Barrel racing dates back to the early 1930's, when the sport began as a women’s event. Barrel racing is a rodeo event where competitors on horse back attempt to record the best time in a race around three barrels set in a clover leaf design. The first and second barrels are spaced 90 feet apart with 105 feet to the third barrel. The horse and rider should navigate the barrels in a manner in which the barrels are not tipped. The horse and rider must cooperate and work in harmony to obtain the best time and cleanest ride. The following six tips will assist beginners interested in barrel racing.
- Select a Horse: A horse’s lineage may help determine the success of past generations, possible speed and agility. The horse should be healthy with straight legs, good hooves, flexible, athletic and a strong back. The horse’s temperament is very important. Check the trainer’s credentials and ask for an inspection by a veterinarian. Quarter horses, pintos and paints are all known for reaching high speeds for a short burst.
- Regular Exercise: Long trotting on a regular basis will assist in building a strong lung capacity. Conditioning should take place for at least three days per week at a fast pace for six to eight miles each session. This will also help the racer to build stamina. Practice riding the horse in a figure eight pattern and circles to assist the horse to be precise during the race.
- Purchase Tact: Sports boots will help to protect the horse’s legs against injury. Ear plugs may stop loud noise from distracting the horse. A bridle and bit is needed to guide the horse. Barrel racing saddles have deep seats and short skirts. The proper saddle provides for greater stability for the rider. A saddle blanket may be utilized.
- Stay Anchored in the Saddle: Flopping in the saddle will result in the rider hampering the horse’s balance and pulling on the horse’s bit. The rider’s body should lean slightly forward during the race and the rider’s heels should push down in the stirrups during the turns. However, riders should practice proper body alignment when seated in the saddle at other times with ears, heels, hips and shoulders in a vertical line. Both hands should normally be held near the saddle horn.
- Slow Down at the Barrels: Do not focus directly on the barrel, instead look at the area around the barrel. This area is known as a pocket. To slow down for the turn, apply weight to heels in stirrups and say “whoa.” Speed up after each turn. The rider’s outside hand should press against the horn to remain seated during each turn. Pull the rein with the inside hand towards the rider’s back pocket in each turn. The rider should also utilize his/her inside leg to indicate direction of turn. Press the back of the rider’s calf against the horse’s side if the horse is too close to the barrel.
- The Finish Line: The rider’s hands should be held low with the body leaning slightly forward to gain speed between barrels and when headed to the finish line. The times may be recorded by a laser system or by a judge with a timer. The horse should be well cared for after the race, given water and checked for possible injuries.
*Photo courtesy of Barrel Racing by Kool Cats Photography at Flickr’s Creative Commons.