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I recently heard one of the Show Moms use the term, “Eck.” The way she said it sounded sour and came out more like, “Yuck.” I discovered that “Eck” is short for Equitation. I was fascinated to find that equitation is almost a dirty word in most disciplines from Jumpers to Trail Riders.

Most riders view equitation as either a prissy form of riding, where you spend two days braiding your horse's mane, put shoe polish with sparkles on his hooves, and make sure that the bottom(!) of your boots are spotless, or a waste of good practice and riding time. Replacing dirty words like “equitation” with euphemisms like “learning to ride correctly and safely,” seems to change people’s attitudes … but only a little! Jumpers want to jump, ropers want to rope, and barrel racers want to race around barrels!

Riding with Sharon seems to center on slowing down to concentrate on position, focus, balance, and the subtleties of working ‘with’ your horse. Dare I whisper that Sharon really teaches equitation? Dare I suggest that this translates into Slow Down and Learn to Ride!

Now, before you barrel racer speed demons go all "boo-hiss" on me, our goal is to “Stop the Clock!” Improving your equitation will improve your times and confidence. Inadvertent dismounts and demolition derby with the barrels will also become a thing of the past!

In its purest meaning, equitation refers to "a rider's ability to ride correctly with a strong, supple position and effective aids." This means maintaining good balance, moving with your horse, and properly using your seat, legs, and hands. Hanging on while your horse runs around barrels is “Yuck,” NOT “Eck!”

Have you ever seen a rider throw the reins out in front going to the barrel, then yank on the poor horse’s mouth around the barrel? Whatever time they get, it could be much better. When they throw away the reins, they throw away control of the horse. When they yank on the poor horse's mouth to haul him around the barrel, they are hurting, rather than helping the horse and confusing the heck out of the poor equine. This often results in a ‘gate sour’ horse. Eventually, your horse may take real exception to such abuse. The results can be spectacular for the crowd and at best, embarrassing for the rider. Rodeo bucking stock is trained by spurring and yanking on the horse until it starts to buck, then getting off and rewarding the horse. Do this enough times and the horse learns that bad behavior is rewarded as the rider who caused their ‘discomfort’ is no longer a problem!

Beginners may find that slowing down a bit actually produces faster times. Before I met Sharon, my best barrel time was achieved when my horse Cowboy seemed a bit stiff one morning and I decided to just lope the pattern, rather than yank around the barrels and throw away the reins in-between! Now, Cowboy and I achieve our best times when we work together – balanced, positioned and insync.

Next time, watch those riders who seem to sit quietly and glide around the barrels. Chances are, they are the ones who are actually RIDING their horses, and chances are, they spend most of their time practicing at the walk, trot and lope. Within the ability of the horse and rider, they get the best times. A boy can dream, but I will never ride like Sharon, and Cowboy will never run like Scamper or Bozo. So, do yourself and your horse a big favor — work on your equitation and learn to ride. Proper equitation is an art and will result in a better A.R.T. of Barrel Racing.