Professional barrel racer Janet Engel offers advice that'll help
your speed event horse stop balking, calm down and get down to
By the Editors of Horse & Rider magazine
For a good tight run and sharp focus, you'll need your horse to
get over in-gate jitters.
If your horses refuses to enter the arena, it may be due to one
-- or a combination of -- the following reasons.
He's experiencing pain from strain or injury, dental problems or
He's sensing your anxiety through your firm contact and tense
He's starting to dread his job from repetitive practice.
He's anxious due to the excitement he senses from the other
horses or his surroundings.
Work with your vet or a reliable trainer to rule out or diagnose
and resolve any of the above problems, then try the following
1. To build his confidence, walk your horse on a 20- to 30-foot
circle, about 50 feet from the arena entrance (or at a distance
where he shows no signs of resistance). Ride one- or two-handed
-- whichever you or your horse prefer. (If your horse anticipates
making a run, becoming too anxious, when you place both hands on
the reins, ride one-handed.)
Focus your gaze on your target -- the entrance. You'll find that
your body will automatically signal your horse to move in the
direction in which you're looking.
2. When your horse is relaxed, continue to make your circle, but
proceed to a point directly across from the entrance. Then turn
him to face the target and ride toward it. Now is a good time to
begin riding two-handed (if you haven't been) for maximum control
of his head. Use direct rein and leg pressure to keep his body
straight and press your calves against his sides to maintain
forward motion. Your procession to the entrance should be a
continuation of your circle so he doesn't anticipate you're about
to enter the arena, and balk.
3. If your horse does balk, remind him that you're in control,
not him, by driving him forward into a small circle directly
outside the arena entrance. Simultaneously sit back on your
jeans' pockets to shift his weight onto his hindquarters, firmly
press your calves to his side to send him forward and apply
inside direct-rein and leg pressure to get him to flex to the
inside of the circle. As before, look at your target.
4. Once you've regained control, continue your circle and proceed
to the arena as you did in step 2. If your horse willingly
approaches the entrance, pass into the arena. The instant you
sense he's about to balk, increase your leg pressure to keep him
moving forward. Repeat steps 3 and 4 if he balks again.
When your horse is inside the arena, reward him with rubs,
reassuring words and relaxation. Then ride out of the arena and
repeat this entire exercise in the opposite direction, rewarding
him whenever he enters the arena without hesitation. It may take
several sessions to consistently achieve this goal, but once his
confidence is ingrained you'll have a strong foundation on which
to build a winning run.
Tip: To further prevent balking, keep your horse away from the
arena's nerve-wracking distractions before you compete. As the
rider before you makes her run, walk your horse on a large circle
just outside the arena. Plan ahead so you're ready to proceed
straight into the arena from your circle as the rider exits --
and before your horse has a chance to balk.
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