Create Soft, Round Movement for Sharp Turns and Fast Runs

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Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #56 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
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If there’s one thing that barrel racers find themselves battling, it’s the tendency for our barrel horses to become tense, bracey, stiff, inverted and heavy on the front end.  Often their bodies become rigid, resistant and concave rather than softly round over the topline, with a gentle lateral arc that follows the shape of the barrel, circle, or direction of travel.

I’d venture to say however, that it’s not just our fast paced sport that contributes to this tendency, but that many riders and trainers tend to lack the understanding and skill necessary to truly develop and then maintain quality movement from the get go.

Of course there’s a mental/emotional connection here as well – a horse that is “stuck” mentally will also be physically, and vice versa.  Rather than get into a discussion on “which came first,” this month I’ll be sharing some extremely effective exercises for reversing these tendencies to create posture and movement that is round, soft, snappy and sure to lead to smoother, faster and more correct movement through the cloverleaf pattern.

Heather & Dot Com
Dot Com – Content, relaxed and ready for action.

In the past few months I’ve had the opportunity to help a special rope horse (Dot Com) become familiar with a completely new degree of relaxation I’m certain he hadn’t experienced in many years, if ever.  Although achieving relaxation has been a huge help in changing the way he moved, years of poor movement patterns had left very ingrained habits in how he carried himself.

By dissolving his mental and emotional barriers, I have developed a more solid foundation from which to create new habits that will serve Dot Com better in the performance arena.  Like many of the well bred timed speed event horses out there, Dot Com was a high achieving athlete even when he did perform with extreme tension and poor movement patterns.  However, thanks to exercises like the ones that follow, I’m confident there is plenty I can do to reveal a level of athletic potential unlike anything we have seen yet. Read more

Help for a “Hot to Trot” Barrel Horse!

There’s something critically missing in the steps many barrel racers take to rehabilitate a “burnt out” barrel horse.

Being that barrel racing is a sport that includes high pressure, high speed, and high stakes, it’s no surprise that there are plenty of these horses around.

Your Horse Depends on You

But barrel horses don’t HAVE to be crazy. Barrel horses WILL be excited, a bit on the muscle, and generally pumped up in those seconds before blasting off to the first barrel.

However, tension, nervousness, over-anticipation, and lack of control crosses the line – it negatively impacts runs, and it’s fully within our power to change (and prevent) this from happening.

It’s up to US realize the effect we have on our horses and take personal responsibility for how we influence them – there IS hope for those talented horses who have gone far off the mental & emotional deep end. Read more

Nine Tips for Quality Circles & Fast Turns – Part II

Nine Tips for Quality Circles & Fast Turns - Part II

Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #49 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
For the latest episodes subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or Google Play.

Have you ever heard of “recycled information?” It’s just as good as new!

Who would have guessed something so simple could be so complicated (and important)? Or that it would take years of hearing the same information and already knowing how important the “perfect circle” was, before it would REALLY sink in?

It wasn’t until I heard the importance of the perfect circle stressed over and over and over by about a half dozen NFR barrel racers that I REALLY understood just how important they were – AND that my circles weren’t so perfect after all.

We can perform barrel racing drills and barrel racing exercises until the cows come home, but if there are problems in the WAY we’re executing them (poor quality circles for example), then we aren’t positioning ourselves to receive near as much benefit (or results).

Unless you’re willing to open your mind and consider that even if you’ve been riding and racing your whole life – that your circles could still stand some improvement, well then you’re quite possibly limiting your barrel racing success. exists to remove roadblocks standing in your way, which is why we explored the first four of nine steps to create quality circles and quick turns in the first post in this two part series.

In case you missed it, click here to check out Stop the Clock Sooner with Nine Tips for Quality Circles & Quick Turns – Part I.

There, I shared tips for spot checking and refining these four aspects of the perfect circle:

1. Connection
2. Freedom
3. Education
4. Footfall

This week, we’ll explore the remaining five to make sure that THE most important foundational element of a barrel racing run is not just “good enough,” but EXCELLENT, which will ultimately lead to turns that are more fluid, correct and FAST!
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Don’t Get Strung Out! Three Exercises for Hind End Engagement

Don’t Get Strung Out!  Three Exercises for Hind End Engagement

I very strongly believe that the problems that show up in a run are often problems that are showing up everywhere else, but they are just more subtle – so they go unnoticed.

Typically a horse that loses engagement in the hind end, will be a horse that doesn’t exactly have a habit of traveling with great quality in general.

Remember that speed and the pressure of competition emphasizes everything! A problem that is barely noticeable will becoming glaringly obvious in a run. This is why it’s so critical for barrel racers to understand what quality movement really is, and how to develop it.

Doing so would solve so many issues on the pattern, which is why I dedicated an entire chapter to the subject of Quality Movement in “Secrets to Barrel Racing Success.”

Let’s say, however, that you have very skillfully developed the quality of your horse’s movement and were absolutely positive they were using themselves correctly on a regular basis with impulsion, collection, flexion and all the other aspects that make up quality movement – and your horse STILL was not engaging his hindquarters on the barrel pattern. Read more

Stop the Clock Sooner with Nine Tips for Quality Circles & Quick Turns – Part I

Stop the Clock Sooner with Nine Tips for Quality Circles & Quick Turns – Part I

Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #48 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
For the latest episodes subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or Google Play.

