By Martha Josey with Ashley Schenck
Adrenaline pumping, your barrel horse is running, the only thing you have your sights set on is the next barrel. Your peripheral vision is blurred with speed as you wrap around the third barrel for the race home to stop the clock. The intense focus you have during a run removes everything but you, your horse and the pattern. It’s an exhilarating 16 seconds, but what about after the race? Where did your horse work well and where could you have cut time? It can be hard to break your run down from the memory of 16 seconds. That is why many barrel racers have turned to video to replay their runs and enhance their training program.
Video is a great tool, but how many barrel racers are getting everything they should from their videos? At our clinics we designate an entire class to video review with our videographer Mark Burt to teach the importance of watching your runs, because there is so much to learn. So, what should we really be looking for?
From the Alleyway
Your barrel pattern starts in the alleyway. The first barrel is the money barrel—it can make or break a run—which is why your approach from the alleyway is so important for turning a quick first barrel. Watch your video and see if you horse was focused and lined up for a smooth approach. Did you take off straight? Or were they fighting your hands and shaking their head? If you are fighting your horse in the alleyway, it can very easily carry into your approach to the first barrel, putting you out of position.
You should also look at your horse’s leads. Getting your horse in the correct lead for a turn is very important. It helps them turn the barrels with a more natural movement and keeps their shoulder lifted. If your horse switches leads several times in the pattern, it’s costing you time. Ask yourself, did your horse leave the alleyway in the correct lead (right lead going to the right and left lead going to the left)?
Looking at the Turns
After you leave the alley and are on your way to the first barrel, it is time to look at your turns. One of the most important factors of a good barrel turn is getting your horse to effectively use its pivot foot. Your horse should approach a barrel and then plant its pivot foot going into the turn. Your horse’s pivot foot creates stability in the turn and sets it up to push up and out on the back side. Your horse should start to rate where the tracks cross (this is where his hoof prints cross going into the turn and coming out of the turn). While you are watching your video, you should see the inside back leg plant into the ground and set up for the turn. As riders, we often rate our horses too early, causing them to plant their pivot foot too soon. This causes them to swing wide on the back side of the barrel and put you out of position as they regain momentum.
In your turns, you should also look at your hands. We teach our students to run two handed to the barrels, rate, and then drop their outside rein and pull towards their jean pocket. It is easy to focus on this in our slow work, but sometimes in a run, we move our hand to the wrong spot, pull out too wide, or release from the turn too early. So, study your hands. Did you rate at the right time? Did you pull to your pocket? Remember, barrel racing is a guiding contest—you want to run smoothly with soft hands.
Be a Problem Solver
After you have watched your video and seen these things in your run, what should you do? As a barrel racer, you should be a problem solver. Look at the things in your run that cost you time and then figure out how you can work on them. A good way to learn is to watch other good riders. Where is their horse running, where are their hands, and where are they putting their horse in position for the turn? Keep working and keep training, using every advantage you have. Videos can be one of your greatest tools if you take advantage of it. We love to show off the good runs, but you learn from the runs where you made mistakes.