How do you tell if your barrel horse is hurt or just being bad? Or are you sure he even understands what it is you want?

Is your horse not going in the arena because he has ulcers or because you have made him a nervous wreck? Have you let him get away with bad behavior? Are you hitting barrels because you are looking down directly at them or because your horse’s hocks are sore? Does your horse balk at the gate, pin his ears, wring his tail and shut you down at the barrels and running home? Could he just hate barrel racing?

So how do you know if your horse is unsound, untrained or not suited for barrel racing?

With a young barrel horse, it is often the fact that your horse is not broke or trained in all five of his body parts. Head, neck, shoulders, ribs and hips are the five. And no matter the age, flexing and moving all five of these parts will help your horse to not get sore. Now I know most of us love our horses and barrel racing and take the utmost care of them, so just maybe it is not a soreness issue.

I am a barrel horse trainer, so that is where I tend to look first. I think a lot of money is spent needlessly on health care experts when a lack of training or horsemanship may just be the problem.

People tend to look for the quick and easy fix. Not that spending money on health care is always easy. But, it can surely be easier and quicker than all the work necessary to train yourself and your horse to do things correctly.

Now, a horse that has been a proven winner that quits working well, I would advise his owner to take him to the equine dentist, chiropractor, veterinarian and farrier to have him gone over. The first thing that I eliminate is shoeing problems. I am very fortunate to be married to Lance Stairs. He shoes all of our horses. The second thing to eliminate as a source of problems are dental. Next, I would call a veterinarian and then a chiropractor. A good horse does not just wake up one day and decide to be bad – there is a reason for his change.

There are many reasons your horse can get sore. Miles in the trailer, running on bad ground, stalling, falls and slips or has he pulled back when tied up. So, I have the chiropractor look at my horses once a month. I have the equine dentist look at them once a year and Lance shoes our horses every six weeks. Remember, a barrel race is timed in hundredths of a second and I want my horses feeling good. If you keep a horse lined up with shoes, dental and chiropractic he just may never get lame in the first place.

Know your horse well. All of him. Is he acting odd? Is he standing funny? Does he have swelling somewhere? Is he not eating, or pacing? There is nothing better than to know what is normal for your horse if you are trying to figure out if he is lame or not feeling well. You can generally tell if your horse is sore by running your fingers over him on a regular basis. Again, you have to know what is normal for your horse in order to know if something is different or not right on that given day.

But, back to me being a trainer. Most of the time problems stem from a lack of the basics. Sometimes, I see barrel racers that would do better if they would just slow down and get their horses better broke first. You cannot have speed without control. And those five body parts are what you need to have control of. The basic fund-amentals of stopping and turning. Keep his brakes and power steering in good order.

I will tell you that when a young horse first starts his barrel racing career and the speed hits, he will most likely get in a speed jam for awhile. Two steps forward and one step back is my motto. If things are not going right, slow down and go back to the basics. Remember those five body parts?

And then there are some horses that just can’t take the pressure of being a barrel horse. If you start with a horse that is hot or just can’t take the pressure of training on a schedule well, he is going to be more difficult to make a barrel horse out of. Now just because a young horse is not going to make a futurity horse because he can’t take the pressure does not mean he will not be a great barrel horse given more time and some age. He may just be suited for someone who is willing to take the time to make him into a barrel horse on his schedule. Remember, a sudden increase in nervousness of a normally not-so-nervous horse is almost always a lameness issue.

A rider issue can turn into a training issue, can turn into a lameness issue. Going to a professional trainer can help you with your riding issues as well as your training issues. A professional trainer can also help you to identify if your horse has soreness problems that need to be attended to and may also be able to tell you where to go to get them taken care of. I know I would rather figure out that my horse is sore before I go back to training mode and make my horse more sore.

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