When considering buying a horse with issues on the barrel pattern, make safety a priority.
If you’re thinking of buying a horse that’s considered “blown up” on the barrel pattern, that type of horse comes with safety concerns. Whether you’re buying a horse that has issues you definitely know about or issues that surface later, keep in mind the importance of your own personal safety.
I was once interested in buying a horse that was as solid as could be in the practice pen but as soon as you went to a rodeo, when the adrenaline hit or whatever triggered the problem, the horse would run off at the first barrel. As it turned out, other riders had the same issue with this horse—it wasn’t just me—so I was glad I tried him at a rodeo in advance. A lot of horses are great at home in practice runs, but things tend to come out at a show. It’s a good idea to try the horse at a show or rodeo whenever possible to learn how it does under pressure.
If you end up with a horse that has issues, whether you knew about it in advance or not, there are a few steps I’ve found to help fix this type of horse and a few situations to avoid.
Unless you’re a really experienced rider, do not get a horse that wants to come off its front end with you on board. Rearing is very dangerous even if you’re an experienced rider. You might know the horse has a history of this and be willing to take the risk, but you have to think about your family, too. Things happen, so you need to have the personal assurance to know it’s OK not to ride a horse with a dangerous habit. With that being said, if you’re a rider who is fearful of every horse, you must deal with your own fears to get past that and move on.
I don’t always know how much trust a horse with some skeletons in its closet will have. The way a person trains—not being overly forceful, angry or causing resistance—increases the chances of fixing a problem horse. You have to be a very good teacher, especially with horses that have been abused or have trust issues. The last thing you want to do is take an overly aggressive approach with this kind of horse, because you’re not going to win.
On the other hand, a horse that’s had a scared and timid rider, no dental work or no veterinary care for general soundness can become very evasive and spoiled. They will fight back in the beginning and can be dangerous to work with. There’s not really a timeline with fixing blown-up barrel horses, so you have to monitor how the horse is doing day-today. I’ve found that whenever possible, it improves the odds of fixing a horse to work cattle, rope, or do outside jobs that give it something else to think about. You’ve got to change its mindset from hating the barrel pattern. Giving the horse a variety of jobs can help you do that.
There are so many things that can happen with horses. A horse can pose a safety issue if it turns and runs off or starts rearing. So many things are going on, and sometimes it’s as simple as nerves because the rider is tensing up. Some horses need a rider who can provide confidence and assurance. To me, most horses want to do the right thing. If a horse is running up the fence or not giving you its face at all, there’s something going on health-wise or training-wise.
A horse that has been pushed to run barrels through soreness or injury will often have that in its head, and even after you get the horse sound, the negative reaction to pain creeps back up. That’s just the way it is, and the issue is not always going to 100 percent go away, and it may take time to see any improvement once you eliminate pain.
Risk and Reward
It can be a very rewarding process to fix a problem horse knowing you are making its life better. Some performance problems originate with pain, so getting to the root of the problem means also improving the horse’s overall health, which is gratifying. Soreness, EPM, ulcers, bad teeth and improper shoeing are all things I’ve seen lead to performance issues such as ducking in front of the barrels, refusing to go in the gate, running by the barrels, and more.
I used to buy horses that weren’t performing to their full potential and work with them. From my years of experience doing that, I can tell you the No. 1 thing that causes horses to quit working is not having enough room to clear their hind end around the barrel. They get too tight and develop habits in response to poor position. A lot of horses will start trying to move their hip out of the way, which shifts their weight to the front end. With this situation, soreness will always develop because the horse’s weight is not distributed correctly. It’s usually a combination of things that causes a horse’s performance to deteriorate, which is why doing a better job of taking excellent overall care of your horse is important. Good dental care, shoeing and nutrition are all factors. For example, if a horse is wormy or has ulcers, it doesn’t feel good and its performance will suffer. Be aware of everything involved in fixing a horse, because equine health and good training go hand in hand.
I’ve seen horses that immediately fall in love with a new rider and get along perfectly just as a result of the change in attitude, care, scenery—sometimes you can’t predict what makes the difference.
My goal working with people and horses, and my goal with this article, is to encourage you to really think through what might have happened to a horse that needs to be fixed. Unlocking the possible causes makes finding the solution easier. Root issues can’t always be explained because horses are unpredictable animals, but take time and identify what your end goal is with this type of horse. Don’t be quick to react and blame the horse because it takes a lot of patience, and be aware about when to insert discipline and when not to.
This article was originally published in the September 2019 issue of Barrel Horse News.