Rating is a key component in barrel racing. Your horse’s ability to turn a barrel and perform is directly related to his ability to rate, something that can make or break your winning run. Renowned barrel horse trainer and competitor Dena Kirkpatrick has a few tips for overcoming the everyday problems riders face when correcting the lack of rate in their barrel horse.

First, Kirkpatrick reminds us that the problem isn’t always what it seems. It’s important to consider body position before you decide your horse really isn’t rating like he should. Kirkpatrick stresses that it’s important not to get “rate” and “position” confused while trying to pinpoint your problem.

“I think often that people misunderstand the horse running by the barrel as not having any rate, when possibly it’s just a lack of proper body positioning,” Kirkpatrick explains. “When I think of non-rating, I think of horses that blow by the barrel, really go by them. There are a lot of horses that just go by the barrel on the back side of it, and people think it’s because the horse isn’t rating, but that’s more because the horse’s position probably isn’t good, and he’s starting to turn too early. So, they get in a bind and have to blow off that back side of the barrel before they can turn it.”

Kirkpatrick says another misconception is that people think they need to stop the horse with the barrel way out in front of them.

“In my opinion, that’s huge mistake,” Kirkpatrick says, “because if you stop your horse with the barrel out in front of them, they focus on that barrel, causing the horse to want to drop his shoulder, which makes him turn too early and gets him in a bad body position, and either knock the barrel down or run by on the back side of the barrel.”

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Kirkpatrick’s method, on the other hand, strives to make the turn as comfortable as possible for the horse.

“For my slow work, I make a huge point to stop the horse where the barrel is at least right beside my leg,” she says. “Stopping is not just to help your horse rate. It’s also to position his body correctly so his shoulder is up and his inside hind leg is under him, so he is physically prepared to turn.

“This is a huge point because if the turn is comfortable for the horse, then the horse will start hunting the comfortable position. If the horse is uncomfortable, that barrel becomes something he’d really like to avoid, hence why he runs by it. If the turn is comfortable, then the rate should come naturally if you cover all your bases. Always start slow and build on it. If they can’t do it right slow, they can’t do it right fast.”

Kirkpatrick stresses that these types of problems aren’t solved over night.

“Younger people want to take care of it right now,” she says. “They don’t think about the ‘why.’ You have to assess what’s going on before you try to fix your problem. Always check to make sure your horses isn’t sore. Ask yourself why he might be uncomfortable. These animals are precious and hard to replace. You have to take care of them.

“They don’t say patience is a virtue for nothing. Patience is everything.”


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