When you finish making a run and hear your time over the loudspeaker with a penalty for hitting a barrel, it can be discouraging, especially if it has been happening on a regular basis. Nothing is more frustrating than having the fastest time with a plus-five tacked on to the end. Every barrel racer has hit barrels at one time or another. Being able to reduce the number of barrels you hit is vital to having a successful barrel racing career. Hitting barrels can be prevented, but first you must identify the problem.

Start by reviewing your run, first in live-speed and then in slow motion. If you are in the practice pen, go back and look at your tracks; they will show exactly where your mistake started. Correcting a bad habit that is leading you to hit barrels continuously can be accomplished by simply breaking things down. First, you must brush up on your horsemanship skills outside of the pattern. You will then follow up with slow work on the pattern. In this article and the next I will review common problems I see in my clinics related to hitting the first barrel.MarthaJosey CebeReed webMartha Josey and Cebe Reed. Photo courtesy Martha Josey.

The first barrel is your money barrel. How you approach the first, along with how you leave it will influence the rest of the pattern. Sending a horse in a straight line to the first barrel will cause your horse to slice into the barrel and will force your horse to run several strides past. If you do not hit the barrel going into the turn, you may brush it on the way out.

To address this problem, let’s go back to basic horsemanship. During your practices and warm-ups, work on side passing your horse, making sure he understands to move away from inside leg and rein pressure. Focus on being in control of your horse’s entire body. Work on walking, trotting and loping perfect circles with your horse’s nose tipped slightly to the inside. Once you have your horse moving fluidly and lightly on both sides, you can return to your pattern.

Preparing for your run starts in the alleyway. Set yourself up for success by lining up with the inside of your third barrel. Then, picture a pocket 8 to 12 feet out from your first barrel, depending on your horse’s style. In practice, I really like to use cones. Here at the Josey Ranch, we use them at all of my clinics to help the student find his or her “spot” at each barrel. As you approach your first barrel, keep looking at your spot; do not look directly at the barrel. Remember to use your inside hand and leg to shape your horse for the turn. Use your outside rein and leg lightly to balance and collect your horse as needed through the turn.

Test your horse’s responsiveness to inside and outside leg and rein pressure, and program yourself to start your pattern from the appropriate place in the alley, allowing you to pinpoint your spot at the first barrel. And don’t forget to review your videos and the tracks you leave around the barrels in the practice pen.

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