Quite often I am asked “How do I make a rodeo horse”?
The move from jackpots or futurities to rodeos is a big step and also requires training.
You need to prepare your horse by exposing him to stressful situations. You need to make sure he knows his job and is confident and calm. He needs to know that barrels grow out of all different types of arenas. Your horse needs to be able to focus on his job and not worry about any of his surroundings.
We try to do things to prepare our horses for things they may encounter later on.
One of the things that we expose our horses to are things hanging on the fences. Flapping noises can really startle your horse. We keep a radio playing in the barn during the day also. But there is no way to know if the sound of a live band will frighten your horse until you encounter one. And indoors, bands can seem really loud. All noises are louder in a building and there just seems to be a lot more going on in an enclosed space. Clapping is another noise most horses are not used to until their first big barrel race or rodeo. There can be people in your way as you try to get in the gate. I always say, “It’s not a rodeo until someone pushes the baby stroller in front of your horse.” Waiting for your turn to run can affect your horse. Try to swing a rope around your horse. He will encounter this at rodeos also. Be ready for your horse’s first encounter with a car backfiring, a firecracker, a buffalo or whatever. And some horses can be afraid of ponies, too. Anytime we go to a barrel race or rodeo, we fill any empty spaces in the trailer with young inexperienced horses. When we get there we ride the young ones around. All of this helps to prepare your horse for later on.
Many times in training, I will go right to the barrel pattern without much warm up. Because many times at a rodeo there is very little place to warm up. This and no room to stop and different sized arenas and spotlights and walls can all confuse your horse. So along the way in your steps to building this rodeo horse, try to go to places that have some really different set ups.
When I first take a horse to a rodeo, it is a smaller one. When I do eventually enter, I enter for slack instead of the performance for the first few runs. Once my horse can compete at the smaller rodeos in slack, I enter the performance and then move on to the bigger rodeos. The larger rodeos will have more noise and more distractions. It is good to be prepared. At a rodeo, there is just so much for a young horse to see and get used to that I will try to put off being up in a performance until I feel the horse is ready for it.
Another thing to keep in mind is the ground. Try to only enter your less experienced horse where the ground is good. This will help to build his confidence by not scaring him if he slips or something worse. As your horse gets more experience he will learn more about ground and how to handle it.
My game plan for any rodeo is detailed. First get there early and ride your horse around. Let him have every chance to see everything. Ride in the arena if you can. Ride up to the entry gate and go through if you can. Be sure and ride around and both you and your horse be as relaxed as possible. If your young horse is just there for the experience, maybe try riding in the grand entry if you can and you feel your horse is ready for that commotion. After or during the grand entry ride your horse around long enough so that he is relaxed and paying attention to you.
We let our young horses spend plenty of time tied to the trailer. They may have to do this later on in their career. If your horse does not settle down, go and sit on him and watch the rodeo until he does calm down or as long as you can before you have to get your other horse ready for your run if entered.
When you are entered on a young horse that does not have very many rodeos under his belt. Go through your normal warm up program before your run. Try to keep your horse as relaxed as possible.
When it is time for his first rodeo runs; make every competitive effort, but always think of your horse’s mental needs. If he gets scared or distracted during his run; try to get him refocused before finishing the run and expect better next time. If he panics during the run, slow him down and reassure him that it is all okay. Don’t sacrifice his long term career by getting mad or just trying to go fast.
If it is a really bad problem; see if you can stay after the rodeo and correct it. It is always good to correct something like this on site; but usually by the time I do enter a rodeo, my horses don’t mess up.
Whatever happens during your run, still go through your normal cool down routine.
Do everything in steps and going to a smaller rodeo and just riding around is the first step. Building a rodeo barrel horse is just like training, it happens in small steps. And the steps all build to the next one. Just be sure to always keep your horse’s confidence in mind. Because all great barrel horses have confidence and can focus. So if something does happen; please don’t get mad. This will just serve to knock his confidence down.
Horses have to learn to eat and drink away from home on the road also. A poor traveler will not perform very well. Always try to maintain the same feeding schedule and take feed and water from home when you can. If you can’t take enough for your trip, try and buy the same kind. We feed our horses their grain in buckets at home, this way when you get away from home they are not afraid to stick their head in a bucket for water or feed. You have to think about the little things like this. Some horses are just good on the road, while others are not.
Great rodeo barrel horses are able to handle relaxing and eating and drinking wherever they are. When it is time to go to work they do not get distracted. What if they can’t relax and focus? Well some horses are just so talented that I am willing to take the extra time to get them seasoned.
I can tell when I first start exhibiting a horse at jackpots if he can take the pressure. I mean, can he locate the barrels in other arenas? Or is he looking for all the monsters that may get him? This type is going to take longer for sure.
Remember, if you are a nervous mess, your horse knows it and will be a nervous mess also. He will not be able to relax unless you do.
With confidence, consistency, time and patience you can train your horse to win in spite of all the distractions.