Horses that are used in most equine competition events such as Dressage, Hunter-Jumper, Reining, Cutting, Roping, Barrel Racing and Mounted Shooting, just to name a few, can be considered performance horses. These horses typically have a much higher level of training focusing on their events. These horses also must maintain a reasonable level of fitness and mental focus for the task at hand. However, have you ever seen a dressage or hunter-jumper become reactive (spooky) at an object in the ring or a barrel or mounted shooting horse refusing to enter the arena? I often see horses being used in a performance capacity that have basic behavioral issues. There can be several reasons for this but I would like to talk about a couple regarding training.
One possible problem is the horse has poor foundation training. Too many times, especially in the lower performance levels, owners want to rush their horse into a performance environment without providing their horse with good foundation training. It’s like trying to write a college level thesis without having high school English.
The Fix - Make sure your horse has good foundation training before asking for performance level activities.
Another potential problem is that performance horses get very sour at their job when the thing they do is repeated over, and over, and over again with no variation in activity. Think of some activity you really enjoy, now consider that if you did this thing repeatedly every day without doing anything else for a month! I’ll bet it wouldn’t be long that you would hate the thing you loved in the beginning! Horses get bored doing the same thing all the time just like us.
The Fix- Take you horse on a nice relaxed trail ride every now and then. Take you horse through some obstacles to get their mind refocused. If you do speed events in an arena as performance, take your horse in the arena and just relax for a bit. For me, working cows off my mounted shooting horses really helps them by giving them a different job. This always seems to help on competition day! No matter what advanced activity you want to do, make sure your partner has good foundation training first, then remember to mix up your riding activities to keep your horse interested and happy!