Barrel Racing 101: Pulling it all together for a winning run

Barrel racing, like other equine disciplines, requires proper preparation and practice to succeed.

In this final article in a series by Michigan State University Extension, the best way to prepare a winning run will be explored. Now that you have all of the proper equipment, have practiced the pattern, perfect circles and drills you are ready to pull it all together for a winning run!

It is perfectly natural to get a little nervous when you hear your name and your horses name called over the loud speaker. Common lingo at a barrel show when riders are being called is “be thinking”, “in the hole”, “on deck”, and “up”. Think of this like a batting order, if you play baseball or softball.  

“Be thinking” means that you are the 4th rider in line. At this time, you should be around the arena area, keeping your horse calm and relaxed. Remember, that if you are nervous, your horse can feel it, so this is also a time for you to be calm and relaxed.

“In the hole”, now you are 3rd in line; begin visualizing your run. Are you going to circle your horse or send him right into the pattern when you enter the arena? Mentally prepare yourself for the next 15-25 seconds. Take deep breaths to calm yourself.

“On deck”, you are next. This is the time when this barrel racer gets the most nervous and has to concentrate on breathing, keeping the horse calm and relaxed, and what the plan for the run is. Remember to think about all of the preparation that you have done to get to this point. Do not forget your training. You are prepared for this.

“Up”—it’s your time to shine!  Calmly walk your horse into the arena, remembering your plan. Take a deep breath and go! In just a few seconds, your run will be over and you will have had the thrill of your life! Congratulations on getting to this point—you did it! Remember to dismount your horse before you exit the arena, per Michigan 4-H Horse and Pony Project Rules.

When you come out of the arena and have your nerves together, loosen the girth strap of your saddle to let your horse breath and give your horse a pat on the neck no matter how it went—he just did an extraordinary amount of physical work. Walk your horse out for a few minutes until his breathing becomes regular again. Offer him a drink of water and let him relax. This is a good time for you to relax and reflect on your run as well.

During your run, you will probably find that it is really hard to remember what happened during every millisecond, so I would recommend having someone video your run so that you know what you did well and what you might need to go back to the practice pen and work on.

No matter what, you did it! Remember that every barrel racer has hit a barrel, broke the timer or broke the pattern at some point. Regardless, “go on, go on!” and practice for that next run.

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