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Curing Ring Sour Game Horses

Names of the beings involved have been changed.

Hi, I've just read your article on the Internet and would like to ask a question about rearing.

I have recently purchased a 1/2 quarter, 1/2 thoroughbred seven year old gelding. He is truly gifted in his exceptional athletic abilities and was purchased to run poles and barrels. His background is one of many "playdays" and pole bending races. He was hand raised by his former owners and by their own admission is "spoiled rotten". When he showed an aggressive tendency or bad habit, usually he was "patted" and soothed until the activity ended. This seemed to only make matters worse.

Six months ago, "Paladin", was almost unridable, x-owners had turned him out to pasture and then put him up for sale. I acquired him and started him over, and went straight back to round pen basics. Once he has mastered one step, we went to another. Just this month, I have started "trying" to compete in some playdays and pole bending events. I immediately found out that he has an imaginary line that He refuses to cross over in an arena. If could get him to travel down the alley way to enter the arena, He immediately rears up...not just a popping up off of the ground, but a full rear with both front legs straight up in the air. Several times I have just slid to the ground, to keep him from falling backwards on me. I am by no means a horse trainer, but I have raised and competed for almost 30 years and do consider myself a decent rider.

He is somewhat "Spooky", even though we have worked out alot of the problems. I was on our local police Mounted Patrol for several years and have used all of the procedures on him, with great success, but I've got to be honest and admit that I have never had a horse that rears in such a way. He truly seems to change before your eyes as soon as he sees the arena. The hyper ness immediately starts, heavy breathing, almost panic. Muscles bunched up, wild look in his eyes ect.

Usually, I have to dismount and lead him in,and then mount inside. As soon as I mount, I don't give him a chance to fret, and we go into our run. If I wait even a few seconds before cueing him to make the run, He rears up and gets in such a frenzy, I have to take a few minutes to calm him down, only to have him continue the rearing over and over again until I can gain his attention to take the cue to make the run.

Originally I used a mechanical hackamore on him.(advice of previous owner), I found that he tried to continuously take advantage. I have tried him on several bits and have found one that is compatible with him. Good stops and excellent turns. I have tried all of the tie-downs, war-bonnets, ect....all to no avail. He could almost be considered a Lippazaan Stallion with some of the moves he can make. I have tried the calming medications and they work to some degree, but slow him down too much and make him clumsy taking the turns on barrels and poles. He still rears on the medication, he is just easier to handle.

He has been vet checked for a physical problem, none found. yet, I'm wondering if the fact that he was 2 1/2 when he was gelded, and was bred several times, has anything to do with his activities, and if he could be considered "proud cut ". It seems that his behavior does escalate at the shows when there are hundreds of other horses around.

I have an appointment Monday with an equine specialist to test for the proud cut and to see if there is any "cure" for that ailment.

This horse has so much potential, If we could just get him past this mental block about the arena. The original owners said that he did not have this problem before, but I have spoken to people who knew the horse and said that they had seen the behavior in him at shows. Owners would get off of him and leave. I'm sure that he has learned this bad stuff because of that. I truly wish to help this horse, and as you know Everyone has the cure, but none have worked. Saturday I was going to stoop so low as to taking him to a local trainer and we were going to "Throw" him. That seems to be the general consensus to be the cure but after reading your article, that is not going to happen.

I have spent hours on the Internet, days reading articles and books of bad behavior, Watched a John Lyons tape (said to go back to round pen basics and to gain the trust of the horse ) I think that was accomplished, yet falls apart as soon as we enter an arena to compete.

At this point, he is truly dangerous in an arena. Please don't tell me not to ever put him in an arena again. There has to be help for this horse, no matter how long it takes..I've got the time. Hope to hear some advice.


I don't think your horse needs any proud cut testing. I also don't think he needs medicating. He surely doesn't need throwing. What he needs is to be kept out of the arena and yes, I know, you told me you didn't want me to tell you that.

I have seen MANY horses like you describe and the problem comes from the games and not any handling the horse has had outside of patterns, whether or not it was used for breeding, whether it was an orphan or any number of other things that the horse has experienced.

I am not against speed events. I have been a formidable competitor on a number of horses and I have never had a horse that acted like most of the game horses I've seen. Most game horses are run out of control and thrown through the patterns. When you do this, you get hyper, almost unmanageable horses.

Kind of like yours.

