C.R. Bradley offers advice to correct three common problems in the roping box.

C.R. Bradley in the roping box

Champion trainer C.R. Bradley focuses on team roping and tie-down roping horses. He has amassed more than 17 American Quarter Horse Association world and reserve world championships, more than 30 All American Quarter Horse Congress championships and has qualified for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nevada. Twister Enola Gay, a roan mare Bradley trained and owns, is a frequent visitor to the NFR with PRCA Tie-Down World Champion Tuf Cooper in the saddle. Bradley’s father, Clark, is a National Reining Horse Association Hall of Fame inductee, and Bradley was raised to understand all aspects of Western horsemanship. Bradley, his wife, Rosie, and their son, Cooper, reside in Collinsville, Texas.

Q:I have a 4-year-old gelding that is skittish. I’ve often ridden him in the pasture, down the road, at horse shows and in a clinic. Despite a lot of exposure during the past two years, he still spooks at simple objects: gates, signs, sounds in the bushes, etc. It’s common for him to be nervous around the drainage pipe in my neighbor’s pasture, even though we’ve ridden past it, sniffed it, even stepped over it multiple times. Is there anything else I can do to calm his fears?

Ryan, Texas

A: When I have a horse that acts nervous, the first thing I do is have him checked for ulcers. If a horse has ulcers, I often use a product like Oxygen Jailbreak, but you should check with your veterinarian about treatment options.. A lot of horses have ulcers or upset stomachs, and just like a person in pain, they can be more sensitive. The medicine can help them relieve the pain and settle down.

A horse that is scared of objects may lack confidence. Try to lunge the horse or ride at an easy pace near an object, like the drainage pipe, until the horse relaxes. When the horse wants to stand near the object, I would pat him and offer reassurance so he is confident and knows that is the reaction I want. Sometimes I will have a roping horse that is worried or scared of the roping chute. I will lead the horse to the object, touch the object with my hand and then touch the horse’s face. I will rub him and show I am not scared of the object, and often, the horse follows my lead. Instead of bracing for the spook that may come, try to ride confidently and reassure your horse.

Q: We have a 10-year-old Paint. He is a great barrel horse, but he is refusing going in the arena. He even strikes out and rears. We checked out everything, even [checking him for] ulcers. What other problems could we work on? 

Mary, Wisconsin

A: My wife, Rosie, barrel races and she had a horse that bled slightly internally after a run. We only found the problem when we had the horse scoped after running. That is one option to check [for problems] that may not have come up on a physical exam.

After you have ruled out any possible physical problem, I would start going to local barrel races and only walk in and out of the arena and around the gate without running the pattern. Kind of like scoring a calf or team roping horse to settle them in the box, let the horse settle in the alley or at the gate. My wife will agree that a lot of barrel racers start the horse at a dead run from a standstill. Instead, try to trot the horse, pick up a lope and then gradually increase the speed. This is easier to start on a young horse, but this does put less pressure on the horse and can allow more control at the first barrel. Still turn the horse loose, but gradually build that speed instead of whipping and spurring from the get-go.

I have had a few horses that wanted to rear and I would teach them to put their heads down. I tap the horse on the top of the neck when the horse attempts to pick his front end up. I truly just tap with my hand and not hard, and I never use an object to tap the horse. I do this away from the arena or roping box, or in your case, alleyway or gate.  I teach the horse when they are quiet and there is no pressure. Don’t try to teach this when the horse is upset or when you are at a barrel race. At the slightest indication the horse is dropping its head, quit tapping. Eventually, the horse will learn to drop his head when you tap the neck. Usually, a horse won’t rear up if his head is down. Problems like yours evolve gradually most times, so the fix is not often overnight.

Q: I have a 6-year-old Quarter Horse mare that I just can’t seem to keep in a slow lope. I can get her to slow down when I am sitting deep and pulling back on the reins, but when I release the bit pressure, she is off to the races. I have tried lunging before riding, loping for extended periods in hopes of wearing her out, changing directions frequently, and loping from fence post to fence post with stops at the end. Any suggestions?

Christine, Virginia

A: My father, National Reining Horse Association Hall of Fame member Clark Bradley, taught me this technique, and it works on any horse. Teach a horse to stop off the seat and leg, and not off the hand. Begin by walking around the pen with your legs squeezing slightly and on a loose rein. When the horse wants to speed up, release your leg and sit deep. If the horse doesn’t stop, say whoa, and pull gently and back the horse two steps. Keep repeating this until your horse will stop when you sit deep and take your legs off her body. This can take some time and patience for a horse to learn. Over a couple of weeks, you can work this at a trot or lope. This way, the horse is not relying on your hand or the bit to be told to stop.

You do not want to be pulling back on the bit when the horse is loping, especially when the horse is running off, because you are teaching her to run to the bit. It is kind of like driving with the parking brake on. Instead, I teach everyone to lope a horse on a loose rein and get the horse to stop by sitting deep and taking their legs off. If I pick my hand up, I will be asking the horse to collect at the lope or to turn. The first thing you should work on is getting your horse working off your legs so that you are not constantly pulling on the reins. There is not a quick fix for your problem, but with patience and time you can get your mare to lope on a loose rein and stop.


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