Aggressive Aids' Effects on Barrel Racing Horses Studied

Aggressive Aids' Effects on Barrel Racing Horses Studied

New research shows that whipping and kicking barrel horses doesn't seem to improve race time, but it does appear to increase unwanted behavior in the horse.

Photo: Photos.com

Going for under 15 seconds on that cloverleaf pattern? You might be better off leaving the whip at the gate. New research shows that whipping and kicking barrel horses doesn't seem to improve race time, but it does appear to increase unwanted behavior in the horse.

"At some amateur levels, barrel racing riders are encouraged to aggressively use both the whip and the leg to increase the velocity of the horse," said Karen Waite, MS, equine extension specialist and researcher at Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing, Mich. "But there appears to be no relationship between the use of the whip, leg, or reins and the final run time of cloverleaf barrel race patterns."

On the contrary, horses that are whipped in the arena have a tendency to resist going into the arena, she said during a presentation at the 2012 conference of the International Society for Equitation Science. And the more horses are kicked, the more they have a tendency to rear up.

Waite and her research team, including Camie Heleski, PhD, behavior and equitation scientist at MSU, studied 64 youth riders and their horses during cloverleaf barrel race patterns. All the horses were ridden in the same arena in the same conditions. The researchers videotaped the rides and then closely evaluated rider and horse behavior from the time they approached the gate to the time they dismounted.

On average, the number of aggressive behaviors by the riders--including whipping, kicking, and slapping with the reins--had no effect on the racing time, Waite said.

"The horse's attention is probably directed back toward the rider as opposed to the direction they are supposed to be moving, which in turn would not improve run time," Waite told The Horse.

"Through personal observation, I have noticed that the very best barrel horses seem to do--and enjoy--their jobs without this form of aggressive riding," she said. "I recommend that riders consider their horse's individual reaction to specific cues and consider the fact that there is no statistical benefit to the aggressive riding evaluated in this study."

The data could be particularly useful in properly educating young riders, she added, as high-level riders don't seem to ride in this aggressive manner much.

Waite's study is part of an ongoing research project evaluating both "positive and negative behaviors" at competitive equestrian events.

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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