From Horse Canada - Nov/Dec 2015
RUNNING BETTER BARRELS
with Andrea Veldhuyze, Equine Canada Level Two Western coach
by Colleen Archer
Barrel racing is a timed event where horse and rider race around three barrels in a cloverleaf pattern. The barrels are set up in a triangular formation with the third barrel being the top point of the triangle. You can go to either the left barrel or the right barrel first.
THE RIGHT HORSE
Serious barrel racing competitors will definitely want to start with the right kind of horse. The most popular breed used in barrel racing is the Quarter Horse. Quarter Horses generally have powerful haunches that allow them to accelerate away from the barrels quickly and slow down before making a turn, good balance and coordination for making the turns, and a long hip that adds to their speed between barrels and on the way to the finish line.
Whatever breed, a horse that follows your commands willingly and is physically able to "hug the barrels" and manoeuvre the course quickly will be a horse capable of consistently fast times.
Top barrel horses have one more thing in common, and that's the drive to win. Attitude can often prove just as important as conformation or size.
THE RIGHT TRAINING
Before asking for any speed, make sure your horse will walk, trot, canter or lope, move away from your leg, bend in both directions, get his proper leads, and rate (slow down) when asked. He or she must also be responsive to your seat and weight.
To maintain your horse for barrel racing, your exercise program should include not only ring work with your coach, but also trail riding. Trail riding will help build your horse's muscles and also keep him from getting sour. Long trots and lopes around a hayfield are ideal.
If your horse is expending a lot of energy while training and competing, you might need to provide him with more concentrated feed than he's been getting in the past. Be sure to consult with your coach or nutritionist for advice before changing your horse's diet. It's also important to replace electrolytes if your horse sweats a lot.
Barrel racing may be timed; but you definitely don't want to go too fast until your horse is well trained for the event. The trick in barrel racing is to make your turns as sharp and as fluid as possible. Once you've perfected good turns, then you can start to think about going faster.
KNOW THE RULES
While rules vary slightly between associations, there are some standard rules that illustrate how accuracy should be your main focus. First, you must stay on pattern or you receive a "no time." Second, a knocked-over barrel is either a "no time" or a five-second penalty. Some associations have a hat rule, where if your hat falls off you get a time penalty or a no time. Yet another reason to always wear a helmet! Always find out beforehand how you are allowed to enter the ring. Some associations allow a running start, while others ask for a standing start.
The approach to the first barrel is critical in executing a successful pattern. The rider must check the horse's speed to get him to rate at the right moment to enter the correct path to make a perfect turn. The word "rate" is barrel racing terminology for the horse's slowdown and body collection that must occur before he can successfully make his turn. Horses that don't learn to rate make wide, sloppy turns which cost precious seconds.
Work on accuracy and technique before speed - your
horse will figure out soon enough how exciting the "run for
home" is, and you don't want a runaway on your hands!
The barrel setup for a standard-size arena (40m wide
x 60m long). A decent run time for this setup would be
under 18 seconds. If you only have room for a smaller
pattern, reduce the distances by 1.5-3m increments.
A chart in this article is 60 feet from start line to first two barrels; between the first two barrels is 90 feet; down to the top pyramid barrel from the first two barrels is 105 feet; back to the finish line would be about 165 feet - Keith Hunt
As the horse sets up to take the turn, you must be in the proper position as well. This means sitting deeply in the saddle, using one hand on the horn and the other hand to guide the horse through and around the barrel turn. Create a pocket (the distance between your horse and the barrel) and maintain your horse's bend all the way around your turn.
Your legs should be held closely to the horse's sides. The leg to the inside of the turn should be held securely along the girth to support the horse's rib cage and give him a focal point for the turn. If your horse needs to move over, your leg will be ready to push him over.
Make sure to keep your body turned with the horse and look on to your next barrel. This will help you make a straight line to your next barrel, and the straighter the lines, the faster your time will be.
In approaching the second barrel you should be looking through the turn and focused on your pocket. Go around the second barrel in the opposite direction to the first one, following the same procedure, only switching to the opposite limbs.
The third and final barrel at the back of the ring is turned in the same direction as the second barrel. It is really important to always finish your end turn to ensure your line home is straight, keep your eyes up and focused on the chute or gate, and keep pushing until you are past the timer.
While a straight shot down the centre of the arena and across the timer can be exhilarating, you won't want to practice this particular move too often or your horse may get uncontrollable. In fact, don't practice it at all until your horse is secure in responding well to all your cues. Another tip to prevent your horse from getting out of control: when you're practicing your barrel runs, ride your horse to the rail instead of home.
Barrel racing requires a high degree of athleticism, so to avoid injuries, both you and your horse should be in excellent physical condition before participating and showing. Getting that way just might be half the fun!