The Profitable First Barrel

A 5-part process

In our last issue, we were tacked up, warmed up, hat pulled down and headed toward the first barrel. The horse is "up" and ready to run, not frantic or scared, though. You have decided the best place to break into a full run by sizing up the alleyway and the pattern, and knowing your particular horse.

Every pattern has points. For you to win, you must know those points, and know what your individual horse needs to make the fastest times.

You must know your hustle points. As you come toward the first barrel, you will ride differently on different styles of horses. For example, if you ride a very free-running horse, you will ride him with a still body position over his balance point, allowing him to run with the least amount of resistance from the rider.

At the point where you want this horse to gather (slow down enough to make a fast turn), you will sit yourself down, say "whooooaaaah" and check your horse. Remember to check your horse, which means to pull back on the reins enough to collect his stride. After you have checked your horse, you will release the reins and then pick them up the second time. This is called picking up "new mouth." If you pull back and never release, you will retard the checking process. The difference is this: In the check/release method, you have asked him to get ready to turn. In the check and pull hard method, you are trying to force him to turn.

The five-part process is this: Sit down, say whooooaaah, pull back on the reins, release and pick up "new mouth" to start your turn.

This process, when done consistently and smoothly, will teach your horse to come from the full stride into a collected stride which will allow him to turn the barrel by following your inside rein hand without running past it. When a horse runs past the barrel, most riders then try to pull the horse around the turn, resulting in a bad turn. When the head is pulled in hard to the right on an uncollected horse, the rear end will then swing to the outside left of your turn. This is called "eggbeating" and results in time lost. A collected turn allows the horse to bring his hind legs up under himself, gather and then follow the rein hand close around the barrel. Then he can push off with both hind legs, and leave hard and fast going toward the second barrel.

There are some things to watch for if you ride a horse that needs to be gathered on the barrel. When you pull back on the reins, the horse must shorten his stride, or "set" in preparation for the turn. If you check your horse and there is no "set," then there will be no shortening of his stride. In other words, the only thing that happened is that his head is lifted up and his eyes look toward the sky or ceiling.

The second thing is this: When you pull back on the reins, say a long "whooooaaah" and not a short "whoa"! Your hands will follow your mouth. If you say the long "whoooaaah," your hands will be smooth and melt into the mouth. If you say "whoa" and jerk into the mouth, it won’t be long and you won’t be turning a good first barrel because your horse will begin to dread the jerk. When a horse begins to dread the first barrel, it often results in his running down the fence or speeding up where he should be gathering and slowing down.

If you ride a horse that sets up or gathers himself for the turn, then it is important that you "hustle" him to the point where he turns best. I have had horses that I had to hustle until their shoulder was even with the barrel. If I stopped hustling before that, and sat down for the position too early, they were sure to hit the barrel.

Some of the ways you can hustle a horse are by changing your body position and leaning forward, kicking with your feet, making noises with your mouth and batting in stride.

Beware of batting and/or spurring out of stride with your horse or excessively. This can actually result in slowing your horse down.

To help you better understand "hustle points," see the accompanying diagram. Your best advantage is to know your horse and never hustle a free-running horse past the gathering place, and never stop hustling too soon if he is the setting-up type.

The ground will also be a factor to what point you have to hustle to. If it is deep, you will need to gather a free runner closer to the turn. In deep ground, a setting horse will have to be hustled even farther because the deep ground causes you to lose momentum. On hard ground, it may be the opposite. So, it is not only important to know your horse, but to know the ground conditions and how to ride him for each situation.

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