Question: Do most people who barrel race prefer their horse to be a certain height? I see a lot of good barrel horses that are between 14 and 15 hands, which seems to be the normal height for a good barrel horse. What about horses that are over 16 hands tall? Are they able to turn well and clock good times? I have a 4-year-old gelding that is between 16.1 and 16.3 hands tall. He is nicely patterned but he seems clumsy and almost too tall to be running barrels.
— Christina Buxton
First, I would say that I do not think size determines if a horse will be successful at barrel racing. I have ridden horses that are over 16 hands tall as well as little horses like Easy Dash Oak, aka “Round Pen,” that stands barely 15 hands tall.
I have enjoyed riding horses of various sizes. For me, I think it depends on the athleticism of the individual, as opposed to the size. As long as a horse can handle their body, they can be competitive. In your horse’s case, it may be that he is going through a growth phase that I like to call the “gangly teenage” period. At 4, he may not know how to handle his body yet and it may just take a little time for him to figure out how to place his feet and handle his size. I certainly wouldn’t give up on him yet.
I think you could help your horse by doing some exercises away from the barrel pattern. I work my young horses on the poles, and I ride them out in the pasture to teach them to handle themselves. The pole bending pattern, in particular, requires a horse to use various body parts. They have to switch leads, turn the end poles, side pass and keep forward motion through the entire pattern. Working through the poles is great exercise for horses and you can teach them many things without allowing them to become bored. You can ask for many of these same maneuvers when riding out in the pasture. In the beginning, some horses feel lost, as if they are trying to figure out where to put their feet, but in time you should feel them learning how to better handle their body.
When you are looking for the perfect prospect, keep in mind that horses are individuals, just like people. Not everyone is Michael Jordan; we can’t all compete in the NBA. You have to determine your objectives, decide what you are looking and plan how long you are willing to continue on with a horse. There are horses that are competitive at the National Finals Rodeo, and there are other horses that win the weekly jackpot consistently, but cannot compete at the NFR level but that doesn’t mean they are not a good barrel horse. In today’s barrel racing environment, there are different formats and many places to compete, so it doesn’t take an NFR-caliber horse to achieve success at different levels.
Make sure you give the horse a fair chance but remember that not every horse was made to run barrels and not every horse is going to perform at the elite level. There are many big horses that have won at the NFR level, including Brittany Pozzi’s Yeah Hes Firen (“Duke”) and Sherry Cervi’s BC Tinman (“Tinman”).
Remember, it is more about how the horse handles his whole body than it is about his size. Good luck to you and your horse!
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