This training exercise helps barrel racers shave time off their runs by being consistent and efficient in the Approach, Rate and Turn points while practicing the timing of using the saddle horn. Typically we set the pattern up with cones at each barrel, however this drill can be modified using one barrel or a series of barrels. We will use the second barrel in this example.
In photo 1 the lines and colors designate changes in forward and rhythm. The first green line is the Approach and it should be ridden at a forward consistent speed. For instance trotting at 8 mph maintain a straight approach while balancing the horse’s shoulders and body in-between your hands. Make sure that your are sitting up, looking long keeping your eyes on the cone on the fence as where you look is where you ride! The tall cone on the ground indicates the rate point where the red line begins. Think of going from 8 mph gradually to 6 mph. The yellow line begins at the flat cone on the backside and is the start of the turn. The horse should be supple and collected while driving through the turn. The second flat cone on the backside is the finish point where the second green line begins. The goal is to finish the barrel close and straight to the pocket point of the next barrel while gradually accelerating back to 8 mph.
One of the most crucial areas of any winning run is the last stride into the Rate point and start of the turn. In photo 2 the outside rein helps balance and support the horse during the approach and into the rate point. To prepare the horse to rate the rider should look short, in other words change the line of vision to just between the tall cone and flat cone, then sit deep in the saddle and close their fingers on the inside rein and then the outside rein. Some horses will require the rider to drive with their seat and legs to get them to shorten their stride, round their back and move up into the bridle. This is especially important in training the green horse. During a run it takes skill and patience to ride into this position without going to the horn too early!
The Turn point begins at the flat cone. In photo 3 the rider is starting the horse’s nose with the inside hand down the rein as she goes to the throat of the saddle horn with the outside hand. Looking and riding through the turn requires patience and often requires inside leg to soften the rib or both legs to maintain impulsion. Being patient making sure the horse doesn’t cut off the turn is crucial!
Riding through the Finish point by looking up and long to the next point while pulling through the throat of the saddle horn can add snap and a quick finish to the turn. In this photo 4 you can see the rider using the horn to stay balanced with the horse while driving out of the turn. Be sure to hold the horn for at least two strides away from the barrel getting two handed again!
Practice perfect for better performance. It is always good to slow down and pay attention to small details. Only add speed as the horse and rider become consistent and confident. This philosophy helps keep the horse smooth and it helps develop muscle memory in both the horse and the rider.
By Sharon Camarillo and Donna Irvin