The first step to shaving a few tenths or even a second off of your time is to identify where room for improvement is in your runs. Watching videos of your runs in normal speed and slow motion will allow you to see how smooth your turns were, how many steps your horse took around each barrel and how much contact was made by you with your hands. Smooth is fast, you want your horse to approach the barrel, engage it’s hind end and get around a barrel in one smooth motion.
If you have ever been to a Martha Josey clinic they teach a horse should only take 3 steps with a pivot foot (inside foot in the turn). Steps are important and if your horse is not working off it’s hind end it will take extra steps which results in a slower turn. Hands are crucial in the turns, in our chase for fast times we can do crazy things with our hands. I’m a firm believer that the less you have to handle your horse the faster you will be. If you watch your videos and you are pulling too hard or giving them their head back in a turn then pulling back quickly, causing a horses head to rise in reaction it’s a sure sign your hands need to improve. It is ok to pull, but a nice smooth movement will make for a better turn rather thank a few tugs through the turn.
Your horse is an elite athlete. Do you exercise them with that on mind? Your horses fitness will play a large part in helping your times improve and preventing injuries. Depending on a horses age and competitive level 4 days a week of exercise 1 day off and 2 days of competition is usually a good schedule to follow. You can rotate an extra day off for a competition day as needed. Off weekends I try to go for a quick quiet ride. In Marlene McRae’s book, Barrel Racing 101, she recommends a 4 mile exercise routine which is a good program to work on. Incorporating sprints to target a horses fast twitch muscles will help with speed in between barrels ( perfect your turns prior to sprinting).A good exercise routine and adequate turn out time will help your horse perform to its best ability.
Feeding horses is a science. There are a lot of different approaches to a horses diet you can take. I don’t recommend changing your feed if your horse is doing well, but if your at the point where your horse doesn’t feel good, look good or seem to run hard it’s worth taking a better look at. I really like the natural approach. I highly recommend researching the ingredients listed on your feed bag. The internet makes it easy to look up ingredients and the impact they have on your horse. I keep it simple: Alfalfa, Grass, Whole Oats and Beet Pulp.I like to top off my feeding program with Exceed-6 Way, which has support for joints, stomach, coat, muscle, hoof and digestion.
4. A Coach
When you look to the sidelines at professional sporting events you will find a coach calling plays. While you may not need to make different plays in your run a coach will help you strategize. I encourage all barrel racers to find a coach to help them in their pursuit of their goals. How do you choose a coach? Find one that has accomplished what you hope to accomplish. The best thing I ever did was haul with a few NFR qualifiers. The entire routine they have to care for their horse prior to loading, to how they care for their horse after a run is a wonderful learning experience. While their exact methods may not work for you, you can always build off of what they teach you. I also believe clinics are worth attending and can be a great asset. A clinic gives you a chance to fine tune your skills, learn from what instructors are telling others around you and at the Josey Ranch clinics you get two chances to practice under pressure, which is where most things tend to fall apart.
I would like to thank my coaches that helped me over the years:Marlene McRaeTy & Lisa MitchellMartha & RE JoseyNancy BrimhalSamantha Martinez
5. Know when to keep going and when to regroup.
Your reading this because you want to improve your time. If you can say you have done all the above and your still not improving, sometimes it’s time to regroup. Getting your horse looked at by a veterinarian to make sure they are 100% is a great place to start. If your horse is cleared by your vet it’s possibly you need to go back to your basics and slow down. You must be able to do a perfect pattern at a walk, trot and lope before it will ever be right at a run. Not every horse will be a 1D/2D horse AND that is ok! Your job is to reach you and your horses maximum potential. If you find yourself frustrated and unhappy with your times it may be time to sell your horse and start the process over with another. It can take several horses to find the perfect match! Remember we do this sport because we love it.