WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #129
FROM HORSE AND RIDER - AUGUST 2011
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Barrel Turns; Won't Tie; Pattern Woe
Laura Lee Thomas offers tips for better barrel turns on hard
ground; Julie Goodnight ad dresses trauma-free tying; and Charlie
Cole helps a reader and her horse relax off the rail.
PRODUCED BY JENNIFER PAULSON
My 12-year-old barrel mare turns great in deep sand. When the
ground isn't perfect though, she has trouble holding her back end
to finish her third barrel, and we finish wide. How can I help
her run on harderground?
KATHY BAKER, COLORADO
Some horses struggle to turn on harder ground because they aren't
able to get their back ends underneath them. This problem can be
traced to how well the horse is rating, or collecting her body
for the turn.
HELP YOUR HORSE
Before you start looking for a training issue and drilling your
horse hard at home, you can first try to sit a little earlier in
your run and begin to turn your hips in the same direction as
your horse, enabling you to look where you're going. By sitting
deep, you're balancing in your seat, able to use your legs
properly, and thus also able to look where you're going instead
of down at your horse.
I'm a big advocate of incorporating "look where you're going"
into your riding. By this, I mean turning slightly at your waist
so you're bent in the same direction as your horse. This puts
your inside leg into your horse, encouraging her to bend, and
also helps your outside leg hold her for more balance in the
turn. You may need to kick with the outside leg to help gather
Once you're just about to the backside of the third barrel, look
to the gate. Often this will help your horse gather up and push
out of the turn.
If that's not enough, after you sit, try giving a one-rein bump
with your inside rein, then go to one hand to complete your turn.
Sometimes you'll need two bumps to be most effective. Some horses
need this rein bump to get their attention and help them collect.
You can also talk to your horse at the same time-say "whoa" or
"hey" to help get her attention.
EXERCISES AT HOME
If simply adjusting your riding isn't enough, do exercises at
home and practice somewhere the ground is harder. This work
shouldn't be done every day, as you can make your horse sour, so
include lots of trail riding as well.
Begin working the pattern at a slow trot. (You'll eventually work
up to a slow lope.) Your objective is to teach your horse to
respond to your cues and body language, enabling balance and
collection. Don't increase your speed until she responds
properly. Trot your first two barrels. Then, when you get to the
crossover point on your third barrel (where your tracks meet
going into and coming out of the turn), sit deep in your saddle,
as a signal for your horse to break gait or stop. This will help
your horse learn to rate better to better prepare her body for
You shouldn't have to pull on her mouth a lot to accomplish this.
If you do, go back to basics. I'll advise you on that in just a
Let's say your horse responds as desired. When your leg is
alongside the third barrel, ask her to gradually pick up speed.
Repeat this until you feel her listening to your weight and
slowing or stopping without help from your reins.
If your horse doesn't change gait or stop when you sit deep in
the saddle, leave the barrel pattern. Start trotting again,
sit deep, and ask her to stop. If you don't get a good stop, bump
the reins until she stops and backs well. Roll back going the
opposite direction and repeat the same process. This will help
get your horse listening to your body. Don't go back to the
barrel until your horse is responsive.
When you're sure your horse is responsive again, start working
her on balance in her turns. Set up one barrel and lope a 4-to
5-foot circle around it, keeping your horse rounded and
collected. This will help her balance and use all four legs
equally when turning, which will improve her ability to handle
different ground more easily. Lope around it about five times
before giving her a break, quitting sooner if she's fluid. Don't
allow your horse to cut in anywhere, keeping her body completely
rounded in the turn. If you're not pleased, work again on that
same side after a break. Give your horse an ample break
between-this is hard work for her.
Reward her efforts by quitting when she shows you effort or
improvement. Give her a break by walking or moving on to
LAURA LEE THOMAS, Union City, Pennsylvania. A professional barrel
racer, trainer, and riding instructor, Laura Lee rode AQHA
stallion Verily Six Bugs to 2010 Horse of the Year titles in the
International Professional Rodeo Association and American
Professional Rodeo Association. Learn more at
I've just started working with a 5-year-old horse that's been out
with other horses her whole life, and was never halter broken or
started under saddle. When I take her out of the pasture to work,
she can't seem to figure out how to stand tied by herself without
the safety of other horses close by. She pulls back and breaks
every lead rope. How can I teach her to stand tied?
JAY WALSH, OHIO
While you're noticing this behavior when it comes to tying, I
sense there are several lessons your horse needs to learn:
independence from the herd, patience, work ethic, and that she
won't always get her own way.
It's best to teach these skills at an early age, before a horse
is set in her ways, but there are things you can do to teach her
even though she's older.
Start with groundwork - and lots of it! Before she learns to
stand tied, she needs to learn her focus should always be on you,
and to respect you as a leader - that you're the alpha and she's
the willing follower. She'll also need to learn she has to work -
even when she doesn't feel like it.
Begin with a regimen of round pen work so your mare learns to
focus on you and respect your authority. There, she'll quickly
learn your cues and expectations. She must move forward, change
direction, and stop when asked. She'll learn to pay attention to
you instead of searching for her herd.
When your mare is focusing on you, progress to working with her
on a long lead line and with a rope halter. Ask her to stand
still as you hold the lead rope. If she moves a foot or even
looks away, correct her by sending a wave through the long
training lead. Also, teach her to move forward and turn on
command - never getting in front of you or pushing into your
The more groundwork you do, the more she'll learn to focus on you
for guidance. She'll also learn to trust you and look to you for
comfort, just as she used to look for comfort from the herd. That
skill will be important as you work toward tying her and
expecting her to stand still and compliant without other horses
Learn more precise steps in the round pen and groundwork process
After your horse develops a work ethic through groundwork, start
tying her as often as possible and for long periods of time. I
prefer to use a rope halter and strong lead that has a tied-on
connection instead of a snap, which can break. Look for halters
and leads made of highquality, high-tensile marine rope. (Every
time she's thrown a fit and broken something, she's learned not
to stand tied.) Tie your mare to a post anchored firmly in the
ground, and be sure it's one that won't break (never tie to fence
rails or corral panels since they can break, bend, or move
easily). Use a quick-release knot (and not crossties). Put rubber
mats down to keep her from digging a deep hole if she paws.
Now it's time to tie her often when you're around the barn to
supervise. She may need to spend many hours tied before she
learns to stand quietly and patiently.
In the beginning she'll fuss a lot. Only untie her and return her
to her pen when she's standing quietly. As long as she isn't
rewarded for bad behavior, she'll eventually give it up.
Some horses pull back out of sheer panic from the confinement
they feel if their flight response is triggered when tied. This
is a different case from the "obstinate puller," which is the
category I think your horse falls into from your description.
An obstinate puller is usually throwing a tantrum because she
doesn't want to be there, and the behavior is enforced when the
horse breaks something and gets what she wants. A panic puller
could be very broke and well-mannered and may stand tied just
fine for weeks on end, until something happens to startle him
(usually from a person reaching for his head unexpectedly). Then
he panics and pulls back.
You'll see sheer panic in the horse, and he may even fall down in
a seemingly catatonic state. An unbreakable rope halter will help
cure an obstinate puller (because it's too uncomfortable when he
pulls back), but it may make a panic puller worse, because of the
additional pressure he feels when he pulls back. If you think
your horse is pulling because he's panicked, opt for a tying
device that allows the horse to pull the rope slightly without
JULIE GOODNIGHT, Salida, Colorado. Julie hosts "Horse Master with
Julie Goodnight" on RFD-TV and presents clinics nationwide. Learn
more at juliegoodnight.com.
In September 1996, a reader submitted the following question to
the "Sound Advice" forum for expert help from top trainer and
coach Charlie Cole.
I show my 16-year-old Quarter Horse mare in open and 4-H shows.
She does fine in her rail classes, but I have problems in my
horsemanship medal classes: When I ride a pattern, she gets
nervous and quick, and she often switches leads
Am I doing something wrong - or could something else be wrong
JESSICA HILL, WASHINGTON
You don't say whether your mare switches leads going in both
directions, or only when you're going in one direction. If the
latter is the case, then I'd suspect some sort of soreness is the
cause and would recommend that you have your mare examined by a
vet. But if she consistently fails to maintain her lead in both
directions, she's probably nervous about working away from the
rail. Actually, this type of response isn't all that uncommon,
because many horses that are shown mainly on the rail are rarely
ridden off of it. And for horses, the unfamiliar often is
To overcome this problem, you'll have to decrease your mare's
dependence on the rail by spending more of your at home schooling
time riding in the center of your arena. Practice whatever you
normally would practice on the rail, but do it in a straight line
down the arena's center or in circles away from the rail. At
first, keep your work simple, focusing on basic maneuvers your
horse can perform easily. If she gets nervous and quick, stay
quiet, and ride her through it. If she switches leads on a
circle, calmly bring her back down to a jog, let her relax for
several strides or more - remaining on the circle - then calmly
ask her to pick up the lope again.
Eventually, your horse will realize that working away from the
rail is no big deal, and she'll relax. At that point, gradually
begin incorporating more difficult maneuvers into your
off-the-rail practice sessions. Repetition is the key: If you
persist, over time she'll learn to travel anywhere in the arena
with the same composure she has on the rail.
CHARLIE COLE, Pilot Point, Texas. When he answered this question,
Charlie Cole operated his training facility, Highpoint
Performance Horses, from Chino Hills, California, with Jason
Martin. The two have since relocated their business to the Lone
Star State, where they've trained numerous world champion horses
and riders across many disciplines and breeds.
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