Seasoning your horse at home

The word season has many meanings.  In horse terms, when we say a horse is "seasoned", we are referring to his ability to perform under the stress of many sights, noises and strange surroundings.  We have to realize that a horse was a creature that had a natural habitat of the great outdoors.  Man has domesticated him and changed his entire environment.  But, his natural instincts are still fight or flight.  When something scares him, his first instinct is to kick out or run away because he was a creature that was hunted and killed by predators.  To season him is to fit him by experiencing the things he will face and bring him through fear.

So, when we think of ways to season this creature of habit to all the new things he will face as a barrel horse, we must become innovative.  The more we can expose him to at home, the less time we will have to spend on this at the shows.  Here are some hints of things that you can do at home. 

One of the first places that we can start is loading him into the trailer a long time before he is to be hauled away on the first outing.  We start loading them at a very young age and make it a pleasant experience.  To season them to leg wraps, wrap them first in a stall and let them get used to the foreign things on their legs.  Do NOT wrap them and stick them into the trailer.  Some of the things you can do are to take short rides around the section line and feed them in the trailer.  If you get them started off right, they will always load and haul for you.  If you scare them by whipping them, get them pulling back or refusing to load when they are young, you may have problems their whole life.  Most problems with loading horses are man made.  Take some time with this and give the young horse confidence.

We start out by introducing everything to the young horses in the round pen or a small pen where they can't run off and hurt themselves.  Paint your barrels with bright colors.  You can buy stencils and spray paint and create stars, circles and writing on them just like they do at the shows.  Simulate flags hanging by tying plastic sacks around.  Place chairs, umbrellas and banners on the outside of the round pen.  Introduce only one new thing at a time.  You can tie flags over the top of your round pen to simulate the overhead flags at many rodeos.  Start by leading the horse up to the strange objects.  Then drive him around the round pen where he can look at them.  The last stage is to ride him around them.  Don't be surprised if he gets scared all over again when you get onto his back.  This is because man rides in the area where the predators attack the horse.  This is a vulnerable spot because he cannot see up on the top of his back.  Be very careful approaching those same objects when you are riding him.

The next stage is to start going to jackpots.  Start at the level.  There he will see other horses tied to trailers, other riders, the PA system, dogs, cars and people walking around and sitting in the grandstands or near the fences.  Remember to approach the fences and banners both coming straight at them and riding beside them.  When he is comfortable here, you can advance to local rodeos.  You can haul in, ride in the grand entries and ride around the outside of the arena and then go home.  Make it a pleasant experience.  Take advantage of any events that are near your home area.  You can get a lot of seasoning time and avoid spending much money.

People have gone to great lengths to simulate the exact situation their young horses will face at the big money futurities.  I know a cutting horseman that duplicated the end of the coliseum in Ft. Worth in his home arena.  He duplicated the chutes and gates and painted them the exact colors, etc.  But there are some things you just can't do at home.  It is hard to simulate a live band playing, the contract acts, loud clapping and crowds walking around.  Things like carnivals, Ferris wheels, etc. just have to be experienced at the local and state fairs.  When you start taking the young ones around the big rodeos, they will experience walking on a lot of cement and many other things that are hard to duplicate at home. 

But, you can imitate many situations at home.  Be innovative, realize that seasoning takes time and be careful to make everything a pleasant experience.  Whip a horse when he is frightened and then you will have a frightened horse that is confused.  Work through his fears.  You will find that some of the greatest horses on the circuit were some of the most frightened.  A horse that will spot something new will also spot your barrels.  So, be patient.  You will be so glad that you did when you start to lay down your money and compete.    Happy Trails

Send mail to joycekernek@windstream.net with questions or comments about this web site.
Copyright 2004 - 2011 Joyce Loomis-Kernek
Last modified: January 05, 2014