Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Barrel Racing

Don't forget to note the undeveloped topline and overdeveloped underline of this horse's neck (see previous muscling blog for further details)...

I have already previously written about barrel racing, but I just had to vent after reading Shame in the Horse Show Ring's blog on barrel racing.

See, people (outside the barrel racing world) often seem to think it's about 'training the horse properly', that barrel racers are not training their horses properly, which results in this:

(what bugs me about this video is that the wrecks - essentially horses being abused - are somehow glorified, the riders made out to be so "amazing")

or what about this:

oooor this:

Newsflash: if your horse is bucking, he's sending a clear message - get off my back!

The music in these videos really bugs me - I'd be ashamed to even video clips such as these of my horses, nevermind post them with music to portray the clips as "so fantastic". There's just nothing "fantastic" about my horses hating me and loathing their work. There's nothing fantastic about a scared horse, and there's nothing fantastic about a horse in pain.

It's not about whether or not the horse has adequate training, or if it was over-schooled, it's a matter of the horse in question's emotional status. These horses are absolute emotional wrecks. They are being encouraged (often indirectly and inadvertently) to react rather than to think. The sad part is that the horse is usually blamed, or the sport itself is. The horse is henceforth forever labelled "useless" for anything else after his barrel career and its behaviour is blamed on the sport itself "oh, barrel racing does that", like that's just how it has to be and we all have to accept it. The same often happens in the jumper world. Well it's not, and we don't. When the horse is developed into an emotionally balanced partner with a solid foundation, barrel racing can be done successfully for both horse and rider!

Here's one example:

(granted, I doubt it was much of a good time, but it shows that it can be done, and hey, even in a simple rope hackamore!)

When are people going to learn that it is not the horse's fault! Furthermore, when are they going to learn that it does not have to be this way! It's not due to a lack of training either, it's due to people mistreating their horses. Yanking on the huge bits in their horses' mouths (snaffle or gentle hackamore, anyone?). Kicking with spurs (anyone ever heard of squeezing?). Whipping. Tie-downs (gotta keep that head down now that the horse is tossing its head due to the pain!). The list is endless. People seem to think that it is okay for a horse to "spazz out" prior to a run - it's not. Look at it from the horse's perspective. A horse rearing or bucking is desperately trying to tell its rider something and it shouldn't have to resort to those extremes! Forcing them to do so (due to circumstances) is what turns these horses into wrecks. Oh, and it's not because "they're competitive" - that the excuse one of the barrel racers at our barn uses. No, your horse's brain is fried, that's why he acts the way he does. Horses can be excited prior to a run, but the key is to teach them to think and to learn how to turn them on and off. The key is in teaching the horse to wait patiently to its riders cues and to channel that energy.

What's with the flapping legs? Ever seen a horse send a shiver through his skin when a fly lands on him? Yup, doesn't need the kicking, much less with spurs. Someone please answer me this: why would you pull back on your horse's mouth while asking him to run? I see it constantly at the gymkhanas. Rider kicks with spurs, beats their horse's hindquarters, and simultaneously yanks on that big bit in the horse's mouth (time for a tie-down!). Then the horse goes up (I mean, really, where else was he supposed to go??), which gets him more beatings, because now Rider's angry at her horse for "acting up". *sigh* Let's not forget either that horses are not stupid. After the hours of practise I recognize it takes to sufficiently prepare a horse to run barrels, he should be able to ride those barrels bridleless - a.k.a. without that severe bit in his mouth. As intelligent animals, horses should easily be able to do a barrel pattern - a pattern they've done a million and a half times, with very little guidance. Unless of course we need those twisted-wire-long-shanked curb bits to keep him in the arena in the first place! And don't tell me "some horses can't run in a snaffle". We'll do a blog on bits later. Suffice it to say however that bits are for refinement. Thus you use the gentlest, thickest snaffle you can find and work your way up through the higher-level bits as (get this!) - your horse moves up through the levels! If you cannot control your horse, if he's "running through your aids", it's time to go back to the drawing board. Simple as that. You move up into a shanked bit when the horse has sufficient flexion and bend, when it is time for more intimate communication, and more advanced collection. Not because your horse is ignoring your cues. At that time (refinement), your hands are soft as silk and quiet as a still lake. Not yanking on the poor horse's mouth.

In my humble opinion, if you foster that cool-as-a-cucumber mindset in a horse (as demonstrated above), you are at an advantage and you are maintaining your horse's best interests. It's tough to do when you are training that horse to be competitive and to have that 'edge', especially given that horses suited to upper levels of competition are often very high-energy athletes, but it is absolutely crucial. Doing so is the foundation of the training scale, which enables you to thus teach the horse to use its body efficiently. When the horse is balanced and using their body efficiently, they can put 110 percent of their available power, into the task at hand - none goes to waste. Furthermore, the horse with the emotionally collected mind is able to better focus on the task put forth to them as well as listen better to the cues its rider gives. That ability to intensely focus allows the horse to channel all their energy and effort into a successful run.

As a side note, this type of damage to a horse is reversible, but it takes a lot of work and expertise. As another note, I am not writing this blog to criticize all barrel riders. I am criticizing the ones riding such as those in the videos above. Please, for your horse's sake, take a look at your horse and consider his perspective. The barrel world can be a cruel cruel place, but it does not have to be that way. People need to realize they will get a lot more from their horse when their horse loves their job and loves their rider, when they're working in partnership with that rider.

Sorry this post is a little snarky, I just wish people would take a step back and consider things from their horses' perspectives. If "it looks ugly", consider this: it probably is, from your horse's point of view. GAH!!

1 comment:

quietann said...


When I was having a lot of problems with my mare, someone suggested I sell her as a barrels prospect. She's fast, she's hot, and she's very athletic. But really what they were saying was "she's crazy!" She is not crazy, just requires a rider with a quick mind.

The rearing really bugs me. Yes, my mare has picked up her front feet a few times, but I'm *instantly* forward and letting the reins go loose. Of course I'm not going from gallop to rear in 1/2 second.... but if I'd seen *any* of those folks throw themselves forward and *let go* when their horse reared, I would have been happier.