Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #104 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
For the latest episodes subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or Google Play.
SPEED. We breed for it, we condition for it, we train for it, we feed for it, yet getting the most of it that we can from our barrel horses remains, on many levels – a mystery.
Until now, that is.
Today I’ll be sharing some interesting observations I’ve made about speed, and unconventional tips for creating it, especially when all other avenues have been exhausted.
Many years ago, I was told by a judge in a competition (where I had to ride an unfamiliar horse), that she thought I had a calming effect on horses. That really stuck with me. For a long time I was proud of that comment. It was a little “feather in my hat.”
However, as “my eyes” became better developed, I began to notice other people that had that same calming effect – they were great with nervous or young horses, but when it came to running barrels, these people (and their horses) were S-L-O-W.
THEN – I observed changes in a person I knew who had been in a serious horse accident. She was back riding in a few months, but something had changed on the inside, and it was affecting her riding. She safetied up a bit – hesitated. Her legs might have been kicking and saying “GO,” but her subtle energy communicated “Don’t GO” to her horses, and it certainly affected how they clocked.
Then one day I was helping set barrels at a barrel race and had a really good view of a particularly successful barrel racer as she came down the alley. I will never forget the look on her face – her eyes bulged out (mine were also at this point), she looked almost vicious! The energy in her body was intense, and her horse picked up on it (I did too!)… her horse matched that energy and they WON the barrel race.
What I’ve learned is that horses pick up on things as we ride them, subconscious messages within us that sometimes WE aren’t even aware of. Sometimes our horses seem like they are not in tune with us, and granted, sometimes they aren’t, but on many levels, they really are – much more so than we realize.
Horses are GOOD at getting in sync, because it’s how they’re wired to survive. It’s their natural tendency to take on the energy of those around them. Like when one horse spooks and runs in the pasture, and they all think they have to do the same – “Save your life!”
A few weeks ago, I noticed a drammatic change in my barrel horse when I put my 70 year old Dad (who is not in the greatest of health) on him for a spin around the pasture. Pistol didn’t just “take it easy” with my Dad, I mean he shifted into S-L-O-W motion sloth mode, like one. foot. in. front. of. the. other.
It’s not uncommon to see that special connection some horses make when they have a child on their back, but the connection Pistol made to meet my Dad where he was, and take care of him, was really extreme (and of course, appreciated)!
I connected the same dots, when I realized that when I jump on Pistol bareback, he feels like a dud. Perhaps it’s because on a subconscious level I don’t feel quite as secure as I do in the saddle, and perhaps he not only reads into this, but he also probably feels a subtle, but legitimate lack of security physically, and adjusts to fit the situation based on the feedback coming from me, whether I’m aware of it or not.
Horses FEEL things, they notice things. They are ultra aware and so much more sensitive than we give them credit for. We would be wise not to overlook this in our search for speed.
If we want to understand horses, become excellent at communicating with them, AND achieve unlimited success, we must strive to develop a level of heightened awareness that goes beyond words and conscious thought.
I may get frustrated at times that Pistol seems so pokey, but the truth is, horses are like computers – they may not do what we want them to do, but they always do what we’ve programmed them to do!
One of the most important steps toward developing “positive programming” starts with removing what’s in the way of it, this starts with awareness – of ourselves. When I think about WHY I have this calming effect on horses, I can’t help but reflect back on the many terrifying runaways I had on my pony as a kid. Regardless of whether I ended up bloody, bruised, or just lucky, I never hesitated to get back on, and never have… consciously anyway.
Later in my youth, I had more nightmarish experiences on my next childhood horse. I certainly learned a lot of problem solving skills, and adapted a “never give up” attitude in the process, and it’s by no means something I dwell on. I’ve certainly had many, many positive, confidence building experiences in the years since then, with many horses in all stages of development, and in competition. But perhaps there was still something deep down inside ME that saftied up a bit, held back, and subconsciously communicated to my horse “Go, but don’t go,” even though I don’t remember EVER having a conscious fearful thought?
Because the placings at barrel races come down to tiny fractions of a second, it’s so important to open our mind, and put effort toward noticing these little details with the same great depth that our horses do. The speed our horse’s display on the pattern depends on it. We can’t be “superficial” by just jumping on and thinking a good nylon massage is going to override what we’re REALLY telling our horses.
These observations are right in alignment with the feedback I received a few years ago when I submitted a couple videos of my runs for World Champion barrel racer Kristie Peterson to critique through WatchMyRun.com.
“My first thoughts after watching your runs, is that you need to trust your training. You ride very good and it looks like your horse is really well broke. I suggest you get wild!!! Do not over train or over think. Have fun!! and get crazy!!!”
I laugh when I read that to this day, because I’m a “left-brain introvert.” I dig details, processes, perfection, thinking… ALL which ARE very valuable qualities in the training stage (which I DO tend to get stuck in). However, this also makes it necessary to intentionally create balance by busting out of those ways of being to let ‘er rip in competition.
How do we do that?
With practice, of course!
One way we can simply just learn to “let loose,” OR help overcome what could be subconscious fear of speed and losing control, is by putting the pedal to the metal more often (unless you DO have legitimate reasons to fear losing control, in which you should address that first).
