For a barrel racer, it’s a sickening feeling to suddenly realize you need a specific product or tool just minutes before competing, only to realize you left it at the trailer.
No one wants to experience panic, anxiety or concern in those critical pre-run moments.
Especially considering that the trailer might be a half mile away, having everything we could possibly need close at hand not only saves time, but it saves mental bandwidth – so we can stay focused on what’s most important, which is getting in the zone for our upcoming run, instead of getting distracted.
I started the habit of carrying a “boot bag” during my many years of living and riding up north, where in the cold months I’d reserve a heated barn to ride in, for two precious hours at a time. I’d pack a bag with all the odds and ends I might need to eliminate the time-consuming task of traipsing back to the trailer for them.
Despite its namesake, I carried A LOT more in my bag than SMB boots. And it turns out, that no matter where you live, the weather, the distance to the trailer, or how many horses you have to ride or compete on – time (and brain) efficiency is a must.
Below, I’ve shared a peek into my actual boot bag, so you can get tips, tricks and ideas for better utilizing time, conserving focus, and being even better prepared to make the most out of every run and possible scenario that comes your way.
- Boots – Of course I pack SMB boots in my bag. For me right now, this means a full set of Iconoclast support boots, including bell boots. I warm up in the bell boots, but don’t put the fronts and backs on until phase two of my warm-up. I’ll stash my boot bag somewhere convenient and out of the way of horse traffic where I can return to stretch my horse and put them on, without having to go ALL the way back to the trailer.
- EasyBoot Gloves – While SoftRides and EasyBoot Clouds have gained popularity in recent years, I prefer EasyBoot Gloves for several reasons. The main one being that they come in a more streamlined design, and are made for the horse to move in without the undesirable effects of excess weight or leverage. While this means I can ride in them if I need to, I often put Easyboot Glove hoof boots (with pads) on my horse’s (bare) front feet to hand walk them over gravel and asphalt when I’m going from point A to point B at a barrel race or rodeo. It’s not that I “have to,” but it just saves wear & tear on their bodies. When I get to the arena, I take them off, fold down the gaitor and easily slide them into the big, flat zippered under compartment of my boot bag. These are the same boots I put on our horses when they’re stalled, must stand tied on hard ground (which I do my best to avoid), and when hauling. To get the perfect fit for your EasyCare boots, it’s best to order a fit kit.
- Hoof Pick with Brush – All my saddles have hoof pick holders on them, but since hoof picks tend to disappear so easily, it never hurts to have spares. I like having (at least) one in my boot bag with a brush on it to clean out my horse’s feet pre-run. A little bit of dirt-on-dirt can be GOOD for traction but I don’t want my horse’s feet packed and bulging with excess footing.
- The Clip (and twine and/or zip ties) – Although our horses all tie well, you never know when you might need to dismount, tie them to a fence and leave them unattended for a moment (or a few). While I trust my own horses, you can’t always trust your environment. With The Safe Clip, if they get in a bind (and excess tension is applied), the lead rope will pull through so they can gain some freedom, hopefully without injury. We are each responsible for keeping our horse’s safe – that might mean NOT tying them in a public area until they are better prepared, or determining which would be the worst of two evils – pulling back, getting kicked, or getting loose? It depends on your horse and your environment. The cut up pieces of twine (or zip tie) I carry are to attach to a fence rail if the rail/pipe is too big for The Clip (you could also just tie your horse to a piece of twine or a zip tie alone, which should break away in an emergency).
- Water Bottle – My current Classic Equine duffel bag has a perfectly sized outer pouch to keep a water bottle upright and leak-free, which is an absolute necessity to have on hand – especially in the hot, summer months. Staying hydrated is critical for being at your best!
- Rubber Bands – I pack plenty of rubber bands both for my feet (from any office supply store) and also my horse’s mane (available at tack stores). I usually have my horse’s mane done in advance, but they are good to have on hand. I always have at least four rubber bands on my saddle horn, but will have a selection in my bag as well. Bigger hair elastics are also handy if you need to ever braid a tail or keep your own hair under control.
- Brushes – I carry a soft body brush for my horse and also a small mane & tail brush (a human version from Wal-mart) for any last minute touch-ups my horse might need.
