Kelsey Lutjen is one of our featured TrainingBarrelHorses.com trainers, and in this segment of Pointers from the Pros, we dive into one of Lutjen’s quick exercises she uses to keep hot horses calm.
“[I have a horse] that is super anxious. He’s got a lot of confidence—he wants to get in there and hurry and get his job done, but I don’t let him,” Lutjen said. “When I work that horse, I do a lot of slow work with him. I do this exercise to keep his mind right and him listening to me and my body language. I’m super big on body language. You can’t pull on this horse, so I’ll [use] this exercise to get him listening to my body.”
With this exercise, Lutjen will typically use the entire pattern, however she says it’s not necessary. As an alternative, you can use just one or even two barrels. Lutjen begins by loping circles around one barrel until the horse relaxes into her hands. She stresses the importance of not using your hands to try to slow the horse down. Instead, keep your hands still the entire time and use your legs and body to wheel the horse down to a trot.
“I want the horse to trot, but I’m not going to use my hands,” Lutjen said. “I have him set with my hands, but I’m not going to pull or jerk on him or anything like that—I’m just going to sit and say ‘whoa.'”
If your horse begins to push on you or drift in or out of the circle, Lutjen advises to quietly and calmly correct the horse back onto the circle and continue loping. Say ‘whoa’ with your voice and use your seat and body until the horse relaxes and breaks down to a trot.
If the horse wants to pick up the lope from a trot, don’t correct the horse with your hands. Instead, allow it to lope again and repeat your body cues until it responds again to your body language by breaking down to a trot. The key is to remain calm in your hands by keeping them in a set position and use your body language and position.
Lutjen says once the horse is trotting, continue to trot around the barrel for a few circles until it relaxes and say ‘whoa’ and begin slowing your horse down with your body until the horse breaks down to a walk. When the horse is calmly walking, move on to the next barrel or switch directions.
“That’s an exercise I’ll use a lot on an over-anxious horse,” Lutjen said. “I don’t use my hands a lot; I ride with my body. If I were to go up in there and crank his nose and try to pull him back to me, it’s going to be a fight. So, I set him and if he wants to go around that barrel a bunch, I’m fine with that. I’ll just keep riding him through it. I don’t ever get mad at him, and I just do that to bring him down where he’s listening to my body so when I say ‘whoa’ he’ll come back to me.”
Lutjen says your horse will develop an automatic response to your body asking it to slow down, and in the long run, grow less anxious and less likely to pull on your hands.
“[The horse will get] to where I can lope three circles around the barrel, I’ll say ‘whoa’ and he’ll automatically trot, then I’ll trot around a couple times and say ‘whoa’ and he’ll automatically walk around the barrels,” Lutjen said. “It’s a really good exercise on horses that are hotter that get mad if you try to make them do it. I just try to let it be their idea.”
To watch this drill and more from Kelsey Lutjen, visit TrainingBarrelHorses.com at http://bhnmag.co/2wbT8p5.
Article and photo by Kailey Sullins, managing editor of Barrel Horse News.