Big Picture Thinking
Mary Burger talks about the importance of back- up horses and knowing when to give your main mount a break.
By Mary Burger with Kailey Sullins, written and first published in the April 2017 issue of Barrel Horse News.
In February I had the privilege of competing at RFD-TV’s The American in Arlington, Texas, although I didn’t have the best of luck there I commend the event for everything it does. It was run well and AT&T Stadium is a fabulous place. I wasn’t competing on one of my regular horses, I rode Randy Deboe’s mare Yes Im Famous. She’s a 7-year-old mare by Famous Gold Coin out of a Sticks An Stones mare, Stick With Lewin.
I had been running Sailors Wind lately and he wasn’t really feeling good prior to The American so I just jump-rode her and I’d only had her for about a week before The American. “Sailor” had a respiratory issue, but we’ve been working on it and as of the time this article was written I’m hopeful that I’ll ride him at Rodeo Houston.
Sadiefamouslastwords, “Mo” still isn’t quite ready for that type of pressure. He’s still healing from his deep flexor injury. He’s healing slowly, but we’re not pushing it, I don’t want to bring him back to soon. We’re just coming along very slow with him on his exercise program.
Sometimes in the horse business that’s just the way things go. Horses get hurt or need the extra rest and it’s important to know when and where to step off and onto something else. As a rule the only horse I had during the 2016 season was Mo. I didn’t have much for backup, but in general I try to not overdo with my horses as far as putting too many runs on them. Over the Fourth of July was as many runs as Mo had made in such a close amount of time in different arenas on our way up to Calgary. I don’t push my luck usually as far as some people do, but other people have two, three, four and maybe even five head of horses to choose from. I just pick my rodeos and my ground and don’t haul real heavy, or with a lot of overnight trips and things like that.
I kind of judge it by how Mo’s feeling, how he’s working and the ground conditions and travel I have to do.
The Best Backups
It’s definitely important to have a back- up horse on the road. When I went to the Fourth of July and up into Canada I took my son, Todd’s, and daughter- in-law’s rope horse. He’ll do a set of barrels, so if I got in a case where the ground was pretty bad or in a setup I really didn’t like I knew at least I could make my run. It’s nice to have something on backup so you’re not forced to pressure your horse, or even hold a good one up. I don’t like to hold them up when you have conditions like that and take a chance with them.
Sometimes it can be tricky finding the right kind of backup horse. A lot of horses are different from one another and that was part of the challenge with Yes Im Famous in Arlington. She’s a real scrappy mare and she tried hard, but she’s the style of horse that runs with her head up and I’m not use to that style of horse. It’s sometimes hard to adjust to something different, but when you have something for backup that’s different from what your main stick is then you really have to put your thinking cap on and remember to do what you need to do and sometimes it’s not as easy to do as it looks.
The reason I like Sailors Wind is because Todd trained him and he’s a little more my style. He rides with a little longer rein and when I come into a barrel I like to lift that rein up a little bit, that means to keep their shoulder up, and then I kind of drop my hand coming around the turn and that’s more or less Sailor’s style, too.
However, even when it can be a challenge to get on something you’re not 100 percent comfortable with you have to be able to make the tough decisions and know when to give a horse a break. In the long run stepping out of your comfort zone to give your horse the chance at longevity will pay off.
Rest vs. Rehabilitation
When I “rest” a horse I never just turn them out and forget about them. When you do nothing with a horse that’s when the arthritis and stiffness sets in on them. It’s good to keep them moving.
If I back off mine I’ll still be exercising them, but I’m just not going to as many and not as far away from home, either. I think it’s harder to get them back in shape if you just turn them out over 30 days. Instead, I like to keep them semi-tuned and closer to home. I draw the conclusion of when a horse needs backed off of by just being aware of my horse’s health and happiness.
Take the extra time to spend with your horses, take notice of their normal conditions at home, how they act in their stall, how they feel when you’re riding them and how they are working on the pattern. They’ll tell you when they need a break you only have to listen.