Sunday, March 11, 2018

Barrel Racer Blues

Trax and I are in the beginning of our season with the Queen Creek Barrel Racing Association.  So far it has not gone well. We have had 2 races and ended up with broken pattern and a very last place with a 22 second run.

Here is a link to the 22 second run.  His first barrel is almost always pretty nice, but 2 and 3 we seem to lose all forward momentum. 

Our broken pattern run was my fault because we were wide on #3 and when I put my leg on to push him over, he side passed right over past the the barrel.  I'll own up to that one as being my fault.  I don't have a video of that.

The one I won't own up to was This little dirty trick he pulled.  That duck on the 3rd barrel was all him.  However I am less concerned with that than I am our other two turns. If he does it again, then I will be concerned.   But today I am talking about one and two. Once again, we lose forward momentum.

This was not at the QCBRA, which I was really glad for, because these sorts of runs will not get us anywhere near a year end award.  (which is my goal)  It was another little local race and I was glad I went, and while I didn't hate the run, I think we can do better. 

I'm no trainer, and of course I get lots of great advice, and I am working with a trainer who I like.  But at some point in time I have to do some of my own thinking.  Don't get me wrong,  I appreciate every bit of advice I get from all my friends and my trainer.  I pay attention and try all if it and keep what works and file away what doesn't for another time, or another horse.  However, the one thing I always come back to is that this is my horse, and nobody knows him better than I do, so sometimes I get further by using what I know works over what someone else thinks I should do.  It doesn't always work that way, but sometimes.     

So I think on it, and I think on it, and I think on it.  I lose sleep over it. (stupid I know)

How do I get him to keep his momentum going around the barrels. 

When I am riding it feels like two things are happening. 

First my trainer has me saying "Here" when I want him to rate down to turn the barrel.  I sometimes wonder if he isn't confusing it with "whoa".  Lord knows we have worked on that command for a really long time!

Second, this horse has a really bad habit of planting his front foot and swinging his hip to turn.  I blame it roping, but who knows.  It could just be how he has always done it.

So he "stops", swings the hip slices off the back of arch and then comes around.  Often times he comes around really wide.  Although we seem to be getting better about full turns so that is good. 

We are losing our shape. 

I work on shape with this horse constantly.

At a trot he will shape around that barrel like a pro. 

The minute I add any speed at all, he slices and dices like a damn food processor. 

Part of it could be me.  But I don't think it is all me.  If I ask for the shape and there is no barrel, if we just do a random turn, he generally does fine.  So I am not sure what the deal is. 

So after a lot of thought and watching some videos of some better horses I came up with a plan.  Today we tried it. 

 Today's goal was to move out a foot wider from where we usually are in our turn.  It was my hope that doing this will make it easier for him/us to keep our shape instead of slicing. 

We worked on it for about an hour and a half.  It was a lot of arguing between the two of us. 

We didn't start on the pattern.  It started with nothing but right hand circles, and we switched to left hand, and then we switched them up, and then we went to the pattern. 

I would say "go wide and round and keep your momentum"

And he would say, "slowing down for the short cut!"

And I would back him up and slow him down and we would do it again.

and again

and again.

When we got it at a trot we progressed to a lope.

He really hates to slow lope a pattern.  He will trot it just fine, but loping not so much.   However today I insisted.  When we lope he tends to want to just trot when we get to the barrel. But what I really wanted was for him to keep the slow lope even going around.  In order to do so he had to really get off of my leg which I admit to hitting him pretty dang hard with.  I did try asking nicely first but he just blew me off. 

It took many many tries at a lope to get it right, but finally he did.

Then I asked him to go faster and to do it right.

The first time he went right back to slice and dice on the very first barrel.  I got after him pretty hard and we went back and did again. 

