Fast Approaches and Happy Turns

By Joyce Loomis-Kernek

The focus of this article is on the position of the horse’s legs coming to the first barrel, turning around it and leaving it going to the second.

 I have just returned from two clinics and it reminds me of the importance of being aware of the horse’s legs. I believe that a lot of the hock problems that we are seeing in horses today are caused from bringing the horse in with his hind feet to the outside of the front tracks and turning in that same way. If a horse continues to turn in this manner, especially if he is not collected, he is bound to become sore in the hocks.

When you are running to the barrel, you want your horse’s hind feet to be following the front tracks. If you are not sure about where your horse’s feet are, have someone video you standing in line with your approach to the first barrel. If possible, they can film you from behind and up, or they can stand on the ground past the first barrel. The main thing is to be sure they are in line with where you break to start and where your pocket is. Notice if your horse is two-tracking going to the first barrel. Two-tracking looks like the front feet will be running to the right of the hind feet. I see this often when the nose is tipped too far to the inside (right).

When a horse that is two-tracking gathers to turn, he will be trying to gather with his hock to the outside instead of underneath himself. When hind legs are to the outside of the front feet tracks, the shoulder is also down toward the barrel, which can cause a slow barrel or even a knocked-down barrel.

When the two-tracking horse starts to turn, he will go from the front pair of legs to the back pair, alternating and giving a look like he is buckling in the middle. This is not a smooth turn. I see barrel racers trying to turn this way; they slip or fall, and then put the blame on bad ground conditions. This is the case when the reality perception will keep you from winning. You cannot fix a problem unless you first identify and admit what the problem really is.

The problem usually starts when a rider is teaching the horse to come from the flat to the round. In other words, the rider is asking the horse to run up to the barrel going in a straight, full-out stride, and then gather and go into a round turn. This is flat to round. If the horse has not been taught how to make the transition from flat to round correctly, he will most likely learn to throw the hind feet to the outside as soon as the rider takes hold of the nose and bends it to the inside. Remember the basic principle: If you pull the nose to the inside, the outside hip will move to the outside to re-align the body. 

Another common thing I see at clinics, is the rider who sees that the horse’s hip is to the outside and the shoulder down, and tries to correct it by kicking right where the foot is. This actually loosens the hip even more and the shoulder becomes stiffer and stiffer. This is another reality problem. In reality that rider is increasing her problem because the horse is doing exactly what the rider told him to do and being punished for doing it. The correct way to fix this would be to get the left shoulder suppled up through a series of exercises and then the hips would follow. We would go back to the circle, and the moving of the shoulders by reverse arcs. If the feet are not re-aligned correctly, you will see this same horse have his shoulders and head very close to the barrel and his hips way to the outside. He will leave tracks on a barrel that look like this: (see diagram).

Line the tracks up and down, and you will have less pressure on the hocks, and get the horse underneath himself in order to make up those valuable tenths of seconds of time.

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