by: Lyndee Stairs, Sept., 2011
When running barrels, you want to be sitting in the middle of your horse. Do not lean into the barrel.
You want your legs to hang straight down. Feet deep in the stirrup. Ride with your thighs and knees gripping your horse. This keeps your body close to the horse at all times.
When approaching the barrel, you want to be up and slightly forward on your horse. As you get closer to the barrel, sit down ( sit deep, sit on your pockets) this helps your horse to prepare for the turn, and stay in the saddle until you have finished the turn.
Once the turn is finished, get up out of the saddle and hustle your horse to the next barrel.
The proper place to sit is determined by the type of horse you are riding. If your horse is a chargey horse, then you must sit down farther back from the barrel; if your horse is a horse that rates a barrel hard, then you have to ride longer into the pocket (pocket-space between you and the barrel). Knowing the horse you are riding makes this much easier.
It is very important that you stay in the seat of the saddle until your turn is complete so that you don’t cause your horse to bow off of the barrel. On the backside of the barrel look at the next point you are running to (5 or so feet directly off of the side of the next barrel); this will help you finish your turn with your body and hands. Don’t forget, your hands and body will follow your eyes.
Elbows should always be close to your sides. This way you can move your horse either direction without a lot of movement of your hands. Your reins are the steering wheel. You should be aware of where they are at all times. You should have two hands on the reins when you are riding between the barrels. Only going to one hand when you sit down to turn the barrel. Approximately two strides before each barrel. Be sure to keep a hand on each side of your horse’s neck. When you have only one hand on the reins between the barrels or if you cross a rein or hand over your horse’s neck, well, as I say, “that is the hoping position.” You are just hoping that it is going to work out. Because at that point, you are not in a position to be able to help your horse, if needed.
Your hands and body should be soft and easy, not jerky and rough. There should be no sudden jerks or pulls; this is what causes a lot of horses to act up at the gate. Don’t let your horse ever associate the arena with pain. You should strive to be in perfect harmony with your horse at all times. You want to feel that you and your horse are on in motion instead of two.
A rewarding run comes when your horse obeys your slightest signal. This is also why I ride with short reins. I only have to make the slightest movement to get a response. No one has fun pulling his or her horse at every turn, wondering if he is going to turn once you get to the barrel.
Always remember, barrel racing is fun, and that is why we do it!