Are ring-sour horses re-trainable? This question often arises and is difficult to address because there are often so many contributing factors involved. To accomplish this goal of retraining, you must establish why the horse is ring-sour. The list of causes could go on and on, but here are some common causes.
Was the horse consistently sore when shown? Does the show saddle fit properly? Was the horse allowed to aniticipate the announcer and anticipate reversing and lining up? Each of these can cause a variety of misbehaviors. Was he always allowed back to his stall immediately after leaving the class? Is the horse used to and accepting of his show bit? Is the class and the work the right fit for this horse? If the horse is anxious about showing, does he have ulcers? Many show horses do. Are you riding the horse the same at the show as you do at home? Have you kept his routine as close to his barn routine as possible? Are you - his rider - nervous? And, if you show a mare, are there hormonal issues at work? In short, there are many things that can contribute to a horse becoming sour in the show arena.
I don't believe all horses are "fixable" nor do I believe all horses make good show horses. That being said though, yes some horses and perhaps many horses can be turned around and even learn to like showing. But I most emphatically do not believe that the answer lies in taking the horse home and "just" turning him out to pasture (which is good for any horse - I always turn my horses out before and after a show). Simply turning the horse out for a period of time though won't cure the underlying problem(s) alone.
You must tackle each of the issues above one-by-one to find the cause or causes. Usually there is more than one problem but I like to start with the physical issues first. Is the horse sore? Maybe he has been just worked too hard at the show, maybe put in too many classes (a typical error of amateurs). Sometimes horses start misbehaving because they are sore and tired. Take the horse to a schooling show and work with any bad show ring habits. This will also give you a baseline for evaluation. Be sure that whoever is riding is calm and quite and assertive. And remember most horses need to be exercised before they are worked at a show.
There are some things that "wind" horses up and some that calm horses. For instance, some horses don't do well being loped in a crowded warm-up arena. Some will not relax if you work them in small, tight circles. There are some suppling exercises that when done carefully, can really help a horse relax in his back and neck. Develop a warm-up routine that helps your individual horse. Just because something works well for one horse, does not mean it is right for your horse. Treating all horses as individuals is one of the most vital keys to success.
I work closely with my veterinarians. Any issues I have are thoroughly discussed with them. Soreness, excessive nerves, mares coming into season at shows, suspected ulcer conditions should all be discussed with your veterinarian. There are many vets who specialize in performance horses and they should be consulted. It is my firm believe that a successful show program is due in part to good veterinarian care and good farrier care.
One last word: horses don't become ring-sour overnight. This behavior develops over time and usually is a combination of several factors. Everything is interconnected so try to find the underlying problem and then work your way through the other issues. Be patient and be methodical and often you can have great results. See you next week! JD