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Common Mistakes in Barrel Racing and How to Fix Them
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Common Mistakes in Barrel Racing and How to Fix Them

Proper horse training and exercise:

The first common mistake resides at the very foundation of barrel racing. Many barrel horses are rushed into training and then they are trained strictly on the cloverleaf pattern till they are fed up with running in circles and act out. A horse should be started slowly. They will really understand if you walk them on the pattern and stop before every turn. This is teaching them that eventually they will be doing a stopping motion before they turn. After that, speed can be added if the horse is sitting into turns. A clean, safe run will get you a better run than a fast, uncontrolled one.

Leaning:

Another common mistake is leaning to the left or right in the saddle. Imagine there is a line that starts at the horn of the saddle, runs through your belly button, and ends at the middle of the cantle. This line should be kept always. Let your horse do all the leaning. Otherwise, you might throw your teammate off balance.

Equitation:

You will not lose a barrel race for bad equitation, but it doesn’t mean it’s not important. Equitation keeps you and your horse safe/balanced. It is often ignored since it doesn’t count towards anything in competition. It's quite impressive when watching someone ride at high speed. That isn’t the most important thing though. Equitation and good form is the basis of all good technique.

Yanking:

Personally, yanking on a horse’s mouth boils my blood. Your horse’s mouth is made of delicate soft skin that can be bruised very easily. A horse should be taught to turn by leg pressure and the shift of weight that happens when you look to the next barrel.

Looking:

ooking at the next barrel you plan to turn is vital. The horse needs that shift of weight to know what to do. If you forget to look then, you are not in the best position for a great run.

The whip/over N’ under and spurs:

Any sort of whip can do damage to your horse. They are a tool, not a weapon. It is an extension of your arm to encourage your horse forward. A common mistake is using the whip until your horse is afraid of it. Another common mistake is jabbing your horse with spurs. Jabbing makes a horse sore and might even break the skin. Spurs must be used correctly if at all. Above anything else, fear is not a correct way to motivate speed.

Over-aggression:

Over-aggression goes hand-in-hand with using whips/spurs incorrectly. Horses are tough animals, but you should not kick them as hard as you can and scream loud enough to scare your horse forward. Nothing is wrong with short fast kicks and a “git” to amp your horse up, but there is no cash prize, ribbon, trophy, or buckle worth your horse’s trust.

Disappointment:

Another childish mistake that’s common in barrel racing is being disappointed in your horse when they don’t run the best. If your horse runs their little heart out and you come out in one peace. You give them a good brush down and their dinner with a smile.

Leg protection:

Leg protection for your horse is important to protect them. It is your responsibility to try to keep them as far from an injury as possible. For example, Splints offer support in the fetlock and bell boots protect the bulb of the heel.

Helmets:

Helmets can make you look like a bobble head, make you sweat, and tangle your hair. However, they keep you safe and protect your noggin. Looking a bit odd and dealing with a bit of discomfort is a small price to pay to keep you in one piece.

 Check your Gear:

Proper gear is also a matter of safety. It’s important to double and triple check your tack before you run to make sure that no leather is about to snap and no clips have lost their hold. I like to remember to check the rest of my gear when I tighten my cinch. If I can remember that I don’t want my saddle sliding around. Then, I can also remember to check everything else. I don’t want my saddle to come off completely!

Proper warm-up/cool-down:

Warming and cooling down helps prevent soreness in your horse’s muscles. A proper warm-up should entail walking and trotting until your horse’s chest feels warm. After your horse has worked, they should be cooled down as well. They should be walked until their chest is no longer hot and their nostrils are not flaring.

Sportsmanship:

When competing in barrel racing it is easy to be caught up in being competitive and other riders may become quite nasty with each other. However, remember that these other competitors love horses just like you. You and your competitors have a lot in common! Congratulate them on a job well done and ask about their horse.  

Listen to Your Horse:

Listen to your teammate and try to think critically to solve any problem that may arise. Your animal works with you. They deserve to be considered as well.

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Leave a Comment

  1. 5equineMom
    These are so sensible, I wish I could include this post in every 4-H Contester advisor's notes. The last fair I attended, it was appalling how many 9yr. olds through adults used a crop to push the horse then flail away at its face when trying to turn. Not at all surprising that they didn't place and knocked over poles and barrels. Oh, and jerk that bit as punishment for YOUR poor control of that horse.
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    1. From The Horses Mouth
      From The Horses Mouth
      Thank you so much! I agree. It's so sad to see.
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