One thing about barrel racing that really stands out in my brain is timing. When we push, when we sit, where our hand goes and when it goes there, looking up, etc. Most of my flaws in a run will fall under the timing category! Today I’m going to pick apart hands.
One of the things I see a lot are hands asking for one thing when we really want them to do the opposite. Think about the bit. We pull on the left side to go to the left and the right to go to the right. So what happens when we cross over the horse’s neck to turn?
Yes I have permission to use this photo from Kaitlyn Free! In her photo, she is pulling the inside rein up and back across the horse’s neck. Notice the horse’s shoulder. It’s dropping into the barrel. Notice the horse’s nose. It’s facing away from the barrel.
This is the opposite of what we desire in a barrel turn. We want the shoulder up, nose pointing in and we want them to be round. After all, the barrel is round, right? I know why she did this in this photo. The horse was most likely too close to the barrel so she was trying to move said horse away. Sadly, by crossing over, you will not likely achieve that goal. Instead, the horse will drop its shoulder into the barrel and hit. So what do we do???
First of all, our horse has to be able to bend. We must be in control of their shoulders, ribs and hind end. This is not something that we just “run the barrels” to achieve. We must do this “on the flat” as I call it. Arena work. Riding without working barrels. If your horse is diving shoulder first into a barrel, you need to work on keeping the shoulder up and nose in. I do this by working on counter arch’s. I lift the inside rein, tipping my horse’s nose to the inside of a circle then apply leg to the inside and ask them to move out, away from my leg, while maintaining their nose tipped in. If you horse has never been asked to do this, try at a walk. If you can get two steps out, release. Work on it until you can do it at a lope. Every single time I ride, we do this. Something that can help is poles. I can set them up in a zig zag formation and essentially counter arch between them.
Applying this to a run. When you turn a barrel or are approaching the barrel and your horse is starting to cut you off, counter arch away from the barrel. Say you are turning to the right. Tip their nose in to the right, apply the right leg and move them out. This will maintain their shoulder position and keep them in the turn. If you cross over their neck, you will have the opposite effect. Try it at home!
Another thing I do is all rights and all lefts. With the barrels set up (I use 3, 4, 5 barrels depending on the day) begin around a random barrel. Never your first barrel. Do circles around the barrel and tip their nose in. Apply inside leg pressure and move them away from the barrel. Maintain a round circle. Don’t let them drop into a turn. Once you get the perfect circle, counter arch to the next barrel and do it again. I will go around all the barrels to the left then switch and do it to the right. Personally, I love this work out as it frees them up around the barrels and really gets them to bend! Shoulder up!
My goal, when I turn a barrel is to step out, look up, and be able to use as little contact as possible with the reins. My reins are longer than normal. I want to have my horse’s nose and have him bend around the barrel. If you have questions, please ask! I’m happy to help!