Friday, February 6, 2009

Barrel horses and their riders

I was just finishing up my session with Link when three individuals entered the arena, two with horses, one a barrel horse.

While the one woman starts longeing her blue roan, the other hops up onto her barrel horse and tears around the arena at full speed. No warm up, nothing (I know if I work out that way at the gym there is usually a painful price to pay). Horse is wearing a long-shanked curb bit and has his head tucked to his chest in an attempt at evading that harsh piece of metal. This is no beginner rider, either; this is and older woman whom I know has been in the barrel horse industry for a number of years and who has ridden for some top trainers in the western horse industry. As she is warming up her horse, her horseless friend on the sidelines shouts out:
"Why does he look so mad?"
This horse is thundering around the arena and you can tell he's not very comfortable with his nose to his chest and also that he is on edge.
"Oh, he's not mad," the rider shouts out. "He's a barrel horse! This is how they are, they're just really competitive!"

So my question then is, is this how all barrel riders are? Horses aren't born thinking "oh, I'm a barrel horse, I'm competitive, so I'm going to be fast, reactive, and upset by my rider all the time." Horses are made this way, by us. If a racehorse can work in partnership with its rider (as Pat Parelli has demonstrated on previous occasions), then why can't a barrel horse? If someone can turn a stallion "on" and "off" as if flipping a switch, and be in total partnership with said stallion in any situation, then why not a gelded barrel horse? Why does the barrel horse have to be high-strung, reactive, upset, and only controllable via a large piece of vicious metal? Personally I think there is another way - I know there is another way, whatever our disclipline is, for us to work in partnership with our horses. It frustrates me to see horses so upset, and it irks me that people refuse to look at things from the horse's perspective.

On a better note...

Quite the reactive little kid today! I was impressed though; when I originally brought him in he stood quietly without much pacing back and forth along the spot where he was tied, as he usually does. I turned him loose while I set up the arena though and he took off, tearing around like a madman on the rampage! It took several minutes for him to relax enough to come in to me to play. For our 7 games we've been focusing quite a bit on the Porcupine game, as Sonny's response as of late has been pretty lax. I think though it's just because he's been distracted and needing to move his feet, as on previous occasions he has been phase 1 or 2 with the Porcupine game. We expanded our circling game with the usual spiraling, transitions, and change in direction on the 12', all of which Sonny did well for where he is at. Lastly we did the Figure-8 pattern as well as the Weave. He had the tendency to become right-brained and thus bolt a couple of times, though he relaxed and worked with me by the end, so we finished on a good note! This guy is getting tall though! At one point, standing next to him in the arena, I realised on that particular footing that I could not see over his back! Really need to get a stick on this guy one day and accurately measure where he's at height-wise.

Wow, I pulled him in and tied him up for him to cock his hind leg and stand completely relaxed - a first for him! He was a little excited as Sonny tore around the arena, however he calmed down quickly afterwards. Pulling him out of the pasture also he seemed happy to see me and stayed put as I walked up to him to halter him. Our 7 games went extremely well today; by asking less of him he has been giving me way more!! His Yo-Yo is improved (though still say a phase 3 most times) and he is definitely much more responsive at the Porcupine game! I usually use the flank region as a pressure point to move the hind over, but yesterday I tried just using a spot over Link's muscled hind rather than his flank. He was responsive to the new location and seemed much less irritated by my application of pressure on the large muscles of his hind as opposed to on his flank. While the flank location I find works with most horses to initially teach, I think the area is too sensitive to Link not to frustrate and irritate him. I really focused on keeping my body language extremely quiet at the Circle game so as to encourage Link to remain relaxed. This is a game that he tends to become quite right-brained at at times and where he has threatened me the odd time; by remaining quiet and keeping my phases low I found he was more willing to work in partnership with me. Changes in direction were amazing - he remained rather cool and did not challenge me, venting little frustration but one or two tail switches. Spiraling in and out on the Circle game also went off well and he is definitely picking up those transitions well!! Afterwards we took to the Figure-8 pattern, which he completed (albeit at a walk, though he really strides out at his walk!!) without problem! As he turned around each barrel towards me, I simply pointed in the direction I wanted him to walk, he took note, and marched off in that direction. He was constantly watching for my next request and was working in complete partnership. There was only a time or two where I had to slightly lift my stick and point at his shoulder to ask him to move it over and around the barrels. Afterwards we also did the Weave with the same results: I pointed towards a cone/barrel and he would walk around it; only occasionally did I have to point at a shoulder. Although he did fantastic, I did not feel he was quite ready to do the two patterns at the trot - maybe next time! His walk stride is so long and forward though that to transition up into a trot is really a huge difference.
Link did so well I felt that a little bareback work was in order! Link was a little excited at times however he was still quite responsive to my requests on the cloverleaf pattern. I feel that I could have perhaps gotten some liberty work if we had continued our session under-saddle (working on transitions, patterns, etc) to get him focused, but I did not feel we needed to and I was a little short on time. Bareback it's a little difficult at times, as I feel, particularly with a horse like Link, that I have to be absolutely perfect in my body language for an accurate request; a saddle (and particularly, I find, a western saddle) allows a more secure seat so as to remain completely relaxed and also allows for some room for error in communication. I was pretty happy though with Link - as distracted or reactive (though to a small extent) as he was, he was still very responsive and for the most part, left-brained! As the three individuals mentioned above entered the arena, I thought I would lose all Link's concentration, however that was not the case whatsoever! He remained completely focused as I asked him to go through the Figure-8 and Weave patterns bareback. At one point I thought I heard a disruption outside just as Link spooked forwards with a jump (he's so smooth though it hardly felt like anything!!). As he leapt, I was pretty sure he'd land right-brained and so would take off, me bareback and losing my seat with the leap. Instead though I was able to move with him and re-adjust my seat as he landed, as he instantly became calm once more!! I was surprised too when later I tied him up, at how calm he remained as the barrel horse tore around the arena! Usually he paces back and forth around where he is tied, particularly if another horse nearby is in a reactive state or is running about, however this time he stood completely relaxed despite those thundering hoofbeats! A fantastic end to a great evening!

I also was out to see Silver and Koolaid today, though to hold them for the farrier rather than do any real playing with them. Both horses are quite herdbound (yes, even the lone wolf Koolaid!) at this point, so today I had the opportunity to see the level of work I have yet to put into our partnership(s) this year to get us back to par! I rode Koolaid in from the pasture though and he was quite responsive, which was great. I played the 7 games with Silver within a few minutes and jumped up for a couple sidepasses, turns on the hind, turns on the fore, and back-up. He did excellent, though had a little bit of a tendency to become right-brained with the we know what to work on!

Tomorrow Sonny and Link are due for the farrier, so fingers crossed our work so far makes for a successful trimming!

No comments: