Controlled Speed

Does your barrel racing horse dance and fidget at the
in-gate--then run past the first barrel? Here are seven tips to
calm him down and get his mind on the upcoming pattern.

* Check every piece of your equipment to make sure nothing is
irritating your horse.

Examine your saddle pad to make sure it's free of foreign
material (I actually found a nail in a pad once)

Check either side of his withers after riding for sore or dry
spots; if he seems sensitive in this area, your pad may not be
thick enough, or your saddle may not fit properly.

Look behind his front legs for any signs of soreness from the
cinch rubbing. (I use either a fleece-lined nylon cinch, or one
made from mohair and encased in a Toklat cinch cover.)

Make sure your bit isn't pinching the corners of his mouth, and
your curb chain isn't causing sores on the sides of his jaws or
under his chin.

Have your veterinarian or a certified equine dentist check your
horse' teeth. If your bit is bumping up against your horse's wolf
teeth, the discomfort will make him nervous, causing him to
resist your rein cues.

* Take your horse off a high-energy grain supplement, but make
sure his nutritional needs are met. A horse that doesn't receive
proper nutrition can become hyperactive or muscle sore. I've seen
many horses calm down after they were put on a balanced diet.

* Try riding your horse with a snaffle bit so he has less to
fight against, which will help keep him relaxed and supple.

* Make schooling rides slow and easy for your horse. Perform
flexing and bending exercises to limber him up, keeping him calm
and relaxed.

* To cure your horse of running past the first barrel, try this
exercise: Jog toward the barrel. When you're about one
horse-length away, say "whoa." Then take up on your reins, sit
down in your saddle, and ask him to walk around the barrel. When
he'll do this calmly, move up to loping toward the first barrel,
then jogging around it.

* Avoid practicing barrels every day; alternate your pattern work
with trail riding. (For more information on trail riding with a
barrel racing horse, see Horseman's Handbook, Horse & Rider July
2002.)

* Stay relaxed. If you need help on your riding, attend a
professional horsemanship clinic. I've never seen a horse that
wouldn't calm down with the right kind of riding.

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