by Charmayne James with Bonnie Wheatley

   One consistent theme that runs through competing, teaching, riding and training is that of balance. You often hear me or people on my team at the clinics talk about a balanced hoof, a balanced turn, three-point balance in a horse’s mouth or balance on the part of the rider in the saddle. Balance is key, and being a balanced rider will help, but it won’t overcome problems that result from your horse’s dental care, nutrition or chiropractic care being out of balance. At my clinics we’ve come to refer to this concept as “the circle of balance,” made up of nine key areas (as illustrated in the Circle of Balance graph).
   There are many, many examples of what can happen when one part of the circle is out of balance, and we thought it would be a good idea to present some of those things here to help illustrate the concept. This column is written in a two-part series, and next month we will focus more on balanced equine health and nutrition.

Attitude, Ability and Goals
   One major spoke in the wheel of our circle of balance focuses on the rider’s attitude, natural God-given ability and goals. Confidence is key to becoming a success at any sport or profession, and gaining knowledge and well-rounded skills builds confidence. You must, however, set some realistic goals too. Every rider is blessed with a different level of talent and ability. Barrel racing is a physical event, and the ability of each horse and rider team is different. It’s like my husband, Tony, says, “I could shoot baskets all day, every day, but even though I’m a fairly athletic guy I may not make it into the NBA and play like Michael Jordan.”

Balanced Riding
   Everything, from where the rider looks to her hand position and weight distribution, down to her feet and leg cues, creates balanced riding. A barrel racer’s hands shouldn’t be extremely high or too low but about waist high. We’ll run through some examples of how, just when you think you have all your bases covered, there are always questions to ask yourself, especially if problems crop up during competition.
   Say, for example, a horse’s teeth have been worked on by a qualified professional and his mouth is balanced. The chiropractic care he’s getting is high-quality, professional care. The horse is broke and handles well—and still the horse is dropping on his front end and hurrying the turn. If he’s out of position, it could be that the rider is leaning to the inside. That leaning has caused the horse to get on his front end, get out of balance in the turns and lose power behind. You’ll find that once you correct the balance and position issues, you will go back to doing well.
   Another example of how a person may have to slightly adjust her riding is when she’s making good runs, but having trouble keeping the barrels up. It depends on how you’re hitting them, but a horse that hits barrels when leaving them might just need to have his hip pushed to the outside slightly. Experienced riders can do this at speed, but novice riders might have to do it a few times in their slow work and get it in their heads as much for themselves as for the horse. If a horse’s hip is in a little too much on the inside coming into the barrel it creates a more rate than is needed. A slight correction in hip position will likely remedy the problem.
   Again, when you’re trying to teach someone to run barrels that person needs to be well advised on the correct way to use slow work. A person can be taught the right fundamentals and they can go over those fundamentals mentally—multiple times—without making a whole bunch of fast runs. Think about where the horse is placing his hind feet, feel those feet and begin to ride a little differently by really feeling that hind end. Sometimes, after a person really understands how to feel where a horse’s hind feet are hitting, her hands and timing will greatly improve. That’s why correct slow work is such a key element to the circle of balance.
   On the other side of the coin, if you drill it into horses to be slow, they will stay slow. Slow work is designed to help you guide the horse in the correct position, to work on leads and to train yourself to ride correctly, so when you go fast the likelihood of making mistakes is lessened.
Slow work also helps a rider mentally prepare for fast runs without having to put too many practice runs on her horse. Every horse is different and it’s up to the rider to know how many runs it takes to get her horse sharp without blowing him up.
   In order to be competitive, you must compete on a regular basis. This means running on the weekends, and exercising and using slow work during the week to help correct mistakes for the next barrel race. It’s all about a balanced routine that covers all the bases and keeps your horse mentally sound and liking his job.
   The concept of balance can also be used to identify how broke a new barrel horse is. If you start a horse on the barrels before he’s ready, in most cases you’ll have to take one step forward and a couple steps back to help him retrain the basics: stops, leads, headset, softness and collection.

Balanced Horse Health
   Let’s say your horse is in good shape. His teeth and chiropractic care are properly maintained. He’s in good shape nutritionally, and you’ve worked hard on balanced riding and good position on the pattern. Your equipment is adjusted right and functioning properly, but you’re still not stopping the clock at the barrel races. So, you get advice from a qualified veterinarian and find that the horse is sore in his suspensory ligaments. It’s so important to have a balanced foot or your circle of balance is weakened.
   This is just one tiny, isolated example of why a wise veterinarian, good dental care, good nutrition, chiropractic checks and a great farrier are all huge assets to you and your horse. Next month, we will talk with experts in each of these fields and gain greater insight into the horse health side of our circle of balance. In the meantime, don’t forget to take care of yourself too by eating balanced, healthy meals and keeping a good, positive attitude.

Question and Answer
   We received a handwritten letter from a young barrel racer named Mandy Elam, from Guymon, Okla., who had the following questions for Charmayne:
   Dear BHN,
   Why do some barrel racers choose to use protective back boots and some do not? Is it because of the ground? Do they use them all of the time or only in certain situations?
   Mandy Elam

   Dear Mandy,
   Protective boots are very important for your horse. When a horse hits himself because of a slip, whether it’s due to the ground or not, it’s very painful and can result in an injury that puts him out of competition for a while. Horses can clip and hit themselves, so I believe in using overreach boots, as well as using boots on the front and back legs—regardless of ground conditions. Protective boots in front and in back not only help avoid injury, but they offer support, and balance a horse’s weight from front to back.
   Good luck!

For more information on Charmayne James, and her books, videos and clinics, visit E-mail comments or questions to [email protected].


Email comments or questions to [email protected]

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