Sometimes the most basic things can give you the biggest advantage in a competition. I have experienced this first hand when I watched one of Fallon Taylor’s old YouTube videos where she offered a few basic ideas to help you clock faster. They seemed so simple that I didn’t think it would work. Until I tried it. I’ll share a couple of the ideas I got from her and a few I’ve learned from my own trial and error.
1.) Shorten your reins! Barrel racing is a game of accuracy and timing. If your reins are so long that its taking three tenths of a second to slide your hand down the rein and make contact with your horse’s mouth, then those three tenths will be added to the clock… likely at every barrel. Give yourself the least opportunity for error and the quickest reaction time by shortening your reins. When your horse is just standing there relaxed, you should barely be able to reach them.
2.) Shorten your stirrups. This is a two fold tip. You can’t have short enough stirrups if you don’t have a big enough seat size. I always tell people, the seat size of your saddle has less to do with how big your rump is and more to do with the length of leg you have. I ride a 14.5 inch seat because it gives me the extra room to shorten my stirrups without my legs hitting the pommel of my saddle. For barrel racing, you need to have your stirrups short enough that your knees and feet are out in front of you when your legs are just relaxing on the horse’s sides. If they are too long, you will be pitched forward or seesaw back and forth in the saddle through your whole run. It is also much easier to lose your stirrups in they aren’t short enough.
3.) Turn your body into a noodle. If you hold a lot of tension or stiffen up any part of your body during your runs, this could be really effecting how your horse works. Think about trying to balance a steel rod on top of a ball. It would be incredibly hard because the rod only makes contact with the ball in a very small area. As soon as you let go it would come tumbling down.
Now imagine putting a cooked noodle on top of that ball. The noodle would stay put and balance just right because it is able to make more contact and move with the ball instead of working against it.
Watch how a cutter rides when their horse is working a cow. They are slumped down in the saddle and moving in a fluid motion with their horse. That is the reason why they are able to stay so centered and balanced when their horses make such huge moves.
4.) Develop good muscle memory. When your adrenaline is going and you space out during a run, you are going to revert to muscle memory. Give yourself an advantage by eliminating bad habits and replacing them with new positive habits in the practice pen.
This is something I have worked really hard at because I ride colts most of the time and so I’m usually working in split reins and keeping my hands low and wide to make my cues really obvious to them. During a run I don’t want to ride like I’m riding a colt so I have to practice the position I want to be in during a competition.
People think I’m crazy when I tell them to do this, but it really does work. Walk the pattern with your horse slow. Think about each step and every spot that your body needs to change position. Put your hands exactly where you want them to be during a run. Shift your weight at the same spots that you would need to during a run. Be hyper aware of everything you are signaling your horse to do. You can re-train your muscle memory to eliminate bad habits if you do this often enough!
5.) Don’t watch bad runs over and over. Every time you watch a video of barrel racing, whether it is you or someone else, make sure its a good run. This might seem kind of hokey, but when you watch a video you are mentally practicing. If you had a bad run and you watch it over and over, you are setting yourself up to repeat that run the next time. Its ok to watch it once and analyze what happened, but don’t get stuck there.
If I have a bad run, I actually delete the video if I have one, and I go and watch videos from a couple futurity trainers that I really like. I watch the best runs I can find so I can mentally practice doing it right. It’s too easy to get in a slump if you constantly review bad runs or become over critical of yourself. Focus on a few things that went well and move on.
I hope these things will help you in your next run! I’d love feedback if you try one of these tips.
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