Hello, I have a nine year old AQHA mare and I'm starting to realize a couple of problems that we've been having together. We barrel race a lot and compete generally once every two to three weeks. She's a really good competitor and is generally always quiet. But, now that we are reaching quicker speeds, I am starting to search for things that I could improve on. The first thing I wanted to work on is how tense she always is. And she's not only tense while barrel racing. She is always tense and hyper and always was since I've purchased her two years ago. I have checked the basic things such as tack fitting and I finally found two bits that she is comfortable in (loose-ring snaffle, chain bit) but if she could relax while barrel racing, she'll be able to stretch out more and be overall a smoother runner. I have tried to find help just last summer. I can now get her to relax at the walk where she can walk really loose with her head level to the ground. But the moment I ask for a trot, her head pops up and she tenses up again. This is starting to be a big problem for me and I would like to know if you would have any suggestions in mind that I could try so that my horse can find relaxation. I take her out on many easy trail rides, and sometimes I just take her out for a walk. I always like to switch things up so that she does not get bored of barrel racing, which I believe that she isn't, and with all the exercises I've done, nothing seems to be working. Any suggestions? Thank you so much for your time.
My suggestion is to have the patience to not barrel race her for a while and to just work with her on basic training at all three gaits. Discovering the source of her tenseness is important, and then re schooling her so that she becomes more accepting of what you want to do with her.
Our horse's comfort in not being afraid and not disliking what we would like them to do should be more important than anything to us.
A chain bit is actually a severe bit. You should be able to control and guide her with your seat, legs, and finally your hands. If there is any pain involved in her racing, this would be enough to make her tense. It is difficult when racing to make sure that your seat is independent and that you are never pulling on her to cause her pain in her mouth.
You may well want to think about re schooling her in a ring with a Bit less Bridle. If you are controlling your horse through discomfort in their mouth, then you will not see progress.
You need to start to do slow work with her. You need to think about how to use your body when you ride to turn your horse. Your "center" or pelvis will turn in the direction you want your horse to go and your legs and hands GENTLY guide and agree.
I know since you are concerned that you are gentle with your horse, but unfortunately in the world of games, you are subjected to seeing horses jerked and yanked and treated roughly and so you have to be an individual while seeking better responses from your horse.
Train your horse for a while as if you were going to ride in a western pattern class. School her until she responds to your gentle aids and can calmly execute circles and half circles and transitions without becoming tense. It takes a good rider to do this. As you know from watching some of the riders at games, some are BAD riders and trainers, riding from pulling on their horses and causing them discomfort.
Correctly trained open jumpers will go into a ring calmly, canter collected on soft contact, and jump the course(at speed, if it is timed). Then they will calmly come back to their riders and quietly leave the ring. Game horses (mine did this and so do my students), are capable of doing the same thing but they need the initial training to be balanced.
You can put yourself in your horse's place. How would you like it if you were already nervous and then were galloped into a ring, turned sharply so you were afraid of losing your balance, and at times having your mouth hurt? You would stay tense and afraid. Work with your horse until the circles and changes of lead are easier, and maybe ride at least with a much milder bit.
Please feel free to ask EXPERTS again or email me if you would like more ideas. Good luck!
I believe there is an article or two on my website that may help you.