When watching the NFR this year, I noticed that only three or four of the horses wore tie-downs. Do you think this is a change in the industry and/or style of training of barrel horses? All of the competitors were so fast, balanced and correct – it was truly incredible to watch! My horse improved by almost a full second when I added a tie-down. I know that not every horse needs one, but I have noticed that tie-downs do not seem to be used as often as they were 10 years ago. What is your opinion?
You are very astute! In fact each year I make it a point, for my own knowledge, to count the number of tie-downs vs. no tie-downs being used at the NFR. It is obvious that each year the number of tie-downs we see in competition get smaller. Personally, I remain an advocate of the resource of a tie-down in timed event competition. The barrel race is a timed event vs. a subjective judged event, which allows us the choice to use aids proven to help us produce consistent runs in a variety of conditions at high rates of speed.
You identified that you took a second off your runs by adding the resource of the tie-down, a huge improvement, so noticeable in your outstanding performance at the Eastern Classic on Bully! However, each set of arena conditions dictate equipment options that enhance opportunities for successful and efficient competition. These options will only be available to you if you include and practice them in training. Challenges like big pens, hard or slick ground may suggest alternate choices of equipment for added balance and control. Remember, a smart seasoned competitor learns to adjust to maximize his or her performance under any conditions.
I think the biggest downside of the “tie-down” is its name, incorrect adjustment and improper selection of design and material. The tie-down acts as an aid to prevent the horse from throwing his head and hollowing his back, resulting in inefficient performance. Contrary to some thinking, if adjusted correctly, it will not shorten a horse's stride. A horse that is heavy in the bridle or continues to throw his head in avoidance of bit pressure is not in the rider’s hands and cannot stay balanced.
So, the choice is yours. I challenge you to remember that the more education your horse has, the more options you have to choose from. Connection, control and balance are keys to efficient performance producing fast consistent runs.
Regarding the NFR, each year there are only one or two riders that keep all thirty barrels up. Therefore the importance of maximizing our options and competitive choices certainly enhances our chances of success.
I am rooting for your continued success,