Barrel racing 101: Tie-downs

Barrel racing, like other equine disciplines, requires proper preparation and practice to succeed. This is part 2 in a series by Michigan State University.

As mentioned in the previous article in this series by Michigan State University Extension, barrel racing can be fun, rewarding and exciting for ridersand their horses! Running a perfect pattern, with a fast time takes patience, practice, a lot of preparation, and skill. Laying the foundation for your horse to learn the barrel pattern takes a lot of time and practice. Slow work is an essential key to introducing your horse to the barrel and speed patterns and also maintaining them. This article will discuss a common piece of equipment that is often used —the tie-down.

In the western discipline, a tie-down is a piece of equipment that consists of a strap running from the girth strap to a noseband. This strap gives the horse something to balance on when moving at high rates of speed and changing direction. Since the game of barrel racing is exactly that—moving at high rates of speed and then changing directions -- the tie-down is a standard piece of equipment for some.

Often times, tie-downs are used for the wrong reasons. A tie-down does not “cure” head tossing or train your horse to keep its head down. If it is being used for either of these two purposes, take it off. If a horse is tossing its head, there is another issue. The horse could need its teeth floated, chiropractic work, sore, or any physical pain that the horse may be experiencing due to equipment such as saddle pinching or an uncomfortable bit. If this is occurring, seek help from a veterinarian or someone who has a lot of horse experience.

When considering whether to use a tie-down or not, there are many things to consider. The most important question to ask yourself is “has my horse had a tie-down on before?” Why is this so important—isn’t a tie-down like a bridle? The answer is no! Remember that a tie-down limits the horse’s ability to move its head freely. Horses are flight animals so if they have not been properly trained to use a tie-down and one is put on them, the result can be dangerous. If you are considering using a tie-down for the first time, please do so under the direction of someone who is experienced, for the safety of both you and your horse.

If your horse is comfortable with a tie-down, another question to ask yourself when competing is what size is the arena? If the pattern is big and there is space that I can set my horse up for the turn easily, I will choose not to use a tie-down. However, if the pattern is small and there are only a few strides between the barrels, I may choose to use a tie-down so that I can keep momentum through the whole pattern.  Of course, this will vary from horse to horse depending on their level of athleticism and training, so get to know your horse well so that you can make informed decisions, in order to assist your horse and not hinder him.

If you are choosing to use a tie-down on your horse, it is essential to have a properly fitting breast collar on him as well. This is because the tie-down strap needs to run through the breast collar ring or a leather keeper to prevent it from getting tangled in his legs.

In the next article, in the Barrel Racing 101 series, we will pull it all together for a winning run.

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