I attended a barrel racing clinic this past weekend. I’ve not barrel raced and I personally am more into the working cow horse kind of thing with my performance horses. However, I know how popular barrel racing is and want to improve my knowledge and skills so that I can better serve the horses I work with and their owner’s. Also, I’ve got two little girls who will probably want to barrel race when they get older, so I need the knowledge to teach them. With this in mind, I brought our horse Lakota to the clinic. She is the little paint mare I’m working on getting ready for my girls when they start riding on their own.
Lakota is a good horse. She has never offered to buck or rear. She learns quickly and has gone from a dull lazy horse when I first purchased her to a responsive energetic horse with the training we have accomplished thus far. Where we continue to work, and probably will be continuing to work for a while is on building her self-confidence and keeping her worry down when she is away from her herd or in a new place.
When I first started working with Lakota, we took a lot of time working at home and working at the indoor arena we use on some groundwork skills and basic riding skills to teach her how to relax and cope in stressful situations. Since those skills have become solid, she has only been out, away from her herd, away from home by herself, on 3 occasions. In each of those instances, we did have to take some time, probably at least 45 minutes, to work on our groundwork to calm her down. I assumed today would be no different, I planned on arriving early and working on groundwork before the clinic started to get her mentally prepared for the clinic. Plans changed when I had a trailer tire blow out on the highway on our way there. No longer were we set to arrive 45 minutes early, we now arrived 20 minutes late.
Our set back didn’t sway me to deviate from my plan. I try to keep my horse’s best interests as a priority over my personal interests. It would have been a lot of fun to hop right on and lope her through that barrel pattern right away with everyone else, but I knew she was not mentally prepared for that at our arrival. So we came in tacked up and got to work on our groundwork in the corner of the arena trying to stay out of the way of the other horses. I was a little disappointed figuring the clinic would be an hour underway before Lakota and I were actually ready to join the group. However, in this instance out on her own, things were much different than our previous times out on our own. It took less than 10 minutes of groundwork before she was blinking and licking a chewing, showing signs that she was relaxing. I was so proud of her as I got on to start riding a bit.
Groundwork was good, and at this point she was more relaxed than I thought she would be. However, I knew she had never been to this arena before, so I knew there would be some “spooky” areas of it for her. I took some time to walk a couple laps around the arena to identify where those “spooky” spots. Once we found them, we were ready to start addressing them. Her happy comfortable place, was in the middle of the arena with the other horses and riders (she is very herd dependent). So we made this our work area. I didn’t want to miss anymore of the clinic so we joined the others and worked on our lateral flexion, disengaging, and back up while I listened to instruction and observed the others. During breaks from instruction, or when others were running the course/obstacle I took Lakota to rest in one of the “spooky” spots of the arena while I observed and listened to the feedback the instructor was giving other riders. We went last on every course/obstacle and while we waited for our turn, we rested in one of the arena “spooky” spots. It would have been enjoyable for me to wait our turn for the courses/obstacles with the other horses and riders so that I could socialize, but preparing my horse was more important than socializing.
By the end of our day, I was very proud of Lakota. By taking the time it takes to make sure my horse was mentally prepared, we accomplished so much more than just learning barrel racing basics and training techniques. My horse was a calm and willing partner as we worked through each course/obstacle. There was no tail swishing, no ear pinning, no crow hopping etc… she was the most well-mannered horse at the clinic who gained the most in life experience that day.
I am a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), who has taken my knowledge in Applied Behavior Analysis, and the methodology of expert horse trainers, to create an Equine training program that is anything but average. Working with my own horses has led me to discover my passion for not just training horses, but practicing quality horsemanship. For the best interest of the horses, I hope to spread this interest in quality horsemanship.