Many people have the misconception that Barrel Racing is mainly about going fast. While speed is a huge factor in running barrels, it’s only one piece of the puzzle.
Like any other event, a solid foundation of collection, lightness and precise body control is required to run a good pattern. In Barrel Racing however, these foundational pieces are critical because you have mere hundredths of a second to control your horse at a high rate of speed. As with other events, the foundation needs to be perfected at slower speeds before progressing to faster speeds.
If you want to Barrel Race, the first thing you want to work on is stopping. Can you just sit deep in the saddle and relax your legs to get your horse to whoa or do you have to pull pretty hard on the reins before your horse will even think about stopping? If you have to pull on your horse, then that’s a good indication your horse isn’t light and you need to do some homework on stopping.
Developing a good stop requires proper timing and consistency with your cues. Mentally prepare your body for your stop by relaxing and sitting deep. Give the verbal cue and last pick up your reins. When you feel your horse start to slow, give your horse some slack as a reward. If you’re consistent your horse will soon start to slow down when they feel your body relax.
Circles are the next piece of the Barrel Racing puzzle that you’ll need to master. Can you canter a perfect circle and make it bigger or smaller, or are your circles flat sided and vary in size? If your circles are not precise and you have a tough time changing their size then it’s time to work on body control.
Control of the shoulders, rib cage, and hips is what makes a good circle. A horse has to keep their shoulders upright to be able to bend their body through their rib cage and keep their hip up underneath them to maintain bend and forward motion.
Lateral work is the best way to get control of the hips and shoulders as it involves pushing them over independently or in unison. Bending through the rib cage can be accomplished with small circles and making sure that your horse’s shoulders are up and the hip is to the inside.
The last piece of the Barrel Race training puzzle is speed control. Can you change your seat position and get your horse to speed up and slow down or do you have to kick your horse to go and pull the reins to slow down? A good barrel horse will change speed simply by the rider changing their position in the saddle.
Just like with a good stop, timing and consistency are the keys to speed control. When asking for upward transition, mentally prepare your body by bringing up your energy. Your body language should say you’re ready to go somewhere. Next, sit forward in your seat, give your horse some slack through the reins and give the verbal cue to move forward. Last, cue your horse with your legs for the increase in speed.
To slow your horse down, relax your body a bit and sit back in the saddle. Relax your leg and give the verbal cue for your horse to slow down. Last, if your horse hasn’t started to slow down take more contact on the reins to reinforce the other cues.
Develop these key pieces in your horse and you’ll be running barrels in no time. The great part about doing the foundational home work is that you’ll not only have a safe run but your times will improve as well.