the Pattern Consistently
Joyce Loomis Kernek
parted in our last issue stating that a horse will never reach his potential if
he does not solidly understand each of the steps up to the competition level. It
can also be said that a horse will never reach consistency in his performance
without this understanding.
green horses will sometimes come along so fast that you will think they are
naturals, or understanding everything. Then they are taken faster. Many times,
they are speeded up beyond their understanding, but will perform successfully
for a time and even win. You may never know what step was skipped in your
program until the horse begins to blow that step. We are seeing this more and
more in horses reaching 5-6 years of age that were campaigned as futurity horses
in their fourth year.
a barrel horse is sent to me for training or comes to me for lessons, the first
thing I do is go back to basic steps to see what is missing, misunderstood or
undone. It is much easier to get the steps solid before the horse has made lots
of competitive runs. I say this because a horse is easier to teach and correct
in a slow stage than he is once he has learned to do something wrong going fast.
troubleshoot on the barrels, sometimes we have to analyze the problem until we
identify exactly what is costing us time. The second step is then re-doing or
correcting that step. If the problem is coming from a missing step, we must
teach that step. If it is coming from a step that is misunderstood at speed,
then we teach that step at speed. (Sometimes your horse may understand a step at
one speed, but not at the next level.) If it is coming from a step that is
undone, we have to re-do that step.
can talk for a long time about the possibilities I just mentioned. They can
involve health problems, (teeth, soreness, etc.), tack problems, rider problems
or any number of other possibilities. The focus of this article, however, is to
point out some signs that your horse gives to say that he is ready to speed up.
you are working your horse at home and taking him through the pattern
consistently, here are some of the signs that you can look for when approaching
the first barrel.
Look at his ears. Are
they working or pinning back, telling you that he is interested in the barrel in
front of him?
Is your horse gathering? When
you go to the spot where you have taught him to gather, there will come a time
when he will gather for you on his own. This is a sign that he has thoroughly
understood that he must gather to turn. I never speed a horse up until he has
begun gathering on his own and I always go back a step when I see them run by
their gathering spot.
Is your horse positioning his shoulder correctly? When training is consistent, he will begin to position his shoulder from
the straight (coming to the barrel) to the round (turning the barrel). When the
horse begins to position his body and hold it around the turn without throwing
his head in and out, or up and down, he is getting the correct position down. A
key sign to look for is when he will get his shoulder out of the way at the
barrel and hold it out of the way until he completes his turn. If he does not
understand that, you will always be adjusting the shoulder in your turns when
you speed him up. He will become shifty shouldered and you will have a hard time
being consistent in your performance.
your horse is not interested, not looking for the first barrel, or if he is
running through his gather, or shouldering coming into his turn (or in the
turn,) you can sometimes trace these problems back to your basic training. I
find an interesting thing at clinics and lessons. Ninety-nine percent of the
horses I see are doing exactly what the rider is asking. Put that same rider on
some other horses, and they will be doing the same thing. The sad thing is that
sometimes the horse gets punished for doing exactly what the rider has asked.
having problems in your run, it is so important to troubleshoot and then be
honest with yourself about what is causing the problem. Make sure that you have
not speeded up your horse before he was ready.