QUESTION: My 10-year-old barrel racing gelding has started balking at the arena gate and running past barrels. What's causing his behavior--and how do I fix it?
Wendy B.King, Topeka, Kansas
ANSWER: If your barrel racing horse has a problem anywhere in the arena--or at the gate--he's suffering from physical and/or mental pain. He's either been worked sore, worked with too much speed, or worked too hard, too often.
First, rule out or resolve a physical cause with your veterinarian or an equine chiropractor. Next, go back to slow work, which should comprise 80 to 85 percent of your training. Too much speed is hard on your horse, so becomes the enemy. Walk, trot, and slow lope around the barrels and out in the pasture, teaching your horse to rate and turn in the correct position. Use speed no more than every third of fourth day.
Finally, evaluate your feed-and-conditioning program. A high-energy ration can make your horse too high, eroding your control. Not enough energy makes it hard for him to run well.
An unfit horse will hurt whenever you ask him to run. Get yours in shape for the sport. I ride 2 1/2 to 3 miles ever other day at the long trot and slow lope; the in-between days I go 1 mile. Any training and pattern work are additional.
Ed Wright and his wife, Martha, are top barrel racing competitors, specializing in breeding and training futurity horses. They train from their 120-acre facility in Stephenville, Texas.
This article first appeared in the December, 2000 issue of Horse & Ridermagazine.