Myth Busters; Barrel Racing Edition

I was late to the party with barrel racing. I didn’t start as a kid and grow up in a barrel racing or rodeo family. I had to wade my way into it as an adult and come up through the ranks. Of course as someone new to the scene I was hungry for information and would listen to just about anyone who had something to say about barrel racing. I would absorb any information I could get my hands on. Over time I started to weed out what was good or bad information. I also noticed that a few pieces of information seemed recycled, as if they had been repeated over and over by barrel racers for years like a mantra.. but nobody really knew what it meant. Here is my attempt to bust some barrel racing myths.

Myth #1


If you have ever been to a barrel race then you have definitely heard friends and family members hollering from the sidelines, “Look up!” They are just trying to remind the rider to look up at the next barrel so they can finish their turn nicely and head to the next one.

This can be really helpful when the rider has a tendency to look off into never never land or at the fence, banners etc.

It is not helpful, however, when the rider is only one quarter of the way through the turn and they are craning their neck around the find the next barrel. This inevitably puts the rider’s body out of position and more than likely they are pulling their horse’s head towards the next barrel way to soon.

What I tell my students during their lessons is to stay “hooked” on the barrel you are on until you’re three quarters of the way around it, then go ahead and look up.

I try to look at the ground where I want my horses feet to go, or right at the barrel if I’m close enough to it. I feel like I make better judgements through the turn this way because I have a good point of reference. It is also easier to ride stride for stride through the turn instead of getting way ahead of myself.

Myth #2


Every horse is so different and they all have somewhat of their own “style” of running. In the case of a “free running” style horse, the go to signal that most riders use is the two hand “check”. This is when the rider pulls back quickly a couple times with both hands to slow the horse down for the turn.

I have seen where this can be really helpful when you can feel the horse really free wheeling it up to the barrel and you need a quick reminder that the turn is coming up.

Unfortunately I have also seen where this is just a habit of the rider and the horse really didn’t need that severe of a yank. A lot of times the horse will start to anticipate that yank before each barrel and they will learn to brace up against that pressure or throw their head way in the air and run right through it. You can’t blame them though, if you had you face smacked at work every time you tried to go do your job, you would probably quit trying too.

I encourage people to “let” their horse turn the barrel, and to help their horses learn how to hunt the turn on their own. There are so many ways to teach your horse to look forward to the turn instead of resenting it.

Myth #3


This is what I have learned, barrel racers LOVE drills. It makes them feel like they are getting something accomplished. They have a mission when they go out and ride and its fun to try different drills.

Here is what I have also learned, the drills are only as effective as the rider’s timing. Running a certain drill over and over could definitely do more harm than good if your timing is ineffective. Put some real effort into your hand position and when you are applying pressure with your hands or legs and when you are releasing pressure.

Every time you release pressure your horse is learning something, so when you are doing drills, make sure that you are rewarding at the right moments.

When I am riding a young horse and teaching them the pattern, I may pick up on the rein and release is five or six times going around one barrel because I’m releasing pressure each time their feet fall in the right spot. This is one way to help a horse hunt the turn, because when they are on the right path, I have no contact with their mouth.

There are a couple of drills that I use on a regular basis to help a horse figure out their timing, leads and position. But for the most part my work is done away from the barrels where I’m teaching the horse the mechanics of the turn and how to use their body more effectively and respond to my cues.

If you have been doing a lot of drills and haven’t been getting the results you are after I would encourage you to ask a trainer for some help with timing and have them watch for where you could be sending mixed signals or not rewarding at the right moments. Having a second set of eyes watching what is going on can be so helpful.

Keep in touch with me on Facebook at JE Performance Horses LLC!

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