The sport of barrel racing is an immense challenge, both mentally and physically, for both the horse and the rider. You may find yourself watching other riders with awe, wondering how they seem to move quickly as one fluid unit.
Like any other aspect of horseback riding, the key to becoming a great barrel racing team is developing a streamlined communication with your horse and plenty of hard work and practice. Continue reading for more information about barrel racing, as well as how to become a better barrel racing team with your horse.
History Of Barrel Racing
In order to build a future with barrel racing, it is important to know where the sport originated, as well as its history.
Barrel racing was originally developed to be a sport for women to participate in during rodeo events, as they previously were excluded from events like bull roping and bronco riding. There is no official location or date for the first barrel racing competition, but is widely believed to have been in Texas. In 1948, a group consisting of 74 women banded together and formed the Girls Rodeo Association (GRA), which eventually became known as the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) in 1981.
Since its introduction, barrel racing has provided a fun, tough, and rewarding activity for riders and their horses that brings an incredible rush of adrenaline each and every ride.
A very large part of barrel racing is maintaining a superb level of balance while navigating your horse around the barrels. Having a good sense of balance is the difference between perfectly reining around the final barrel and finding yourself on the ground with your beloved equine friend galloping in the opposite direction.
Add some balance exercises to your riding routine for the day. Below are some examples of simple activities that can help build balance in the saddle:
- Bring your horse to a comfortable walking pace around the ring. Remove your feet from the stirrups, and when you feel confident, extend both hands to either side like an airplane.
- After a few minutes of the “airplane” pose, bring both hands completely in front of you- similar to a “superman” pose.
- Swing one hand completely back to rest upon your horse’s rump, keeping one hand in front of you in the “superman” pose. After a few minutes, switch hands.
- Yoga: There are hundreds of different yoga poses, all with different intentions and target areas. Poses like “tree”, “mountain pose”, and “eagle” are designed to improve balance.
Building Core Strength
All aspects of horseback riding require a considerable amount of core strength, which is needed in order to maintain control, balance, and rhythm. Of course, going for a ride is the best way to build your core strength, but there are other ways to improve outside of the saddle, as well.
It’s not always possible to make it to the barn for a ride. For this reason, it can be extremely beneficial to build a workout routine that will help you build core strength. Below is a brief list of exercises that can help you build strength in your core:
- Yoga: Poses like “cobra”, “upward facing dog”, and “plank” are all excellent poses to target core strength.
Leaning plays a large part in maintaining balance. Many riders find themselves placing more weight in one stirrup than they do in the other, usually completely unknowingly. Horses are extremely receptive to changes in weight, and even the slightest amount of leaning in the saddle has the potential to throw off your line of communication.
To determine if you have a tendency to lean heavily on one side or another, have a friend watch you ride away in the opposite direction. If possible, have them take a picture or video. This will help you identify which side of your body may need correcting.
It is not uncommon for riders to apply more pressure on the side that they are not as comfortable or confident on. To correct this, do twice the amount of strength training on your “weak” side in order to build your confidence. Continue monitoring your leaning tendencies; you’ll soon see improvement!
There’s no doubt about it; barrel racing is a gritty, fast-paced, and aggressive sport. While this is true, there is something to be said about professional barrel racers, as they have managed to perfect this demanding sport, all while maintaining a balanced, calm, and collected connection with their horse.
A mistake that is commonly made in barrel racing is aggressive riding, also known as “over-riding”. This refers to riders who mistakenly make attempts to use aids and controls more than necessary, which can lead to confusion on the horse’s part, and a considerable negative impact on the horse’s natural flow.
In barrel racing-and all riding, for that matter- it is important to learn how to balance your aids and controls with allowing yourself to work with your horse, not against them. Too much aggressive force on your end can confuse your horse and prevent them from performing at their best, as they can become distracted trying to interpret what you are asking them to do.
Practice riding the pattern with your horse and ease up on your aids and signals just a bit, to see where your horse picks up, and where they leave off. This will help you build a streamlined connection.
Pay attention to how “loud” your hands are while you ride as well; quiet hands can make a world of difference. Many riders tend to subconsciously place pressure on the reins looking for balance. This is-you guessed it-just another signal on your end that has the potential to confuse your horse. To correct this, practice riding around the ring practicing the balancing exercises mentioned previously. Learning to find balance in your seat is crucial.
Going forward with the information you learned here, you will be able to develop a more streamlined and personal connection with your horse while riding, allowing you to become a better barrel racing team. Remember that practice makes perfect!