Leaving the First Barrel

By Joyce Loomis-Kernek

Many races are won because a horse left the first barrel hard and headed straight for the pocket on the second barrel. You know that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. In barrel racing, I call this line the “fast track.”

Ideally, a horse will push off and leave barrel one with both hind feet coming together, getting a straight, hard push forward. This is fastest. In this issue of America’s Barrel Racer, let’s look at some of the situations that can cause you to lose valuable time when leaving the first barrel.

Wide Turns

Leaving the first barrel really wide causes you to have more ground to cover to get back to the “fast track.”

This can be caused by going into the barrel too close; this will almost always cause a horse to come off wide. There are exceptions, but horses have to give ground somewhere in their turns. If they give that ground on the coming out side (backside) of a barrel, they will make a wide pocket on that side. When moving at a high speed, the momentum carries them sideways toward the entrance gate. Then the rider is working all the way across to the second barrel to line back up.

This can also be caused by turning the barrel with the horse’s front end too close to the barrel and the hind quarters swinging out. This causes what we call “eggbeating” and can produce a slow turn. The horse will actually come off the barrel with the hind feet way out to the side of the front feet (two tracking). Instead of having a horse run fast and straight across the pen, you will have one go slower because its back feet are not lined up with the front ones.

No Zip

Make sure that when you leave the barrel you do not balance on the horse’s mouth by balancing on your reins. This is evident when you see a rider come off the barrel with the horse’s head straight in the air and the reins tight. A horse cannot use his neck to pull himself forward: When this is happening make sure that you release your horse in time. To do this will allow your horse to leave hard and effortlessly.

Saddle Check

Sometimes there can be a problem of a saddle that does not fit or even causes a health problem. Check to make sure you can get your hand under the front of your saddle when you lean forward. If you cannot, you could be pinching your horse’s withers with your saddle.

Medical Report           

If your horse has left the barrel fast and hard before and you begin to notice he is coasting, there are two things on a medical note you can check immediately. Have his blood count checked by your veterinarian. Also, scoping his lungs after a run can help detect blood or an infection that is causing him a shortage of air.

Key Aids                    

Some horses just really need to be hustled off the barrel. There are some aids that you can use to move your horse forward fast. Three key aids are your body – move you body forward and hustle with your outside leg; your mouth – make a kissing noise with your lips in order to hustle your horse; and a bat – if you try to speed up your horse with a bat, make sure you bat in rhythm as the hind feet are ready to push off.

Remember, you must identify what causes you slowness and correct it. Video taping, a ground man and a good vet are a few things that can help you to get on the winning side of barrel racing.  

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Copyright © 2004 - 2011 Joyce Loomis-Kernek
Last modified: January 05, 2014