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As much as the practice pen is your best friend, I want to encourage everyone to understand that horses have bad days just like we do. Focus on the positives of your run and then choose one thing to improve on and practice at home. Photo by Lyndsey Ogle Photography.

Behind the Scenes with McKenzie Morgan: The Practice Pen is Your Best Friend

By McKenzie Morgan, originally published in the August 2018 issue of Barrel Horse News

As much as the practice pen is your best friend, I want to encourage everyone to understand that horses have bad days just like we do. Focus on the positives of your run and then choose one thing to improve on and practice at home. Photo by Lyndsey Ogle Photography.

In my July 2018 article, we talked about the calm before the storm and tips to keep your horse quiet in the holding pen before a run. I want to discuss how to use practice sessions at home. Have you ever heard the saying, “The practice pen is your best friend?”

We all have one horse that pushes us right to our breaking point daily. When you spend hours with a horse trying to get things right yet seem to be getting nowhere, it’s very frustrating. I’ve been in that spot hundreds of times over the past few years, and I know firsthand that it kills your confidence. I also know how rewarding it is when that horse finally puts a run together. However, I’ll always be a firm believer that horses who are the hardest to deal with make the best winners. You always get out what you put into a horse.

When you’re picking your runs apart, pick out a couple positive things. You can’t get anywhere always focusing on the negative parts of your run.

Find something in your run to really work on in the practice pen at home. Then, let that be your goal for the day at the barrel race—if it’s to get that snap on the first, finish the second, not blow off the third or walking in the gate. If you accomplish that goal, then move onto the next thing you can improve upon. I truly believe that’s one of the only ways to keep you from wanting to give up on these guys.

The practice pen isn’t just for colts or problem horses—some of the best open horses still spend hours in the practice pen. But one of the things we don’t realize we do as riders that really messes with our horses is that we seem to treat these horses like cars instead of animals that make mistakes and have good days and bad days. We work them at home all week trying to make them perfect in the practice pen and then run them on the weekend. All to just turn around and do it over again, constantly asking them to give 110 percent every time we climb on their backs.

As much as the practice pen is your best friend, I want to encourage everyone to understand that horses have bad days just like we do. Try not to constantly ask 110 percent from them all the time. Make things fun at home by switching things up—go through a set of poles or go on a trail ride. Don’t expect your horses to be perfect all the time or treat them like a machine.

You have to build a bond with your horse. You’re going to get further with a horse that truly loves you than one you just ride every day and run on the weekends. Horses are amazing animals, and they make for even better athletes. Take care of these guys and love them like they love you. They only last for so long. Always be thankful you can still ride your horse in the practice pen and work on getting the kinks out. You also better thank God every day for those four-legged babies standing outside making every one of our dreams come true.