Along the progression to making a winning barrel horse, there are important steps to be taken.
Equally important as the horse’s pedigree, correct conformation, good nutrition and health, is proper basic training.
The odds of a young horse completing his training and given a chance to become a great barrel horse are considerably higher when his basics are complete with a proper foundation. I call it building on the basics. But you can’t build without the basics.
In order to establish a solid foundation, the basics must be taught to the horse one step at a time. And he must be given the time to understand and solidly learn each step before he can effectively run a barrel pattern.
Each horse learns on an individual basis just like people learn at varying rates of speed, so be patient. Learning depends on how mature your horse is and also how willing he is. One percent improvement in one ride, equals 100% improvement on 100 rides.
Our barrel horse training program is designed around maximizing the potential of every horse that comes through our barn. Sure, I want to make great horses. Everybody does. But, our program has always revolved around being able to improve every horse that comes through our barn.
While we cannot take a bad horse and make him a great one, we are probably going to make him a little bit better barrel horse. One that his owners will enjoy.
To us, the basics a horse must know before he can become a barrel horse are (for clarification, I mean while mounted with the reins in the riders hands and not necessarily in this order):
1. To give his nose to pressure from side to side; 2. To flex or break or give at the poll; 3. To move away from leg pressure in the rib area; 4. Be able to move his hip when asked (like back up and move it side to side also; 5. To stop well; 6. To know his leads; 7. To be able to pick up his shoulders and move them side to side; 8. To lope a perfect circle.
Teaching a young horse, or any horse, the basics, will insure that they have a useful life and do not end up mistreated. Some one once told me, “If you want to make sure that a horse is well taken care of his whole life, invest your time or money in his training. Because horses that end up at auction yards are mostly untrained and not a joy to be around.”
In any case, all the basics are, is pressure and release and teaching the horse how to get release from pressure by giving the correct response. However, the rider does have to know what the correct response is ahead of time. These things are what makes the difference between a broke barrel horse or a not broke barrel horse. When the speed hits, there is nothing to fall back on to fix any problems that may occur unless the basics have been instilled.
A barrel horse prospect should be able to walk, jog, lope, back up, give to pressure from the reins and also from the riders legs. He should be able to lope that perfect circle.
When teaching the basics to a young horse, do not think that you can just teach them and never do them again. You need to continually practice the basics though out a horses life. As training progresses, if your horse gets resistant, you should slow back down and see if he needs a refresher on the last steps in his training.
You can also use the basics to let you know if something is wrong with your horse. If he has always stayed soft and supple to your hands and legs and is now suddenly stiff on one side or the other, something is wrong. Or maybe really wrong. So you can have the problem looked into by your vet or farrier or other professional that can help you to figure it out. Remember, a previously good horse does not just wake up one day and decide to be bad. Something is bothering him or hurting him.
Always use the mildest bit that you can to get the job done so that you do not scare your horse. But, if you are pulling and he is not responding, you may need to go to more bit. That does not mean that once your horse has “got it” you cannot step back down in bit also.
Another note, we always have a horse’s wolf teeth pulled by the vet before starting them with a bridle. They seem to get in the way and cause problems. It is really hard to get a horse soft in the bit if he has wolf teeth that are hurting him.
A major thing to remember is that when your horse does give in the face or neck or ribs or hips, or picks up his shoulder like you are asking, release pressure. This is the only way he will know he has done it right. But, you also need to know what response you are asking for before you ask. As soon as your horse discovers that it will relieve pressure when he gives the correct response, he will learn to do things right in an amazingly short amount of time. He will not want to do things any other way.
We barrel racers like to go fast. This is why we barrel race. But, we need to spend the time getting our horses broke and responsive by teaching them the basics. When we speed through this building of the basics, we are riding our way right into lots of future problems.