The second time he made a perfect beautiful arch around the first barrel and kept his momentum.  He came out of it and picked up his lead so I pushed him on to number two.  I had quit saying "here" and started saying "nice and round" and he went out and around with out losing his speed.  He was a little bit wide coming out of it, but I wasn't going to split hairs at this time, and it wasn't out of control so we just went on.  His 3rd barrel was a perfect arch and so I let him have his race for home.   

Of course I told him how amazing he was, and that I knew he could do it, and he trotted around the arena very proud of himself and licking and chewing, so I knew he was thinking about it.  I let him work out his anxiety and then cooled him down. 

The poor guy was drenched in sweat.  He still has a ton of hair and it was pretty warm today, so he was pretty hot.  He did get a nice cool bath and got to roll in the pasture afterwards. 

So here is what I think.  I think that being who he is, I am better off making him take those turns just a little wider to help him stay round, until staying round is second nature to him.  I am not going to say "here" anymore because I really think it confuses him.  I am going to keep insisting that he run the pattern at the speed I choose and not let him push me around just because he likes to run.  That way I can make sure we are doing it correctly before we just go. 

Oddly enough, all the fear of him going too fast or being out of control is gone.  I still get nervous before I run at an event, but not afraid.  That part is a big deal for me.  So YAY!

These are a few of my favorite shots from the 22 second run.  Our confidence is growing, and we are way better than we were even a few months ago.  I know it is a process, and I'm working with tough horse and zero experience on my end, but I am happy with our progress.  I really hope this new plan helps.  I guess we will see soon enough!


  1. I love that your confidence is growing! :D

    Not sure if you're looking for any more ideas, as you know I've been following along on FB aS well as your blog. IF you do...
    1) how are his hocks? I'm not an expert but it does look like he may be a bit sore
    2) I never use "whoa" to rate, to me whoa should mean WHOA. I agree he may be getting a bit confused with "here" (and honestly I've never heard that as a rate cue before, maybe it was more for you??) If you're looking for a verbal cue one I find works well is "easy"
    3) have you tried doing a reverse arc when he goes to slicing?
    4) an exercise I learned at a clinic last year, to keep your horse relaxed at the barrel instead of anticipating the turn and getting frazzled - ride to your rate spot and *stop*. Just sit there and let your horse relax. When he does, get him to back a step or two to rock onto his hind end, shape him up and move into the turn - walk/trot/lope whatever speed you want to work. (this works well with Frosty, it does NOT work with Lefta it just makes her mad lol)

    1. Interesting that you mentioned his hocks. I was watching someone else ride him the other day, before I read your response, and I thought the exact same thing. He looks like he is trying to protect his hind end. So he is on previcox and a joint supplement called "Tight Joints" right now. We practiced yesterday and he felt tons better. I will try the exercise. I recall BEC telling me about it before too, back before I was trying learn how to barrel race.

  2. The first thing that stands out to me is that Trax is not soft. When you make contact with him, his head is up and his back is hollow. Drop your hands and when going around the barrel, use your inside hand low, wide and to the side, guiding him around it.

    He also looks like he is short striding it and the 22 sec run- barrels 2 & 3 he is on the left lead all the way to the barrel, switches in the front for the turn and switches back coming away. You need to focus on getting a clean change and keeping him in the correct lead.

    Going a little wider on the turns helos them keep their momentum going thru the turns. Think about it in relation to driving a car or truck. The tighter the turns, the more we have to slow down going into them to prevent crashing.

    I never liked the word "HERE!" for rating the barrels. I don't know why but it akways bugged me. For my horses I use the phrase "Come around" for bigger circles or "Get around" for tighter turns.

    The one time I did a barrel pattern on my OTTB mare, we did a little bigger turns and I just used the one rein (low, wide and to the side) to guide her around the turns. My friend was laughing because she thought we had a better run than even her more patterned horse. We did it in dressage tack mind you.

  3. I'm sure you have lots of good advice, and use what works for you and Trax. I like the "nice and round" because I think it helps you visualise what you want and you can darn sure bet your horse picks up on that.
    Very cool that you are both progressing emotionally when it comes to speed!