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Drills for adding speed - Barrel Racing Advice


Ingrain this in your brain: Slow and right beats fast and wrong, but fast and right beats everything!

We’ve all seen it at a barrel race – a rider runs full blast down the alley and past the first barrel, the rest of the run is spent trying to regain timing and precision in an attempt to finish the pattern.

Then another gal barely canters in, but her approach, rate and turn are set up and executed perfectly. Guess who won? The ‘slow’ barrel racer. She didn’t waste time trying to gain back control of her horse on the pattern therefore she used less ground and less TIME.

Esteemed thoroughbred racing professional Chris McCaren says this is what it takes to make a great jockey:  “It’s really basic – they (jockeys) have the greatest ability to stay out of the horse’s way to the highest degree.” This accomplished race horse jockey is no rookie to winning or speed.

What I really want to make a point of explaining what speed is and what it isn’t.

Speed IS what barrel racing is all about, speed IS what places you – and the less you stay out of your horse’s way the more speed you will incur. