How to help guarantee the longevity of a good barrel horse.
By Charmayne James with Bonnie Wheatley
Charmayne James and Scamper making a winning run at the famed Cheyenne Frontier Days.
Whether you run barrels professionally or at the high school or college level, it can be easy to take a nice horse for granted, especially when you’re winning. If you have a good horse, whether you’re qualifying for the National Finals Rodeo, going to youth rodeos, amateur events, futurities, or divisional races, a nice 1D or 2D horse that’s solid and just goes in and works and is reliable to do the same thing every time—make sure you’re doing right by that horse and providing the proper care in order to prolong its career.
Know Your Horse
It’s so important to know your horse. If your horse does better with more runs, that’s one thing, but some horses don’t take the hauling and being away from home well so you’ve got to be thoughtful with respect to your travel schedule. When you plan trips, try to allow for some grazing time to break up the amount of time your horse will spend in a stall. Factor in time for your horse to be able to rest and chill out between rodeos or races.
With my horse Cruiser (Cruisen On Six), one thing that helped him was if I could find a place to stay with a grassy trap where I could turn him out for a couple of days between rodeos. When I had to be away from home for extended periods of time, that did wonders for him. On the other hand, Scamper (Gills Bay Boy) didn’t really like being turned out much. You could turn him out and 10 minutes later he’d be at the gate waiting to come back into the barn.
Pay very close attention to how your horse reacts to different stress factors. That’s probably the No. 1 thing that affects every person and every horse differently. Not only do horses react physically to the stress of hauling and new situations, but mentally you can keep them sharper by helping them deal with stress. There’s not necessarily one way to do it that works for every horse, but have good intentions with regard to their comfort and wellbeing. It takes going and doing it to really learn how each individual horse reacts. Scamper did better with making more runs. Cruiser, on the other hand, he did better running less because he just got faster and faster to the point that it was almost too much.
I’d say it’s also a good idea to pick your arenas. When you have a horse that’s really working, it’s a good idea to stay away from hard, slick ground. Even minor slips can sore horses up in their stifles, hips and other areas, so be fair about the demands you’re making of your horse and in what sort of conditions you ask them to perform.
Some horses are better indoors and some are better outdoors. With horses like Scamper or Bozo (Kristie Peterson’s four-time WPRA World Champion mount French Flash Hawk), it didn’t matter, and that’s what made those horses so exceptional. If you’re fortunate enough to have a dominant horse like that, do all you can do to preserve their soundness and longevity because those horses are very few and far between.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having a good equine dentist as part of your team that keeps your horse sound and feeling good. You’ve got to have a dentist who is capable of keeping your horse’s mouth balanced and free of sharp edges. Anything that interferes with the horse eating and digesting their feed is going to cause issues. Barrel horses have to have their nutritional needs met in order to perform to their best, and not only that, but to handle the stress of going down the road. If a horse’s mouth is hurting or they are sore in their TMJ (temporomandibular joint) and they carry their head out a little to compensate, they get body sore.
It’s the same with hoof care. I believe a lot of soreness starts in the feet and works its way up. Really great shoers who understand properly balancing the foot make all the difference in the world. Great shoers are truly artists and if you need to go out of your way to use a really great shoer, do it.
Besides routine veterinary care, there are a lot of alternative therapies to help keep your horse feeling good. Icing, acupuncture, chiropractic care, laser therapy—all those things can really make a difference so it’s worth researching and asking questions. If a horse’s body is in the best physical shape to allow him to do the things you’re asking of him, it leads to a better mental state for the horse. It’s like people; our outlook is better when our physical health is great.
My horses were always fed an extruded feed that was easily digestible and didn’t produce extra stomach acid. Scamper’s feed had the vitamin and mineral packet he needed for energy. He didn’t do real well if he was overweight so we fed him smaller amounts more frequently through the day versus feeding him all at once. Cruiser did better if he was a little on the heavier side. It seemed to help keep his nerves down if he carried a little extra weight.
I won the most on my horses when you looked at them and they had a really bright look in their eye. When they had that little extra, they exuded that good energy and it came out in their runs. Pay attention to all the slight indicators and look for clues pointing to any little issues that could become big problems. Be attentive to your horse’s demeanor and physical energy and if you think something might be wrong, get it checked out. If nothing’s wrong, focus on your riding and really analyze what you’re doing in a run. Beyond the things already addressed, remember to monitor your horse’s fitness level closely, provide rests between events and give them a comfortable place to live, too.
Article originally published in the September 2017 issue of BHN.