Question: I have a 7-year-old mare that I’m having some problems with. She is a free runner and doesn’t understand the meaning of rate. She is broke very well and breaks at the poll with the softest touch. She does perfect circles and rollbacks. Therefore, I’m having a hard time trying to figure out what to do.
I have tried several bits and also put a tie down on her because when I check her, she throws her nose up. I have done so much slow work and several different exercises to let her know she needs to rate the barrel, but when I run she gets all strung out. I bump her before the barrel and really sit down, but none of that has helped.
What kind of bit can I use that I can have some control of her and are there any exercises you could recommend? I appreciate your help so much! —Jody Goodall, Athens, Texas
A: With a problem like this I would work the mare slower, but I would also ride her in something that keeps her nose and head down. You want her to be in your hands all the time. I would lope a little ways to the first barrel, and then I would stop her and sit still. Then ride forward at a trot and stop her and sit still. Continue on at a walk for a few more steps, and then stop at the rate point before going around a barrel.
Really concentrate on getting this horse to gradually rate down and prepare for the turns. The ultimate goal is to get to the point that you don’t feel like you have to really bump her. We want your horse to learn to gradually slow down automatically and melt down into the turn on her own.
I would make it a priority to always do a lot of slow work, making absolutely certain that she is always listening to you. She needs to learn collection and to slow down when you ask her to—at any time or place you chose.
When a horse is running hard and not really preparing to turn and you “bump” her, it will cause her to lift her head up. However, if her body is prepared to set and is collected, she can gather for the turn. Therefore, you really need to work on melting her down for a turn rather than asking with one sudden movement. Collection is the key. Don’t ever go faster if you feel like she is not collected. You may have to add speed back on the pattern very gradually to attain a positive result.
If you are working your horse and you feel like she is getting away from you, I would stop her and work her in a small circle. You will want to keep her nose to the inside of the circle and work her until you feel her actually give to you, slow down and think. This will break her focus from the bad reaction of getting away from you and cause her to pay attention to you.
With respect to bits choices, I would suggest working your horse in draw reins to keep her listening. I would also suggest trying a Loomis gag to help gain the control and collection you need. Bits are hard to recommend without actually seeing the horse, however, at higher speeds, I would suggest that you use a bit with a shank, which will provide added control.
Dry work (off the pattern) would also be great for your horse. You can set up six or eight barrels and keep your horse in your hands and paying attention to what you ask her to do. You want her to approach a barrel—no matter where it is or what direction you are turning – with her body collected and in perfect position. You can even do this with just one barrel in the arena and change speeds, asking her to slow down and speed up on your command. You can adjust the distance you travel around the barrel by starting out wider and gradually transitioning to smaller turns close to the barrel, and then back out to larger perfect circles.
The importance of all of these suggestions is to gain control of your horse, make sure she is listening to you and reacting to what you ask her to do. (You may want to seek someone qualified to help you as you learn too.)
The other thing I think is really important with a horse like this is that you realize you must show her something and then give her a chance to learn what you tried to teach her. If you expect her to respond perfectly on the first day, you probably won’t get great results. But if you work hard and ride her for three or four days using consistent cues at varying speeds, then you can gauge how your horse is reacting. Good luck!
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