A barrel racer needs to be responsive to all the aids, bend and flex, collect and extend the canter, engage the hindquarters, do flying lead changes, move laterally off of leg pressure, stop square and back straight.
These movements are not called for until 3rd level in dressage. It is not achieved over night and it does not come without a lot of good basic training.
Good basic training and conditioning is very important because:
1. Fit horses are less likely to have soundness issues.
2. Horses using themselves correctly are less likely to have soundness issues.
3. Accuracy counts! A down barrel will either cost you time penalty or elimination.
4. A good training program will prevent your horse from getting gate sour.
5. A happy, healthy, fit horse is more likely to be safe and fun to ride.
Before you head to the show or rodeo, take this test developed by Charmayne James, 11 time World Champion NFR Barrel Racer, all time leading money earner barrel racer and Hall of Fame Cowgirl.
|Is your horse ready to run barrels? Each part is worth 5 points.|| |
|1. Walk around the arena- 5 points if he walks forward, relaxed. Deduct 1 point if he trots, doesn’t maintain forward motion, pulls on the bit or tosses his head.|
|2. Stop your horse. Deduct 1 point if he starts again on his own, pulls the bit or tosses his head.|
|3. Ask for a trot. If he takes more then 2 steps to trot, deduct 1 point. More then 4 steps, deduct another point. Six or more steps, deduct another point. If he breaks into a lope, deduct another. Deduct another if he pulls on the bit or throws his head.|
|4. Stop your horse. Deduct 1 point if he starts again on his own, pulls the bit or tosses his head.|
|5. Cue your horse to lope on the right lead. If he takes more then 2 steps to lope, deduct 1 point. More the 4 steps deduct another point. Six or more steps, deduct another point. If he changes into a faster trot before loping, or misses the lead, deduct another. Deduct another if he pulls on the bit or throws his head.|
|6. Cue your horse to lope on the left lead. If he takes more then 2 steps to lope, deduct 1 point. More the 4 steps deduct another point. Six or more steps, deduct another point. If he changes into a faster trot before loping, or misses the lead, deduct another. Deduct another if he pulls on the bit or throws his head.|
|7. Walking your horse, ask him to tip his head to the inside and move into a small circle, then with your inside leg and inside rein, increase the size of the circle. Deduct 1 point if he fights the bit or moves his head. Deduct one if he fails to move out from the leg and rein pressure.|
|8. Ask the horse to back. Backing straight until you release the reins is worth 5 points. Take away 1 point if he throws his head, opens his mouth, stops or backs crooked.|
|9. Cue the horse to lope, then reduce and increase speed. Deduct 1 point he won’t slow down or speed up.|
|10. Cue the horse to lope, then reduce and increase the size of the circle. Deduct 1 point if he won’t move in and 1 point if he won’t move out.|| |
multiply your final score by 2.
If you are in the 90-100 range you are ready to run the barrels.
A good training schedule would be riding 3-4 times per week. Some practice on the barrels but mostly long trotting hills, loping circles, leg yielding, extend and collect the trot, bending and flexing at all gaits and some trail riding.
A barrel horse should know the difference between a competition run and a practice session. The system that kept my horses quiet was when I did a circle or came from in the arena we were practicing. When we were competing we started outside of the arena with a roll back onto the right lead for the first turn.
A horse that doesn't know the barrel pattern will need a lot of slow work on the pattern until he learns when and where to rate and turn. Any problems that come up on the pattern should be fixed away from the barrels and then come back to the pattern. Emphasis should be placed on extending between the barrels and collecting up to go around the barrels.
After the horse learns the pattern, you may not practice on the barrels at all. Sometimes you will go back and review something after a show but mostly the sessions are all about keeping the horse in shape and building up his strength and stamina. Too much work on the pattern and running for home during practice will make a horse sour.
And don't forget to make sure all equipment fits properly especially the saddle since we know that saddle fit effects our horses' behavior, performance and ultimately the health of the horse and rider.
I sincerely wish you many happy hours of riding!
Terry Peiper, CSE
Saddlefit 4 Life Certified Saddle Ergonomist
Richard Shrake Accredited Instructor/Trainer
American Riding Instructors Association Certified Instructor