The First Barrel
Getting Ready to Run
What happens as you head toward the first barrel will be a
direct result of all the preparation that you have done prior to this moment. To
be your best, you must have a clearly thought-out plan on how to get around that
barrel the fastest way. It is often called the "money barrel" and will
set the stage for your whole run.
Upon your arrival to the grounds where you are competing,
unloading and caring for your horse must come first. Second, you need to find
out the rules for starting. Can you begin by circling in the arena? Are you
required to run down an alleyway? Does the gate have to be closed behind you
before you can start?
Find out where on the program the barrel race will be run and
the names of the two or three people who run before you. It is very important to
look the arena over carefully and locate where the timer and barrels are set.
Plan your run from start to finish. This includes your points of where to break,
gather, pocket and hustle. If there is any possibility of riding in the arena
before the barrel race, take advantage of this.
Your first barrel is the first look your horse has into the
arena. Arenas are all different in their construction and decorations. Some
committees hang flags and/or have painted chutes or walls with their sponsors’
names on them. The greener your horse is, the more important it is that he get
into the arena. Remember you want him to focus on the first barrel – not the
decor. A grand entry is another way to get your horse into the arena.
Don’t make the mistake of riding around visiting and lose
track of time. Be aware of what is going on in the arena. It is so important not
to rush your final preparations, but remain focused, relaxed and ready when your
name is called. Get off and check all tack, and loosen your saddle while you
clean out each of your horse’s feet. Make sure your saddle is in the proper
place and then tighten it.
You will want to be ready and up at the gate when your name
is called. If you are not ready and up at the gate, you will have to hurry your
horse up to the starting point. This could rattle both you and your horse. The
seconds right before you ride up to the gate will be very important. This is the
time that you should be focusing on the pattern. You should have a ritual here
where you think about the pattern, run it through your mind and relax your
You are tacked up, dressed up and warmed up. Now, put your
hat on to stay. World championships have been lost due to a rule that says your
hat must stay on until you enter the arena. Some associations will fine you for
a lost hat and some will add a penalty to your time. Pull it down so that it
stays on, or attach it with a string.
Knowing your horse is so important. You must know where and
when to break into your running start. If you break into a run too far back, the
horse’s air and energy will be wasted. He may even run past the first barrel.
If you break too slow and too close, you will not have the momentum to get a
fast turn. Where you start your full run will depend upon the length of the
alleyway and how far the timer is from the mouth of the alleyway. Some horses
need to break farther back than others. (Most quarter horses can reach top speed
in a short distance.)
When you are coming into the arena, you should not jab your horse into a full
run or whip him right before the gate. If you do either of these, you are
preparing him to eventually balk as you approach the gate. If he needs to be