Horse Relay

Posted on Mar 10, 2015

Scott’s nephew, Emmett, has been experiencing problems training for an upcoming relay race so Scott asked Ty and I to take a look to see if we can help.

The relay is an exciting horse and rider team event that takes place on a racetrack. Competitors race against each other on horseback, to determine which team can complete the required number of laps of the track the fastest – and just to make it more difficult - they ride bareback. At the  beginning of each leg of the race, a rider has to run and jump onto his horse’s back – in a shared exchange zone – all while riders and horses from competing teams are doing the same. It’s barely controlled chaos.

Emmett is a skilled rider and competitor and his horse, Barega, is the fastest on the circuit. Recently, though, they have been having trouble with the last leg of the race. Emmett has been struggling to land cleanly on Barega’s back in the exchange zone. But when we asked Emmett and Barega to demonstrate for us, they completed the transition perfectly – time after time.

So we decided to simulate race conditions… and that’s when the problem became apparent.  We realized that Barega was distracted by the other horses and riders around him. When he saw Emmett running towards him he took off too early – clearly anticipating the race ahead. But unfortunately leaving Emmett in the dirt.

Horses have incredible vision. Their eyes can work together as a unit (binocular) or independently (monocular). What this means is that a horse can see almost everything around it. This nearly panoramic field of vision is an important part of a survival system based on flight. For a prey animal in the wild, good eyesight can mean the difference between life and death. But sometimes a horse’s vision can work against him, by distracting him from the task at hand.

So I suggested we try covering Barega’s eyes to shield his vision from what was going on around him, to see if he would react differently. And it seemed to help. Barega was immediately calmer and more relaxed. He focused on what was ahead of him, not what was at his side or behind him.

So we have started to work with him using blinkers, and the training has been going well. Barega is performing better, which will make it not only safer for both Emmett and Barega, but the other horses and riders participating in the event as well.

Every horse is different, with an individual personality. When you are trying to solve a specific horse problem, it’s important to remember that and to consider each animal separately. An essential part of any training process is finding out what will work for that horse – because what works for one, will not necessarily work for another. But if you stay alert and open to the cues a horse is giving you – he can help you decide what is best for him.