Just like humans, not every horse matures at the same speed as its peers. Champion futurity trainer Mark Bugni offers some insight for dealing with immaturity in young horses and how to help them develop at their own speed.

When Bugni gets a young prospect in for training, he says he can usually tell pretty soon how mature the horse is, even before he begins hauling it. The key to keeping the horse intact mentally is not rushing the process—which can mean holding the horse over until it’s 5 instead of the traditional 4-year-old futurity year—or asking too much from the horse too soon.

Mark Bugni standing with horse
Based in Okemah, Oklahoma, Mark Bugni is a champion trainer with multiple wins in futurities and open competition.

“Typically, I’ll just hold them over or I’ll take it easy and every time I feel like they get a little rattled coming out of the pen after we’ve made a run, I’ll just take it easy at home and do a lot of quiet station work, some pasture rides,” Bugni said.

Bugni says backing off if a horse isn’t handling competition or exhibitions well is crucial to the sanity of the horse’s mind and longevity of its career. Sometimes this means not pushing the horse during a run or not entering at all until it regains confidence.

“I am not a believer in blowing a horse up—I will not take one in there if I feel that they’re rattled,” Bugni said. “I’ll either sit passively or they’ll just wait a couple weeks until I feel like their confidence is built again.”

Ultimately, not every horse has the mental fortitude to handle competing at a young age. It’s important to closely observe how your horse deals with pressure as its training progresses to determine whether or not futurities are in the animal’s best interests in the long run. Keep in mind that just because a horse isn’t mature enough to run as a futurity horse doesn’t mean it won’t ever be mature enough to run barrels.

Bugni believes slow and steady wins the race when training young horses.

“Sometimes I hold them over until 5-year-olds instead of 4-year-olds and that does the trick, but sometimes your horse just won’t make a futurity horse, whether it’s a 4- or 5-year-old,” Bugni said. “I stay really conscious of that. If they feel rattled at all, we just quiet back down until they feel confident again.”


Blanche Schaefer is an avid barrel racer and managing editor of Barrel Horse News. Email comments or questions to [email protected]

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