Catch up with trainer Todd Burger and learn his theory on approaching the second barrel.
There’s more to a good trainer than how well his projects can get around three barrels. There’s also the question of whether people can go on with that horse, or “follow” that trainer.
Todd Burger’s horses have stayed the course with other riders, and it’s kind of become his selling point.
“In my business, I sell mostly to women,” says Burger. “And I’ve had good luck with them being able to ride my horses. I haven’t done any big advertisement, same as my mom.”
Burger’s mother is eight-time American Quarter Horse Association champion and 2007 Women’s Professional Rodeo Association world champion Mary Burger, who also happens to have won big at futurities like Fort Smith, Arkansas’ Old Fort Days. Her most famous protege, Ron Martin’s Rare Fred, took her to titles in every barrel racing avenue, but she trained many before him and was riding as many as 10 last winter. Todd and Mary swap on occasion, and he covers for her when she’s gone rodeoing.
Todd’s latest good horse this winter was Sailor’s Wind (“Sailor”), a 6-year-old ex-racehorse by Dashin Is Easy that he bought from customer Terry Baber. Most everything else the Burgers are training, they raised. And Todd will tell you that everything he owns is always for sale. This winter he was riding seven outside horses in addition to his own.
Todd, who rides saddles by Ammerman and Mike Green, prefers a rounded, runaround-type turn in his horses. That’s also the style turn perfected by Mary’s “Fred.” One other thing the Burgers aim for is straight lines. To that end, Todd has a theory he uses to prevent any “swooping” between barrels (keep in mind, this doesn’t apply to horses that don’t finish the first barrel correctly).
“I don’t ask a horse to move over for second too soon,” he says. “I just want them to travel straight there, and you don’t have to fight them. I wait to cross hands until I’m within a stride or two of the second barrel-then I pick their shoulder up. Otherwise, by the time they get to the barrel, they’re anticipating and you’re into their face too much. They never drop their head because they never know what your signals are.”
All in the Family
Todd says his parents have been the biggest influence on his barrel-horse training career. If it weren’t for them, he’d probably be saddling up rope horses.
In fact, Mary and Kerry Burger have been producing nice barrel horses for an age and a day. The Ohio natives first moved their family of four to Ada, Oklahoma, when Todd was in sixth grade. Things didn’t work out then, and they moved back to the Buckeye State, but ventured south again to Wynnewood, Oklahoma, when Todd was 17.
(Left) Todd Burger continues to essentially leave the horse alone going across the pattern, as opposed to (Right) staying “in a horse’s face” across the arena, which he feels can prompt one to anticipate the second turn. Photos by Julie Mankin
They moved again to Elmore City, and have been Okies ever since. The entire extended family resides now on three neighboring properties near Pauls Valley-Mary and Kerry, Todd, and his brother Joey and wife PJ, who also trains barrel horses.
Joey dabbled in barrel training, but sold his first barrel horse to buy a rope horse. Today he still ropes, and helps PJ some with her barrel horses. Todd, who shoes horses like his father, used to rope more often but finally decided he’d rather be winning money at a barrel race.
“I do like running barrels,” Todd Burger said. “And I don’t miss the hit-and-miss of roping. It’s tough, but I’ve got myself set now and making a living at it. You kind of get in a pattern and don’t want to change. And to do this, I don’t need cattle. Running barrels, I have a lot less money going out.”
The Burger objective is to “win all we can win,” and one of Todd’s most well-known claims to fame on that end is a half-Thoroughbred mare named Ittys Sis.
He rode her to AQHA fame and the reserve championship at the All American Quarter Horse Congress in 1996 before the Burgers sold her to Kristin Weaver. With Weaver, she won the ’98 reserve AQHA world championship and went to the California Circuit Finals. In 1999, Weaver won 25 straight rodeos on Ittys Sis, and Weaver qualified for the NFR on her before injuries slowed the mare’s career.
Ittys Sis, who earned more than $32,000 not counting rodeos, was by Eagle’s Reason out of Miss Black Satin. Jud Little bought the now-18-year-old mare to add to his stellar broodmare roster.
This article was originally published in the October 2008 issue of Barrel Horse News.