Ask Martin: Slowing Down an Arena-Anxious Horse
Question: “I rode a little 4-year-old sorrel mare at one of your clinics, and I have been carrying flags on her for grand entry at a couple rodeos. In warm-up, she’s good– responsive and relaxed. But, as soon as we enter the arena for grand entry, she gets nervous and pushy and isn’t as soft or responsive. She isn’t a fan of the crowd. I was just wondering what I could do to make this experience better for her and keep her responding between my hands and legs.”
Martin: “If you were going to go fast when you enter the arena, they are going to get nervous in time and want to go fast. This is why barrel racing horses, rope horses and bulldogging horses act like they do.
You can only go fast so many times before the horse starts to anticipate going fast all the time. So, it needs to be balanced out with enough slow runs that the horse doesn’t get as anxious.
You might walk, trot, and go slow around the arena where she can stay soft four out of five times. Then it might be two or three out of five times. If she gets real anxious, it might take 20 times to one before she starts to relax. Whatever the ratio is, is what it needs to be.
As for her being bothered by the crowd, it might be the way she’s handled in that environment and not necessarily the crowd. Regardless though, if she could be ridden in front of the crowd before the rodeo starts when people are warming up in the arena and just ride her quiet– it would probably give her a good experience with all the action going on.
The faster you go, the more you pull on her. The more you pull on her, the worse experience she is having. The worse her experience is, the worse she’s going to get about it. Just slow her down and give her good experiences.
Thanks for your question!