Strategies to Sweeten Your Barrel Horse’s Sour Attitude

August 17, 2019

Examining horse's teeth

Your barrel horse may be at the top of his game, but if his attitude doesn’t match his fitness level, you won’t have much luck at competitions. Horses can get sour attitudes for many reasons, but to get your barrel racing partner back on track, you’ll need to get to the root of the problem.

Evaluate Your Horse For Pain

Before you approach your horse’s attitude as a training issue, start by ruling out pain. Have your vet out to thoroughly examine your horse, including palpating his back for soreness and checking his teeth to make sure that he isn’t in need of dental work. Your vet may recommend that you have your horse scoped for ulcers or, depending on your location, have your horse tested for Lyme or other diseases that can result in sudden attitude changes.

Once you know that there isn’t a physical issue behind your horse’s attitude, you can try other techniques.

Evaluate Saddle Fit

Your horse may not be showing physical signs of pain in his body, but a poorly fitting saddle may be causing him discomfort during rides. Check that your saddle fits your horse well, makes contact with his back, isn’t pinching his withers and the cinch isn’t riding up or pinching him. You may experiment with saddle, pad or cinch changes to see if they result in a happier, more willing performance from your horse.

Slow Down Your Speed Work

Too much speed work can result in anxiety, lack of focus, and mental burnout, so tone things down for a while and go back to the basics. Work on refining your communication with your horse and fine-tune his responsiveness in transitions, turns and more. This quieter, calmer work can help to refocus your horse’s energy, so stay off the pattern for a while and focus on the nuances of riding.

Change Up Disciplines

No, you don’t have to give up barrel racing forever, but cross-training in another discipline can give your horse a mental break, allowing him to return to barrel racing refreshed. Try taking your horse for trail rides or even focusing on some Western dressage. The skills you learn cross-training can enhance your communication and benefit your horse in barrel racing, and the mental benefits he may gain can make a big difference when it comes time to race again.

Don’t underestimate the importance of giving your horse some turnout time, too. Whether you turn him out for a few weeks or a few months, your horse may benefit from a short break in training.

Take a Break From Competing

You may need to take a break from competing until you get to the bottom of your horse’s sour attitude. Competing a frustrated horse will frustrate you and won’t do much to improve his attitude. No one wants to miss out on competing, but by taking a step back and giving your horse some time, you may be able to compete him again in the future. With a little time and patience, many barrel horses can work through their attitude issues and come to enjoy barrel racing again.


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