Instill Independence and Refine Body Control for Faster Times

Instill Independence and Refine Body Control for Faster Times

What does this quote mean to you?

“Too many parents make life hard for their children by trying, too zealously, to make it easy for them.” – Goethe

I feel as though too many barrel racers (and riders in general) make life hard for their horses (and themselves) by unconsciously trying to make life easy for them, or by micromanaging (any control freaks out there?), or being too perfectionistic.

As with human children, if you do too much for your horse, it will make life harder later, for both you AND the horse. Most times, barrel racers don’t even realize they are micromanaging and doing FOR their horses, which they would really be better off doing for themselves.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m an advocate of correcting mistakes the instant they occur in barrel horses, especially on the pattern. If your horse gets out of position – DO NOT PASS GO – fix it then and there before you move on!

If you find you don’t have the foundational elements to fix the problem quickly and effectively, then forget about the pattern temporarily until you have the calm understanding and education you need to get your message through.

However, when I say be sure to correct mistakes the instant they happen – this DOES NOT mean PREVENTING your horse from making mistakes.

Mistakes are how horses and humans learn.

Whether it’s a young horse or human, we want to raise them to be educated and good decision makers, but if they slip up – there are consequences for those mistakes, which are great learning opportunities.

Do note that a little “discomfort” can go a long way, and that the degree of correction should be made in relation to the severity of the offense.

Buck Brannaman sums it up well with this quote…

“You allow the horse to make mistakes, the horse will learn from mistakes no different than the human. But you can’t get him where he dreads making a mistake for fear of what happens after he does.”

If your correction causes your horse to become tense or worried, address any of those emotions before moving on. If you don’t, he’ll no longer be in a positive learning frame of mind, and you’ll risk diminishing the horse’s confidence and delaying your progress even more.

How little does it take?
How little does it take?

The bottom line, is that if you help a horse too much, you deny them those valuable experiences which teach them to be more self-sufficient, AND make your job as a rider easier!

If you have to use your hands and legs constantly, even subtly, to keep your horse traveling in a straight line, or at a certain speed, or to hold his body shape, you’re denying them the responsibility that would actually increase the quality of his life.

It’s true – Independence breeds confidence in horses. Horses are so much more capable then we think!

At the same time, there’s a delicate balance when it comes to developing confidence and independence, because our horses can’t be so overly confident that they block us out and are unresponsive to our guidance. They WILL need subtle guidance in a run, or a little extra help now and then, and it’s important they are willing to accept it without a delay or resistance – this is where high level, refined body control comes in.

Instilling independence is another example of “less is more” – our horses do more, and we, as riders have to do less. It’s a magical combination for problem solving, and in barrel racing runs, especially – faster times!

But again, the advanced level of responsiveness must be in place in order to develop our horse’s ability to independently make good decisions (such as shape and carry their body correctly, stay perfectly on track, etc.). That responsiveness is also necessary to provide subtle guidance to our horses and help them in a run quickly and effectively whenever necessary.

In the second part of a three part Q&A series, the video below goes in-depth to cover the subject of developing more responsibility on the pattern, and shows examples of how you can “test” and better develop your horse’s current level of independence.

If the area of body control is where you need more refinement, check out this past Q&A post titled How to Fix a Wide Turn on the Barrels.

Also, don’t miss Part I in this three-part series, Feel is Fast! Go Beyond Basics to Get Results!

AND Part III – How to Build Your Barrel Horse’s Confidence and Respect with Leadership.

If you’re really interested in creating a major barrel racing breakthrough, you’ll enjoy the Secrets to Barrel Racing Success.

6 replies
  1. Rayna Riles
    Rayna Riles says:

    hi, how do i know if my horse is wore out of tired of his job? Last year we were unstoppable this year we go to the same arenas and he slowed a whole second. and all last year we didnt hit a barrel since high school rodeo, and now he started hitting barrels. what can i do to fire him back up? please help

    • BarrelRacingTips
      BarrelRacingTips says:

      Hi Rayna,
      If you have a horse that was performing well and that changes, it’s usually a physical problem, or something has changed to cause his performance to change. Sometimes we have to really look back and put our detective hat on to figure it out. The first thing I would do is take your horse to a highly qualified equine performance Vet. for a thorough exam, to see if there are any issues. Many problems are treatable if found early.
      Also, you might enjoy this past Q&A post – Keep ‘em Standing – Four Tips for Reforming a Barrel Crasher to help resolve the issue with tipped barrels!

  2. Lexi
    Lexi says:

    I just received the e-mail, with tips, and the link to this article the other day, and I just want to say thank you so much. I struggle with micromanaging myself and my young horse, and my mentor tries so hard to help me past it, when all along I needed for the next step was to see it, and read it out like this article and the e-mail did for me! I’ve been reading your book also, and I cannot say enough how much it has helped with my confidence levels, my horse can do it, now I am learning to be able to help her do it even better! Thank you again!

  3. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    What are your thoughts on German martingales? I normally ride in a gag but started using a German martingale with a snaffle to try to improve my horses headset. I plan to use this on a temporary basis. After running the pattern in the martingale my time improved by nearly half a second and my mare’s confidence/independence has really improved. Now I have 3 issues. 1) I seem to have much less stopping power (which was never an issue before 2) before my run I have a hard time getting my mare positioned in the alley properly bc she wants to go go go and 3) any suggestions for doing away with the martingale?


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