Know When Your Horse is Ready to Speed Up

By Joyce Loomis-Kernek

In the past we have analyzed some problems that might occur on the first barrel and some possible solutions to those problems. In this issue, we will talk about something that  causes many problems in competition. Often at clinics I am asked, “How do I know when my horse is ready for competing?” and “How do I know when to really push them?”

I have a saying, “When your horse is understanding everything you are showing him, he will get quieter, better and faster. When he is not understanding everything you are showing him, or he is not ready for the next step, he will get fussy, worse and slower.” The slower you go in the early training stages, the faster you will go for a longer period of time. A horse that is trained slow enough to understand the steps and then speeded up as he shows understanding of the steps will have a longer career.

Futurities are now paying such large amounts of money. With so many of these futurities, horses are being trained by the calendar. This is a situation that often leads to pushing a horse before he is ready. If the calendar says you have a certain amount of time to get faster times from the horse, and he is not ready, the results are not conducive to sound-minded horses. Some of the results are horses that start dreading their job, horses that are not sure of their job and ones that are losing their gather and pocket.

The reality of this situation is that the horse is running faster, but will get slower times. So, as we trouble-shoot coming into the arena, getting a good solid start, knowing where to gather, where you are taking the horse into the turn and how to come out of the first turn, we should ask, “Is my horse solid in each step that led up to this point? Did he understand the training at a walk, trot, canter and then a full run? Was he confident in each stage? Is he as confident away from home as he is at home?”

There is another thing that we need to consider since we are training and competing on horses at young ages. I have seen horses that peaked out in their 4-year-old year, to later fall apart and quit working. I attended a session at EQUITANA USA in 1999 on championship jumping where Aaron Vale was answering questions. Vale is a member of the U.S. Equestrian Team. He has won 10 Grand Prix on seven different horses. I asked him when they tried to peak a world-class jumper. His answer was: “We try not to let a young horse peak, but rather keep them held back for the simple reason that when a young horse peaks, he does not usually have a long career. We try to keep them held back until they are older so that they will last for a long time.”

We are starting horses younger than we used to and pushing them harder. As we look for things that potentially cause problems, we need to think about what Vale said. Few horses can peak early and remain a great horse. A horse will never reach his full potential if he did not solidly understand each stage up to his competition. A horse will actually tell you when he is ready to speed up; barrel racers just need to learn to read the signs.

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Last modified: January 05, 2014