FAST Times on Purpose – Three Exercises for Testing (and Teaching) Precision to Increase Speed

FAST Times on Purpose - Three Exercises for Testing (and Teaching) Precision to Increase Speed

The other day I watched a handful of runs from the video archives on my gelding, Pistol. Certain aspects of them got me really excited and other aspects were a little hard to watch because I feel like I have new “eyes to see” certain issues.

Let’s just say there were a couple Homer Simpson hand to the forehead “DOH” moments!

The same issues that were happening on the pattern in those videos are completely related to how Pistol “tests out” at home (more on that below).

As I wrap up my goals with Dot Com this month and shift more focus to preparing Pistol for competition after a long rehab from an injury and 2+ years away from competing, you can bet that I’m focusing on strengthening our weak areas as they relate to the barrel pattern so we’re more than READY when the time comes!

Lately I have also been working on influencing individual feet on the ground when I halter and lead the horses and bring them to the barn. I’ve noticed that the boys are pretty quick to drive away from pressure I apply on the ground but much slower to draw a foot toward me when I ask – which I do by first imagining I have a fishing line tied from their fetlock to my waist. I just make it uncomfortable to do what I don’t want and easy to do what I do want, and I use a TON of focus!

Think of the approach to the barrel as a transition place with a rearward shift of weight. The stopping/starting of these exercises and how quick and fluid it is has a lot more value even if you test and teach at a snail pace vs. whipping your horse around in a random but super-fast spin. Of course in the end, you’ll have the whole package, but fast and fancy looking doesn’t mean there’s precision, powerful posture and thoughtfulness present.

Bonus Exercise

The hindquarter disengage move is one that is embedded pretty solid in Pistol. On top of that, being a laid back kind of guy it’s his tendency to weight his front end more, and at a walk it’s where all horses carry 60% their weight. I decided that when I lead him through gates to see if I could be specific about asking him to turn on the hind quarters instead of going into autopilot and always rotating his hind around the front. After all, in our barrel runs, our horses need to really be powering through the turns with more elevation in the front end and their hindquarters engaged.

I’m not as concerned about all this for Dot Com because he moves in a more balanced way, but I DO need for HIM to be able to carry on a quick conversation and be responsive without getting emotional, so I play with that every day when I lead HIM to the barn. These are just little things, DETAILS that I’m noticing and improving and having higher standards for – ALL to prepare these guys for our BIG return this year.

One more great exercise to test and teach connection, precision and responsiveness is one called “Rockslide” that I first learned from Dave Ellis. I’ll include an image of it done on the ground at left, where the human keeps moving forward in a straight line throughout the pattern then repeats on the opposite side. I’ve used it a lot under saddle, but in either case the goal is for the transitions to be quick yet fluid.

As barrel racers we understand and utilize the power of videos to critique and learn from our runs but I wanted to encourage you to take that to an even higher level by videoing yourself at home, even including short clips of your general riding, loping circles, etc.

Especially with as quick and easy as it is to prop up a smart phone on a post in an arena, there’s no reason not to take advantage of how relatively simple it is to get footage of how our horse is moving and how we’re riding. It’s something SO valuable that so few of us seem to do! Consider making it your goal to get some film clips at least one day per week.

I’ve been reminded how important this is thanks to the photoshoots and film projects I’ve put together. They’ve always provided me with surprising and eye opening insights. Sometimes we may be able to FEEL what we can’t SEE, but in many cases our eyes can help us SEE problems we’re not necessarily FEELING (or just things we’re not sure about), but this is ONLY possible when we actually have the footage to look at!

  1. One tool I have now that helps with this a Pivo Pod that allows me to film riding or runs without a camera man!
  2. Another (much bigger) investment to consider is arena mirrors, which are popular with dressage riders – they even make special outdoor equestrian arena mirrors.

When it comes to filming your runs, if you typically pass your camera off to a friend or family member to film, ask that they change positions each time so you’re not always getting footage of your runs from the same angle. Getting even a slightly different view point can really reveal issues that are going otherwise unnoticed.

Also, I feel it’s worthwhile to invest in a high quality camera if you can. A lot of phones take pretty good quality video these days, but some older phones are very blurry or foggy. When the footage is crisp and clear it’s a lot more valuable because you can see the details – and remember winning a barrel race by a tiny fraction of a second is ALL in the details.

What gets noticed gets improved! Feel free to share any questions or comments on today’s topic below.

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