Professional barrel horse trainer Ashley Schafer offers feedback on reader-submitted barrel runs. This month, she gives tips for Summer on how to accomplish smooth, forward motion around a barrel, soft lateral and vertical flexion and how to achieve speed without kicking. Be sure to grab a copy of the July 2020 issue for another reader submission to kick off the start of Ashley’s monthly columns!
Hi Summer, thank you for entering our contest! I see a few things I think could be helpful for you and your horse.
Your horse is losing a lot of momentum in his turns. I have a couple of exercises I do to help get more forward motion and reach through the turn. Jolene Montgomery and I were recently visiting about the importance of keeping good momentum through the turn. She said some of the biggest binds she has been in in a run were caused from loss of forward motion—the horse stopping his feet somewhere. Some horses set their hind leg and want to get flat too soon, others slow their front feet down and disengage their hind end. Either way, it gets us in a bind and slows down our run. It generally causes a horse to shake their head or elevate.
There is a spot on the last quarter of the barrel where I want them to set their inside hind leg and bring their front end around so they can leave strong. Until to that point however, I am looking for four-wheel-drive, meaning their front end is reaching and their hind end is engaged but driving around the turn. This is something I have to work at every day. I do it at a walk, a trot and a lope. I will ask my horse to walk in a small circle with some lateral flexion and good forward motion. I put my hand in the position where I would want it to be in my run and then ask my horse to move forward around my inside leg. I don’t need a lot of lateral flexion; I just want to see the corner of his eye and to be soft in the rib. I want his front-end stride and hind-end stride to be the same, meaning I don’t want him to slow his front end and disengage his hindquarters or set his hind leg and pivot; I just want him to be four-wheel-drive.
—> Click here to watch Ashley’s video demo and explanation of the four-wheel-drive circle
After I accomplish this at a walk, I work on it at a trot. When they get good at a trot, I do it at a lope. I want the shoulders to stay square and between my hands and legs—I don’t want him dropping to the inside or floating his shoulder to the outside. I also work on getting some vertical flexion and roundness through my horse’s back. If my horse is collected, he can reach farther under himself with his hind legs, therefore I get more drive.
I noticed that your horse roots his nose when you have to handle him in a run. Working on lateral and vertical flexion and getting him softer should help with that! The key is good release, so make sure you give a little release as soon as you get the desired flexion, and then you can ask it right back. There must be a release so that your horse understands what you want.
In this picture, you are kicking and have your hand up and forward. I know from watching the video that this is because you were really having to kick and drive to get your horse to move forward. I believe if you work on getting your horse to be more assertive, you will be able to ride quieter. Another way I accomplish this is by getting my horses “smooch broke.” If I have a horse that is kind of lazy or sticky footed, I work on getting him to be very in tune to a smooch, because often times horses get tighter or stickier when we kick. First, I smooch as a warming. If they don’t respond, I tap them with the end of my split rein or over-and-under to get their attention. It generally doesn’t take long before they start to be more alert and responsive when I smooch. This helps me to ride quietly but get more action.
Thank you again Summer, I really hope that some of these ideas will help you and your horse achieve the next level of competition that you are working toward. Best wishes and God bless!