by: Lyndee Stairs, October 2012
What do you do when your horse shoulders, slices, fades, steps in, dives or otherwise cuts off your pocket?
Some barrel horses are just born wanting to turn the barrel, almost to much. But, remember horses don’t hit barrels on purpose, it is something we have trained them to do.
For the first barrel, check where you are lining up. In a large pattern I would try lining up halfway between the first and third barrels. On a small pattern, I would line up even with the third barrel.
On barrels two and three, make sure you are looking at the spot where you want to go, not the barrel. And don’t make a big pocket or lean in. Use about a five foot pocket. Otherwise, your horse will lean in to get closer to the barrel. If you lean in, your horse will move in to get underneath you. So don’t do either of these things.
If you are lined up correctly for the barrel, and he is still slicing or shouldering the barrel, do this exercise. For the first barrel, line up where I just explained. Coast your horse in a straight line to the line between the first and second barrels. Stop him and back him up and pivot away. Go back to the place where you would start your run from and do it again. Do this exercise until your horse has stopped leaning on you towards the first barrel. When he will travel in a straight line and not worry and the barrel, you should quit.
On barrels two and three, drive to the spot five feet from the side of the barrel, stop and pivot away. Go back to the barrel you just left and do it again. Do this until he stops leaning on you or anticipating the turn. Then, when you make a run, you will be able to lead him to the barrel instead of having to hold him off.
Remember, you cannot hold a horse off a barrel by pulling the off rein – it will not work. Many times this fading or slicing or shouldering is caused by the rider reining off (holding the horse’s head away from the barrel). Don’t ever hold your horse’s head away from the barrel. This will only make him dive in worse. Also, make sure the rider is not leaning in towards the barrel. Remember, if you lean going in, it will make the horse move into the barrel as he tries to get under your weight. Sometimes, he’ll go to the first barrel and you will think he is getting too close, but if you lean in you will only make it worse. Put your weight in the outside stirrup, step out (hip only, not shoulders) to help your horse move away from the barrel.
Shouldering usually starts several strides away from the barrel. So anywhere on the pattern: if my horse does start to lean in, I will stop and reverse away from the direction of my next turn. Then go back to the previous place or barrel and start again.
God bless and happy barrel racing.