As a teenager, I was a wild and crazy and so were all my friends – we were adrenaline junkies! Although I certainly DO NOT recommend doing things that jeopardize your safety, it’s interesting to consider that these days I actually catch myself harping at my husband to SLOW DOWN when he’s driving!
The truth is, I’m not as comfortable at speed in general as I used to be, because I don’t spend as much time enjoying it. It’s an easy rut to fall into if you’ve ever taken a break from competing, or if you start colts and find yourself in “training mode” a lot.
So the next time you’re tooling around on the 4-wheeler doing chores, head down the gravel road and open ‘er up. Get in line for the wildest rides at the county fair – go on a roller coaster every chance you get. Have a race track tilled up in your pasture so you have good, safe ground to breeze your horses, or finally answer to that big hay field that’s been calling your name since forever and sprint through it already!
Fall in love with speed!
It’s so important to let go of any subconscious fear that may be holding you back, and get more comfortable with “turning loose!” Your horse isn’t likely to do so, until YOU do!
Beyond expanding our comfort zone, there is also much to be said for exercising our bodies and minds in specific ways that help us respond much quicker, and thus ride more effectively and efficiently in a run.
The subject of improving timing is one that I don’t have space to go into here, but have addressed in The First 51 Barrel Racing Exercises to Develop a Champion.
The next stage of awareness for increasing speed, comes in considering our individual horses.
You see, even outside of the influence I have over Pistol, by nature he is one laid back dude. He was BORN confident and relaxed! If he receives what might be a subtle suggestion to slow down or stop, he’s on it! He’s not as quick to accelerate on the other hand, while Dot Com is the opposite.
Now this doesn’t mean two “laid back, thinkers” can’t be a successful barrel racing team, it just requires extra awareness, willingness and effort to address and balance each of these areas completely and individually to increase our aptitude for the sport and chances for success.
There IS plenty I can do to help a horse like Pistol be the best he can be on the barrels, much of which I shared in The “Lazy” Barrel Horse – How to Build a FIRE in Their Feet!
In the process of removing obstacles blocking the expression of speed on the pattern, next in line to self(and horse) awareness, is that we must do everything we possibly can to take advantage of a horse’s instincts so they work for us vs. against us.
We can enhance any horse’s natural tendencies to match our energy more consistently and precisely through training. We do this by teaching them specifically what to pay close attention to and connect with, and what to ignore. It’s when we inadvertently do the opposite that we run into trouble.
At all times, we are either teaching our horses to pay attention to the subtleties and specific meaning of our actions, or we are teaching them not to, for the better or worse. It’s so critical to be particular and purposeful about this so we can bring out ALL the speed our horse has to offer.
This ensures that when we DO turn loose, that our horse will too! Remember – horses naturally seek to connect with us, but the degree to which they do depends heavily on how we have developed them and enhanced their natural inclinations.
I’ve gone into greater detail on HOW to do this both in my book, Secrets to Barrel Racing Success, and other articles here at BarrelRacingTips.com that I’ll link to below.
A good barrel buddy friend and I have laughed over her collection of more than a dozen different types of whips and over & unders hanging in her trailer. Now part of being understood is being effective, and certain tools and equipment help us with that, but there’s so much more to speed than whipping and kicking.
If barrel racing were easy, everyone would do it, right!?
In this article, I’ve only touched on just a few of many areas we must consider and develop if we want to optimize SPEED. In fact, I could write a whole book on speed alone, which is what I did in The Barrel Racer’s Guide to Speed Development, a free e-book where I shared specific steps for developing strength and coordination in horses – the TWO foundational elements of speed, in any athlete. It’s your gift with the purchase of “The Secrets” which you can get here.
I hope that what I’ve shared today, what I have shared in the Speed Guide, and what I will continue to share in the future, will help ensure that you continue to dissolve roadblocks in the way of you AND your horse’s greatest potential.
It’s true that most people don’t realize they are holding their horses back. Gaining objectivity can be the hidden key that unlocks loads of barrel racing success! The “search for speed” can be a challenging one, no doubt, but I hope today’s article gives you some leads.
As you prepare for the summer season, keep in mind that if you’re not really communicating from the depths of your being and riding from the depths of your being, your horse probably won’t RUN from the depths of his.
Asking for what we don’t really want is confusing to horses and frustrating for riders. So before you expect your horse to leave it all in the arena, make sure you are prepared to do so too.
When you can truly RIDE YOUR HORSE FAST from the inside out – he’s more likely to CLOCK FAST! This requires both inner AND outer work on behalf of ourselves and our horses.
You’ve got to crave and desire SPEED, and RUN FEARLESS to draw out every bit of try and heart your horse has to offer. This comes from the INSIDE. When you get that right, it will certainly be reflected in your results on the outside.
I’d love for you to put all this into action just in time for BIG RESULTS this summer!
I can’t wait to hear all about it, AND I’ve love to hear your thoughts on SPEED right now in the comments below!
Here’s that link again to get your copy of “The Barrel Racer’s Guide to SPEED Development,” sent to your inbox within minutes – how’s that for FAST!?
For even more resources on this topic, visit the links below: