October 1, 2013
Problem-solving techniques can help overcome a horse’s competition sourness.
Competition can place tremendous stress on performance horses and their riders. Nervousness at competition, poor preparedness or conditioning, and poor horsemanship can all cause a horse to go sour.
The best way to solve the problem of a sour horse is to prevent it before it starts.
Horsewoman Traci Johnting of Fort Thomas, Kentucky, has worked with barrel horses and riders for more than 25 years. She is a multiple AQHA World Championship Show qualifier and top-10 placer with numerous wins under her belt. Here, she offers advice on how to keep horses tuned and focused so they can perform to the best of their ability.
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Keep It Interesting
Go into each training day and competition with a plan. Horses have a 15- to 20-minute learning curve. At a competition, get on, get warmed up and get to work. Don’t spend hours building the anticipation. This will cause the horse to get nervous and not have a positive experience.
The main goal is to get a horse to relax. Especially with barrel horses that associate the gate or alley with performance, avoid the gate until you are ready to compete. Stay back and listen for your name and maintain forward motion when you enter the arena. Traci brings horses to the alley at a trot and finds that when horses stay moving, they no longer have issues with gates or the arena.
Traci avoids drilling her horses, especially young horses. If training is monotonous and consists of only drills, the horse will become bored, or worse, sour, and will no longer want to do his job. If your horse is smart and intelligent, you can show him something two or three times. It’s better to do a little each day than a lot a couple of days a week.
Don’t try to cram a week’s worth of riding into one hour; it doesn’t work.
For horses who have become sour, rehabbing them is the best solution to get your horse back on track.
First, work variety into your training. Take your horse to the trail to keep him in condition, ride with a friend or just take some time away from the event that the horse participates in.
Bend and flex down the trail or through trees to keep him soft and ready for competition when you get back to that point. When you go back to competition, change the scenery, so that he doesn’t associate the time and place with the event.
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Practice drills out of order or with variance. With barrel horses, don’t practice going around the barrels over and over. Try varied gaits and patterns. Make all left turns, or right turns, practice the approach. You’ll find that horses will still get tuned up while maintaining calmness.
Sound and Sane
Nine times out of 10, if a horse isn’t working, there is a soundness issue involved. Just like you, our horses do not perform as well when they are in pain.
If your horse becomes sour seemingly out of nowhere, a health issue might be involved. It could be ulcers, equine protozoal myeloencephalitis or you don’t always know what. But take the time to find out.
When examining a sour horse, Traci will determine if the horse needs joint medications or needs to have his feet or teeth done, then she will work on saddle fit and even work on rider errors. Often, these are the culprits and are much easier to fix than restarting a horse from the beginning.
To have horses perform at a level that we want them to compete at, we have to take better care of them and pay attention to what they are trying to tell us. They can’t talk to us, but when you live with a horse, you know when something is not right.