Learn why each axis point in the turn is important for riding perfect circles and better barrel patterns.
I think the main thing to always work on, and something that always paid off for me over the years I spent riding a lot of different horses, is helping my horse’s body stay round through the turns. That was always something—whether it was with Scamper, Magic, Cruiser or any of the other horses I’ve ridden during my career—that if I focused on making that perfect circle, things worked out for the best. The best way I’ve found to impart this formula for perfect circles is to teach people to ride their horse over each axis point around each of the three barrels.
Remember, the horse is long-bodied. You can compare the way the horse has to make a turn with its long body to you pulling your horse trailer. You can’t turn your horse trailer all at once; you have to give it some room to make the corner. It’s the same with a horse; you have to be conscious of the horse’s inside hind leg and where it’s hitting around the barrels. That’s where the axis points become very helpful.
The first step in learning to do this correctly is to understand why it is that you need to get to each point. It’s knowing where the horse’s backend is tracking as you’re turning the barrel.
The second step is to understand that you have to ride with intention to make this happen. This is a hard thing to explain, but I think once people feel the difference in their riding, they get what this means. Someone posted a video on my Facebook recently of me riding Magic (Bold Bars Top Man), who was the next horse I made the National Finals Rodeo on after Scamper. I rode Magic one-handed all the way to the third barrel and around it, making each axis point through the turn because I had the intention in my riding to make it through the turn without hitting barrels or getting short. It really proves you have to know your horse because on a lot of other horses I’ve ridden twohanded up to and through the turn, or at least to a certain point in the turn, before going to one hand.
The third thing is that your hands cannot be impeding you from riding over each axis point. So be observant,watch videos of yourself, or have a friend you trust watch you and watch your hands and your position around the barrels. Work mentally on your riding, as well as physically, so you can create the right riding habits and get control of what you’re doing.
So, when approaching the first barrel you visualize an arc to your six steps— that is your entry position to the first of the five axis points around the first barrel. For the first barrel I tell people it’s crucial to focus on points one and three, and then you might have to adjust a little bit depending on the horse. It’s all about knowing your horse. If your horse has a tendency to come back through the turn really hard, you might need to adjust the spot you’re looking and riding to in order to open up that turn a little bit. Know where that spot is—is it a little to the inside of the turn or a little to the outside? This depends on your horse’s style and what works best for that individual.
The importance of making each axis point becomes especially obvious at the second barrel because it is the straightest approach and hardest turn. Our diagram shows each of the points a horse needs to track over and you’ll notice that to finish that turn, your horse has to make it over the seventh point. A lot of beginners tend to not finish the turn. They get to the first point and sort of quit making adjustments. They might even have this problem at all of the barrels, but it will usually become most obvious at the second. Not making each point around the second will cause a lot of horses to hit barrels or bow out leaving the turn.
Some riders, especially inexperienced ones, don’t get all the way over each of the points before they’re trying to speed up and get to the next barrel. It’s a fine line of looking, sitting through the turn and then after your horse makes it over those points, then that’s when you hustle.
Visualizing the axis points and working on your position in relation to them will help you ride your horse with intention. When you practice correct position at home in your slow work it becomes like second nature and much easier and automatic to do when you’re competing.
This article was originally published in the January 2019 issue of Barrel Horse News.