In this month’s barrel racing article we’re going to start going DEEP, really deep into what makes a perfect circle – which is the most foundational and important element of an efficient run.

We’ll actually start with WHY it’s so critical that we focus on circles, as well as include action steps for how you can spot check and improve them, which will ultimately lead to faster turns. Basically, we’ll cover the “how, what, where and why” of perfect circles (not necessarily in that order).

Quality circles equal fast turns!
Quality circles equal fast turns!

Instead of making you dizzy, we’re going to focus on quality instead of quantity. After all, if you’re not sure your circles are correct, you just may end up getting really good at performing them incorrectly. When it comes to barrel horse training, that’s definitely NOT what we want!

In the process, you may find that circles are even more complicated than you thought. However, with the insight gained you’ll be armed with new awareness and skills that you can apply ASAP to strengthen this foundational ingredient of any successful barrel racing run.

To start it’s important to be reminded that any high level athletic maneuver is built upon a foundation of excellent basics. I don’t mean basic, basics – I mean EXCELLENT basics. I’d venture to say that the majority of barrel racers dramatically overlook and under-appreciate the importance of achieving excellence starting with the most elementary skills and maneuvers.

I can’t stress enough that I don’t mean “good basics,” but “excellent basics!”

If you’re not winning every barrel race, or if you’re not just thrilled with every performance you make (or even if you are), then there is probably room for growth somewhere. Read more

Start and Finish Your Turns Tight & Right

Start and Finish Your Turns Tight & Right

Having an overly-analytical mind can be both a blessing and a curse. Just ask my husband – an overwhelming desire to constantly improve things (everything), can be exhausting!

It means I’m always on the lookout for how things can be made better. It also means I have a keen eye for what’s wrong, which sometimes overshadows what’s right, and CAN act as a barrier to seeing the glass as half full.

So although I have to be aware and train myself to be content and enjoy the present moment, and to feel more and think less, my tendency to improve everything I see and experience translates into a desire to help other barrel racers do the same.

Speaking of that – are your turns as fast as they could be?

In the video below I’ve described what actually happens to cause a horse to fade or pop out of a turn, AND what to do about it!

In fact, you might be surprised to learn most barrel racer’s initial reaction for resolving this issue is actually contradictory to what I recommend.

After all, fading out of the turn is a not really a problem, but a symptom of something else going on – which may require a completely different mindset, as well as specific problem solving techniques that you might not expect. Read more

How to Start Your Rides and Runs Right!

Start and Finish Your Turns Tight & Right

Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #44 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
For the latest episodes subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or Google Play.

You may already be well aware of how important the start of any barrel racing run is.

When I interviewed World Champion barrel racer, Mary Walker she explained that the reason for her tipped second barrel in the fourth round of the 2012 National Finals Rodeo was a positioning issue – in the alley.

You read right. She felt as though Latte tipped the SECOND barrel, because of a positioning problem in the alley.

But what if your success in a run, or a ride, started EVEN before that. What IF it started before you even laid eyes on your horse?

In the height of the competitive barrel racing season especially, I know that if I’m not very intentional and specific about planning my rides in advance, I’m less likely to stay on track.

Sometimes, when the busyness of life gets the best of us, planning might take place after we’re already on the way to the barn, but rarely do I throw a leg over my horse without first giving thought to my intentions for each ride and what I am aiming to achieve in the long run.

Your ride starts well before you lay eyes on your horse.
Your ride starts well before you lay eyes on your horse.

At the same time, if we become too strict with our plans, we risk getting out of touch with how our horses feel and what they need in the moment.

This is so critically important, because let’s face it – than can change from one day or one minute to the next!  We may find that we need to focus on something entirely different than what we planned on.  In these cases, it’s best to be flexible and allow our horses to guide us.

Once you’ve made some notes (even mental notes) of your intentions for your ride, your second opportunity to set yourself up for success comes when you set foot toward your horse to halter him.  Notice I said “halter,” and not “catch” (there is a BIG difference)! Think of it this way – you want to “catch” your horse’s ATTENTION, then halter your horse.
Read more

Fit Rider Interview with Barrel Racer and Author, Heather Smith

Fit Rider Interview with Barrel Racer and Best Selling Author, Heather Smith

Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #37 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
For the latest episodes subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or Google Play.

The interview below was featured in the Success in the Saddle Fit Rider Newsletter.
What prompted you to increase your fitness?
I’ve always been interested in fitness and nutrition but in the past few years I’d started learning more about how our riding can benefit from gaining core strength and how stability and balance in the saddle can be increased through specific exercise out of the saddle.

Being a dedicated student of horsemanship for many years has taught me that horses really are our mirrors. The way a horse behaves, moves and performs is often a reflection of their rider.

Heather & Pistol

I don’t think it’s fair to ask our horses to have a level of fitness that we’re not willing to achieve ourselves. So expecting them to give us their best in competition is a matter of giving them our best every day as well.

What is your fitness routine?
I’m not a person who’s ever been obsessive about exercising, but I am committed to maintaining my general health and have noticed differences in how I think and feel when I make movement a priority. Read more