First Things First
Written and published in the January 2012 issue of Barrel Horse News by Ryann Pedone with Laura Lambert
Question: I have an 8-yearold gelding. When he comes out of the first barrel, he is elevating, almost like lunging, out of the barrel. I would like him to stay flatter and just run out when he leaves the turn. Any suggestions? -Barbie France Luhman, Hamilton, Mont.
First of all, I would advise locating a good veterinarian and taking your horse there to make sure that nothing physical is bothering him. I would make sure a good dental exam is done to ensure that his teeth are in good shape, and that his mouth is not hurting and his teeth don’t need to be floated. After a good, thorough check-up, then I would start doing some dry work.
Many times, I think when a horse is elevating or stepping off of a barrel, it’s because they are getting too flat coming into the barrel. In order to correct this, I will do all rights or all lefts around the barrels. I don’t do this in the normal “pattern” by starting at the first barrel then going to the second, then third. Instead, I start from another position in the arena, but work the barrels all to the right, then all to the left. I keep the horse really quiet. I would suggest staying at a walk and a trot to complete this exercise.
You will want to stay about four feet away from the barrels and keep your horse really flexed and relaxed while circling the barrels. This will teach your horse to relax going around the barrel, but it will also supple him and allow you to get more flex from him.
After you have gone around the barrels all to the right, then go to the middle of the pen and do a few circles without a barrel. When you are doing the circles without a barrel, place your weight a little more in the outside. To me, this signals the horse to keep moving up under himself. Then, when you look up and press them on the outside stirrup leaving a barrel during a run, it will cue the horse to square up and leave the barrel.
Another exercise that will help in this situation is what I call a “squiggle.” All this exercise consists of is immediately picking the horse up and asking for a reverse arc to make that horse really drive his inside hock up under him when leaving a circle.
So, you are still doing just dry work and keeping the horse bent, but as you finish the circle, you ask for a reverse arc to make them really push with their inside hock.
Work on this when you are riding away from the pattern. You don’t always have to be in the arena to do this exercise. You can work on it in the pasture, too. Just do nice even circles, and then when you shift your weight to the outside, expect your horse to drive away with the inside leg in a reverse arc.
Another factor you may want to address is your horse’s headgear. Since I haven’t seen the horse or ridden him, it is hard for me to say, but if your gelding is more of a naturally stiff horse, you may want to try something like a Goosetree Simplicity or a double gag without a curb strap. If your horse is really bendy, then I would suggest a hackamore, so you can pull a little bit without getting too much flex. When choosing any bit, make sure you have worked on driving that horse into the bridle and getting vertical flexion at the poll. You want the horse to know that when you take a hold of him, he respects the bit and does not elevate.