By Martha Josey and Ashley Schenck
Spring is finally here, and we all know what that means—spring cleaning. While you are cleaning your barns and trailers, this is the perfect time to evaluate your equipment.
Equipment is important in anything you do. In the horse world, your equipment can mean the difference between a responsive and cooperative teammate and one that is unruly and working against you. Consider your equipment to be an investment. Buy the very best you can afford and take care of it to make it last a long time. If you invest in quality equipment in the beginning, you will save yourself money in the long run.
A daily safety check of all equipment is important. This can prevent mishaps caused by old and worn-out equipment. Remember, an inexperienced rider should always have help looking at new or unfamiliar equipment.
Since I have spent so many hours in the saddle, I am very particular in the kind of saddle I have. I have always wanted a saddle that would help me, as well as other barrel racers, win. I want a saddle that is balanced correctly and fits both horse and rider. This saddle should be an aid to your barrel racing and not hinder you or your horse’s performance in any way. A saddle that fits incorrectly will leave a horse sore and make it harder for him to run. A saddle that does not fit the rider will throw them off balance or make it harder for them to stay with their horse. What interests me in a saddle is how effective I can ride in it.
The saddles I designed with Circle Y are built to give barrel racers every advantage possible.
The breast collar helps balance the saddle in the turn and keeps it in place as the horse leaves the barrel. There are several keys to remember when using a breast collar. Make sure it is not too tight. If your breast collar is too tight across your horse’s chest, it can restrict their stride and cost you valuable time. Also remember that if you use a tie-down and nose band, you should run your tie-down strap through a string or loop, called a keeper, on the breast collar center ring and then down to the girth ring. The keeper is important to hold the tie-down strap in place so that if your horse falls or stumbles, he will not get a leg over the strap. Make sure when you snap your tie-down strap to your cinch, it is centered between your horse’s legs.
Pads and Girths
Choosing a quality pad is extremely important. It should be made of a material that will stay firm and won’t bottom out in any one spot. Not enough padding is hard on the horse’s back, while too much padding will cause the saddle to roll. Additionally, too much padding will not let you feel your horse. A good pad will also absorb sweat. Regardless of your choice, keep the pad clean, because a horse’s back is very sensitive.
Similar to your saddle pad, a girth must feel good to my horse. I prefer wide girths that cover more surface area on my horse to distribute more pressure. I do not want it to rub or irritate in any way. There are many good quality mohair or fleece girths on the market today that come in different lengths to fit all sized horses. Remember, when saddling, check your center girth ring. Make sure it is centered so that your tie-down strap will not rub a front leg and cause a nasty sore.
Barrel horses’ legs need to be protected. I put boots on as religiously as I do with my saddle and bridle. I do not want my horse to get an injury that leg boots could have easily prevented. I use six boots on my horse for support as well as for protection. The boots we use are overreach and combination for front and combination boots for the back. I prefer the lightest boot possible that will offer ample protection but is still flexible enough to allow the horse to move freely. I use boots on all four of my horse’s legs. The back legs have the same strain as the front legs, so they need to be protected just as the front legs do. My boots are the last thing I put on before my run and the first thing I take off after my run.
I prefer a good sturdy headstall for barrel racing. Before making your run, you should be able to look down at your headstall and not fear that anything will come loose or untied. If you use a headstall that is attached to the bit with a Chicago screw, check these often. The screws can be unreliable and come apart. To assure that it will not come loose, add a drop of glue or fingernail polish on the threads before putting it together.
I recommend riders not use split reins in barrel racing competition. They are good for tuning or training your horse, but they can get in your way and hinder your performance. For competition, a continuous rein is needed. Together, Jerry Beagley and I designed the knot rein, because I was continually telling my students to reach down and gather the reins. Their hands would slip to the center of the reins, causing them to lose control and make wide turns. With the knot rein, they know the exact spot to put their hands and they will not slip.
Take care of your equipment, and should you need to replace a piece, remember quality is everything. No matter what piece of equipment you use, you should not let it get dirty of stiff. This will cause problems. Keep equipment clean and pliable with saddle soap and a conditioner or oil to keep your leather conditioned. Good equipment will help you win and last a lifetime.