the best around in running your pattern, roping, or cutting, but if your horse spooks or becomes distracted by music, lights, banners, or the noise of the crowd, or can’t regain his footing in a slick arena, you still may not bring home that championship you both have worked so hard for. Be as prepared as you can for all conditions. Be prepared. Good luck with your hauling and seasoning.
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 www.BarrelRacers.com.
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This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 9, Issue 1