Even though barrel racing is a fast paced sport, it doesn’t mean you can leave your horsemanship behind. If you keep correct body position throughout a barrel run it will cut precious seconds off your time, seconds that decide if you are in the money or just out of it. There are the basic things to remember, along with a few extra details while turning the barrels.
Always sit straight in the saddle, keeping your belly button facing the saddle horn. Keep your elbows in and your shoulders up. If you drop your shoulder, your horse will drop his, so in turn if you keep yours up, he will keep his up. The same practice can be done for the rib cage and the hip. If your horse is having problems in the turn, check your body position through pictures, videos or having someone watch you. If you sit straight in the saddle, you will be more balanced and allow your horse the same opportunity. Keep your hands low. This will give you the chance to straighten your horse out easily if needed.
At the Rate Point
The point where you are going to ask your horse to slow and down and collect himself to turn the barrel. To give your horse this signal, sit deep in your saddle and roll back on your back pockets. This is what we have trained our horse to know means slow down and collect, or rate. You can use your palm of your hand on the saddle horn to push yourself down into the saddle if your horse is a hard turner or you have problems staying in the saddle.
Pick up your reins if the horse doesn’t rate on its own. This is only to reinforce if he doesn’t slow down with your body in the saddle. At this point you want to be straight in the saddle to help your horse collect evenly. If you are leaning off to one side, it can interfere with his ability to prepare for the barrel turn.
Even though you are going pretty fast, you need to make sure you weight is properly balanced while turning the barrel. Otherwise, you can throw your horse off taking seconds off your time and possibly hitting barrels. At the point you start to turn the barrel, shift your weight slightly to the outside stirrup, just your weight, not your body. This frees up the horses inside shoulder, allowing him to pick up his inside legs and shoulders. If your body weight is on the inside, the horse can’t move his inside leg and can not properly balance going around the barrel.
To help you keep your position during the turn and also holding on because you are turning so fast, you can drop hand to horn. You can do this at this point or at the point your horse had collected. This all depends on your horses turning style and if you have to balance him between your reins right up until you turn. The horn is there for a reason, use it! During training you can use two hands to help direct and balance the horse between your reins. When you start adding speed you’ll want to use the horn for those fast turns.
Make sure you stay seated in saddle. You can use your hand on the horn to push yourself down into the seat if necessary. You are going to use your inside leg to soften the horses rib cage and put the bend in, having him wrap his body around your leg. This is what we have practiced before while doing circles. It picks up the rib cage and the horse bends around your leg, helping with that tight turn.
The most important part of the end of the turn is to not finish before your horse does. If you are ahead or behind your horse, you can throw off the rest of the run for both of you. Stay with your horse throughout the entire run. This will take time to get accustomed to, especially if you are riding a new horse, but it will come with time.
After you have turned the barrel, look to next pocket/rate point. This will tell the horse where to go next, and drive your horse by using your body. Your horse will go where you look. Don’t look down or behind you, look up. If you look to the next barrel too soon, you can cause your horse to come in and knock over the barrel you haven’t even completed yet. Looking up also will help your horse to go faster because you will be in the GO position. It also helps you to not look at the barrel, if you look down at the barrel, you can knock it over.
The weight that we slightly had to the outside will come back to the center at this point. You want to also shift slightly forward to free up your horses hind end enabling him to push out of the turn. You can use your horn to pull you out of the saddle if needed.
After you have turned that last barrel its time to let your horse run home! Stay centered in the saddle and let your horse have his head. Keep your weight off the hindquarters so your horse can run freely. Ride all the way past the timer so you don’t cut seconds off your time by slowing down too soon. When you ask your horse to stop, sit deep in your saddle and say whoa. Walk him around to cool him out and give your horse a good pat, you did great.
Contributed By: http://www.barrelraceinmaine.com