Question: I have an 11-year-old barrel horse that does very well around the barrels during practice and at small group shows, but when I take her to rodeos it is like she has stage fright. When it comes time to run, she acts like she is a green barrel horse and stops at the barrels—mostly the first one. Any suggestions?
-- Hannah Rasmussen, via email
Answer: Every person and every horse experiences an elevated level of excitement or nervous energy going from a jackpot to a rodeo. So, more than likely, in a case like this the rider is feeling stage fright as well. It is the rider’s job to stay calm and quiet and ride the horse the way you work it and practice it at home and at smaller shows, even when you go to the rodeo.
My advice is to stay steady and consistent. Don’t overdo it or under do it just because you are at a rodeo or larger competition.
If the horse is stopping around the barrels, especially the first, there’s a good chance that the rider has been pulling on the inside rein too much and the horse is running straight at the barrel. My advice is to ride two-handed and stay down the center of the arena when running to your first barrel. Stay to the left of the first barrel aiming at axis point three as a point of reference. You want the horse to track up and around the barrel not focusing straight at the barrel.
This is not a simple fix. It takes lots of riding, lots of work and dedication to developing good body control. Knowing your horse and working on perfecting the cues that result in great body control of your horse is what you need. It takes a lot of competition experience to perfect these skills, and it also requires consistent cues. Good luck!