Charmayne James shares a few things you might not have known before getting your first young horse to train for barrel racing.

Charmayne James shares a few things to know before getting your first young horse to train for barrel racing.
Teaching young barrel prospects other jobs such as roping or tracking cattle along with basic manners, respect and patience are important building blocks to making a broke horse. Photo by Kailey Sullins

1. Pay Attention to Conformation and Maintenance

Good conformation and breeding help set you up for success. Try to stick with bloodlines that you know will have enough speed. It takes a lot of time to learn good conformation, but a good starting place is a balanced horse with good feet that aren’t too small and straight legs with a good hock set, because sometimes horses that are too straight in the hind legs can get sore more quickly. If you aren’t sure, look at the build on some of those horses that lasted a long time, like my “Scamper” and Kristie Peterson’s “Bozo.” That being said, there are horses who aren’t conformationally perfect that have still won.

A lot of people don’t understand the maintenance that goes into young horses’ teeth alone. They’re shedding a lot of caps and their mouth is changing so much. For horses under 5, they need to be looked at every four months by a performance dentist, and not just a teeth float.

Young horses can get sore, and if you feel like they’re not working quite as good, you’ve got to go through your checklist and get with your vet, dentist and chiropractor. As riders, we have to do our absolute very best to find these things and have a team of people you trust who are really good.

2. Take Breaks from the Barrels

Breaks are always good — a couple weeks off here and there, even a month off. I think your training sessions on the barrels should be very limited, maybe going around the barrels three times, but more work on getting them broke and building fundamental strength in circles not around a barrel. It’s better to be done by loping circles or roping or working cattle. I highly recommend doing other Jons to get their mind comfortable with being handled at speed, stopping, starting and turning.

3. Don’t Push Too Hard

If your horse gets unstable, it’s not always a physical problem; it could be a problem with your riding or training. Look at their attitude, why they’re not wanting to do it or if there’s resistance in any way. When you’re training, make the work easier and not so much drilling. Make the experience pleasurable for your horse. Your training needs to be done so that they don’t even know it — it’s just another ride.

4. Expect Bad Days Upcoming

When you ride young horses, bad days are to be expected. Some people are perfectionists and want to leave every single day expecting it to be great. There has to be a balance of trying to hold them on course and be correct, and some days just going out and trying to get them to do what you want. Read the signs that maybe the way you’re riding isn’t working and you need to change your game plan a little bit.

5. Don’t Tolerate Naughty Behavior

Your horse needs to be respectful and have manners. If they’re unruly and nobody gets after them for bad behavior, it becomes a learned habit. Ground manners completely tie over to when you’re riding. Don’t let them take advantage of you. Have the mind-set of loving them, but it’s tough love.

6. Just Go

When it comes to hauling a young horse, you’ve just got to do it. Make a plan, be motivated, load them up and start going. So many people talk about how their horse is great at home but when they go to a new place, they’re not. This means you need to do a lot of stuff away from home, even just riding and getting them used to new arenas. Sometimes taking them with seasonedhorses helps them learn to act more like an older seasoned horse and can help keep them calmer.

7. Always Seek Help

Training horses is a very skilled thing. Having a broke horse is amazing, and when I was a kid, my dad put me on really broke horses so I learned feel and didn’t get into many bad habits, like pulling or hanging on the horse’s face. I don’t consider ‘broke’ as a horse you can get on and ride and it’s safe. Broke means a horse that can stop, turn around, back up easily and lope a slow, collected circle, and that all takes time. The best thing you can do when you buy your first young horse is get with a reining trainer to learn how to get a horse more broke. A horse that handles well will do much better on the barrels.

This article was originally published in the August 2020 issue of Barrel Horse News.

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  1. Steve Pliska Reply

    I was hoping that you could send me an article you published in 2016 on a horse named Staunch Avenger?

    He was my favorite horse and I saw him run many times at Arlington Park.

    Thank you

    Steve Pliska
    4007 Walnut Court
    Rolling Meadows, IL 60008
    [email protected]

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