- Essential Oils – To help Dot Com “woosah” before a run, I carry a couple relaxation-inducing essential oil blends. Every horse responds a little differently to them, but for him I have a small bottle of Young Living’s Peace & Calming and a roller bottle with a custom blend mixed by Deanna Harrison. These are actually handy to have regardless of whether your horse tends to get hot before a run or not (they are great for people too, if YOU tend to get nervous), because you never know when something unexpected could happen that causes your horse to get a bit frazzled, and you might as well do what you can to not make anxiety a habit, and we can’t ALWAYS address our horse’s emotions by moving their feet, etc. in the tight quarters we’re often in before a run. Be sure to get your oils direct from a legitimate source – not on Amazon, where sellers have been known to dilute them.
- Pre-Run Paste – There are a lot of these products on the market today and the one you choose depends on what your horse needs and can take some trial and error to determine what works best. They aren’t all made equally, so look close at the ingredient labels to make sure the contents are something you want to put in your horse’s body. It wasn’t until I brought DC along on the barrels and fighting a persistent battle with ulcers, that I decided EVERY horse I run would get pre-run paste, whether they were ulcer and anxiety-prone or not. This helps keep their stomach settled and healthy – both on that day and in the long run. You’be be surprised by how much unruly gate behavior is actually ulcer related, so prevention is a high priority. A couple products I’ve used and liked are In the Zone by Animal Element and EZ-Xtra Gel from Basic Gut Health.
- Topical “Joint Juice” – While there actually IS an oral supplement called “joint juice,” that’s not what I’m referring to here. Considering our boys are in their teens now, and we’re aware of their various pathologies and areas prone to stiffness and soreness, we apply topical products before competing to help loosen them up. Some to consider are Deanna’s Blue Pain Formula essential oil blend, Lame Away Spray, or Surpass, which is now back on the market.
- Headgear Hardwear (and Tools) – I have a tackle box of odds & ends for repairing tack in my trailer, but carry a little plastic baggie of a dozen or so various Chicago screw pieces, etc. in my boot bag for making emergency repairs. If something’s gonna break or come apart, it’s going to be just before you run – so having the tools you need is important, as well. For me that includes a flat tip screw driver and a small pliers.
- Kleenex and/or Wet Wipes – No one wants their hands slicked up with Show Sheen (or anything else) before a run, so it’s good to be prepared to wipe away any unexpected gunk. Since moving to Texas, I find less need to have Kleenex for a runny nose but find it’s handy for wiping a sweaty, beaded brow – gross, yes, but that’s the reality of running barrels in the south.
- Business Cards – I carry both some of my own and do not go anywhere without cards for Gail’s Inspired Turquoise Tack. I learned early on that I can’t leave the place without getting ambushed by questions about where I get my beautiful turquoise tack – so there you go!
- Phone – Of course, we want to have a video capturing device handy and now that we’re all so used to having anything or anyone we need available in an instant – why wouldn’t we want the ability to call our hubby, mom or friend with instant update or to check the draw? The problem I run into is that my iPhone 6+ is too large to stay in my back pocket when riding. So it either goes in the side pocket of my boot bag, or in a custom leather tooled holster with a belt clip that I can attach or take off my saddle.
- Treats – For Pistol of course, these are a no brainer. Our favs are by far Beet-e-bites because they’re low sugar, low starch, healthy, heart shaped and easily broken into smaller pieces. The clover shaped treats from Giddyap Girls (that also easily break apart) are sugar and wheat free, and get my and Pistol’s stamp of approval for post-run rewards as well.
- A 22 Foot Feather Line – Any horse, at any time benefits from groundwork, regardless of whether they seem to “need” it, it’s just that at most barrel races (unless you arrive very early), there isn’t always the space for it. I love having the opportunity to send my horse out on a larger than lead rope-size circle on a lightweight line that requires and confirms connection and softness. Just be safety conscious and watch out for the other guy – so you don’t inadvertently set a trip wire for another horse while you’re working yours on the ground. My folded 22’ feather line takes up very little space, so I keep one in my boot bag at all times.
To wrap up, it’s important to also talk about the bag itself. Over the years, I’ve had a handful, but it can be hard to find “the perfect boot bag,” because it has to be the right size, with plenty of pockets, and feature a detachable and adjustable strap.
Right now I’m packing one that resembles this design from Classic Equine. The detachable strap is critical so it can be easily hung on a fence rail and kept out of the way so your valuables don’t get trampled in the dirt. Pockets are key for separating and organizing, so you’re not digging for your must have items that are buried in one deep, bottomless pit when you need them most.
Essentially, my boot bag is waaayyyy more than that – it’s my barrel horse’s purse! 😉
And neither he OR I would dream of leaving home without it!
So what’s in YOUR boot bag? What items would you ADD to this list for pre-run preparation? Let’s here it in the comments below!