Proper body positioning for your barrel racing runs
A horse rider’s seat, legs and hands all play an important part in supporting the horse during a barrel racing run.
Have you ever noticed that when you move your body there is a mirrored reaction from your horse? Say you drop your shoulder into a turn, your horse will also drop theirs; you turn your hips slightly, your horse begins to turn with you. All of this happens for a reason! Your horse can feel every movement your body makes while you are on their back. This is why it is important to practice proper body positioning while riding, especially when running the barrel pattern.
Your body should always be in an upright position – head up, shoulders up, elbows in and belly button pointed straight at the saddle horn. From this position, you can use your seat to control the speed of the horse. To ask for slower, more collected gaits, simply squeeze your seat muscles, and to ask your horse to stride out, relax your seat muscles. Keep in mind that some horses are much more sensitive to seat pressure than others, so if you have not done this with your horse, practice at home to see how your horse responds.
When approaching your turns, you should still be sitting in the middle of your saddle. Remember that shifting your weight to one side or the other can cause your horse to drift too far into the barrel or too far away from the barrel. If you put weight on your right seat bone, your horse is likely to drift away from that pressure, so your horse will move to the left. (Vice versa would be true if you put weight on your left seat bone.) At the point where you are about a stride length out from the barrel, sit deep and slightly back to cue your horse to get ready to turn. Your hands should still be in a forward position.
As you prepare for the turn, remember to keep your shoulders up and slightly raise and extend your inside hand forward to cue your horse to begin its turn. Your outside hand should be acting as a brace on the saddle horn. Your inside leg should be softening and lifting your horse’s ribcage during the turn. As you come out of the turn, remember to guide your horse to finish the turn by gently extending your hand out as if to point to the next barrel. You do not want to get ahead or behind your horse during the quick turns, so it is important to practice at increasing speeds so that you and your horse’s timing is together.
After coming out of the turn, you should use your body to help encourage your horse to move forward to the next barrel. Return the hands to a forward position, relax the seat muscles to allow the horse to stride out and gently encourage your horse with leg pressure; please note that excessive kicking or aggressive behaviors may not have the effect you want. Michigan State University Extension equine specialist Karen Waite’s research actually showed that these aggressive riding behaviors did not improve overall time.
As you ride, remember to take note of your hand, seat and leg positions so that you can become very consistent in how you ask your horse to perform certain maneuvers. As with everything, it takes time, practice and patience to perfect your position, but being aware and intentional about keeping good position is the first step to achieving it.