It’s no secret that I’m completely obsessed with barrel racing. I love to sit and watch at a barrel race and analyze what is going on in a run. I totally don’t do this in a judgmental way, I’m just really analytical and its fun for me to watch a horse’s leg movement, balance, and stride. I’m watching to see if I can figure out where time is being shaved off or added to the clock.
Looks can be decieving when it comes to the barrel pattern. What looks pretty and smooth isn’t always fast, and what looks fast is sometimes slow. One thing I have learned for sure though, is that the less strides your horse has to take and the less ground you cover, the faster you will clock.
That doesn’t mean you won’t ever get out run by someone who covered more ground. My focus here to to help show you where you can improve YOUR time by a few tenths and hopefully move up a division.
This pattern is probably the prettiest looking pattern you will see at the barrel race. And it will likely end up safely planted in the 2d. Everything is smooth and easy looking. The only thing I would change here is the approach to the first. The dotted line shows that really huge sweeping pocket to the first barrel. It sets up for a nice easy turn, but it also adds a couple strides to the pattern.
The solid line to the first is where I would rather be if I can set my horse up just right. Of course there are so many variables when it comes to how the arena is set up or where the ally is in relation to the first barrel. But as a general rule, I’m going to try to take a straighter approach to my spot which is about five to six feet to the left of the first barrel and then let my horse work.
When I am patterning a horse at home I take several different angles to the first barrel but I always make sure they end up at their spot so they know that there is enough room to make the turn. I try not to make the approach to the first barrel over complicated in my mind. Before a run I think, “get to your spot”.
2.) The Question Mark
This pattern has a lot of things going on, which is probably one of the reasons it adds precious time to the clock. The first thing you’ll probably notice is that there is a ton of space going into the barrel, but very little on the backside. Sometimes this approach works great, sometimes it will get you into trouble dragging barrels over, or shouldering.
I marked where I think the horse has to take an extra stride going around each barrel. If the horse tries to rush the turn, that will be where they will take one big, long stride and get too strung out. Then their next stride they will have to try to gather back up and complete the turn. If they aren’t able to get collected back up, they might end up swinging their hind end out of the turn.
A lot of times with this style of turn the horse will swap leads several times. When the rider asks them to make a big move over to make room for that question mark pocket around the barrel, the horse will usually switch to the wrong lead then dive back down into the correct lead. Every extra lead change slows down momentum or gets the horse out of position. So eliminating them could be really beneficial!
3.) The Rollback
The Rollback style turn looks fast and snappy and its fun to watch in real life, but it usually clocks slower than it looks. The simple reason is that the horse loses too much forward momentum when they almost stop and roll back on the backside of the barrel.
I had a horse that would do this and it always felt like he was making a nice snappy turn, but he couldn’t accelerate out of the turn nearly as fast as a horse that will stay more four wheel drive around the barrel. I ended up working a lot on getting him to round out his body more and stay slower and more correct through the whole turn.
Rolling back was his way of cheating through the turn because he could take less strides around it, But losing that forward momentum forced us to take more and slower strides between the barrels.
My ideal pattern is just that, an “ideal”. We all know our ideal pattern and reality when making a run can be two different things. What I will be really picky about is showing my horse the right path to be on when I’m starting the pattern on them.
In the next picture I marked where my “spots” are that I aim to get to before letting my horse start the turn.
When this is executed just right a horse can get around the barrel smoothly in three strides on the second and third barrel and four strides on the first barrel.
I also marked where I hope my horse switches to the left lead coming out of the first. Sometimes my gelding gets it and sometimes he doesn’t, but he does seem to be able to take a straighter line to the second if I will leave a little extra room for him on the back side of the barrel to over finish it and switch leads.
Hopefully having a visual helps you as much as it does me! There is something about seeing it mapped out on paper that clicks with me and makes it easier to stay zoned in on the path I need my horse to stay on.
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