You say the problem occurs at that "imaginary line" in the arena. Therefore all this other stuff has little bearing on the horse's actions. That is not an imaginary line and in essence you have a horse that is too well trained. He has the whole thing down pat...he knows what to do. The problem is he hasn't been allowed to do it.

Before we go any further there are a couple of points I'd like to address. One is that you say the horse has talent and potential. Potential for what? You say if you can just help the *him* do what? I have been around horses a long time and I've never met one who preferred tearing through a pattern to just noshing around the pasture.

If he needs any help it is in asking you to give him a break and not push the issue.

However, he is your horse and I must tell you that I believe the problem can be resolved. It will take time, money and determination.

Here's my take on how he got this way...

He was trained on patterns at home. Go up to the line. Go. Go through the pattern. Stop. Over and over until he was just smoking through and the rider got all full of himself and thought it was show time. "Razor sharp pattern horse here. Let's go get us some blues (or CASH)!"

Showtime arrives and we come up to the line. Horse says, "Oh, got this, let's go." Announcer says, "Hold it! Clock isn't working (barrel needs adjusting)." Horse says, "Let's go!" Rider says, "Whoa! Barrel needs adjusting!" Horse gets antsy, rider gets more forceful, horse gets antsier.

The horse is being prevented from doing what it was trained to do in that situation.

At some point, it's allowed to go, usually after being circled to face the starting line which is also different than at home, and now we have another home the props were set regulation, at the arena they may be much less or much more than regulation. Does it matter? Yes. Horses, like humans, have rhythms that are developed from repetition. Throw the rhythm off and you have overshot or undershot props, turn later or sooner than expected and so on. The rider says, "Dang, gotta make that up!" and he's out of whack. Horse and human become disjointed, out of sync.

Nothing goes quite like expected and both horse and rider become frustrated. Some horses last longer than others but they usually get ring sour sooner or later.

If you are going to game horses the secret to preventing ring sour is to make sure the horse doesn't know what to expect. Don't practice patterns, practice components of the pattern.

I never ran a practice pattern in my life. The only time I ran a pattern was in the arena at an event and from the beginning I was extremely competitive and the years I ran my game horse she never got hyper or frustrated.

I trained my horse to stand still. I trained her to go like crazy until I told her otherwise. I trained her to turn equally well in both directions until I told her to stop turning. I trained her to stop.

Tufts of grass became imaginary barrels and poles. A natural line on the ground or something that could double as a line became a starting line. And so on. I practiced like crazy and the horse never saw a prop.

And then I made sure we established no patterns in the arena. Sometimes I rode her in at a walk, sometimes at another gait, sometimes I just led her in. Sometimes we ran in at speed and started our run, sometimes we circled behind the line for a bit before crossing the clock, sometimes we just sat there and relaxed for a few moments. Sometimes I got off after riding in and remounted. I did everything I could think of to keep her guessing and she began to patiently await the cues.

Sometimes I'd lead or ride her into the arena to help set up the props that were knocked down. Sometimes I'd just stop her in the middle of a run or deliberately break the pattern. Sometimes after waiting at the clock for a bit I'd just leave the arena. Basically, the arena was just another place to ride.

Yes, this occasionally cost me ribbons and entry fees but it saved my horse. If another competitor turned in a dream run I often acknowledged that and used my run to play doing double turns, walking, what have you, no need to beat your horse to death trying to better a flawless run.

The cure for your horse is to do the unexpected. You know him well enough to know when, where and how he loses it. Change the routine.

Lead or ride him in the arena for no reason. Abort before he loses it. Try running the pattern as slowly as you can a few times. Act like it's no big deal to be in the arena and chances are he will too.

Another thing that will help your horse is to stop running him against other horses and run him against himself. Work on making the next turn the best turn he's ever made. Just make the best run *you* can and forget times to beat.

Your horse can be recovered but it will take time, determination and money. I hope you are willing to concentrate on form and forget placing. If you can do that, you'll be amazed at how well you can place.

ANY form of racing is hard on a horse both mentally and physically. It is a full time job just to minimize the damage.

I have a video that will go a long way toward lessening the chances of getting into this sort of pit. You are already there, but the DVD can also be tapped for the repair as well. Click here to check out my speed event / gaming DVD.

Click here to check out my very reasonably priced DVD inventory covering many of the subjects featured on my site's pages in greater depth.

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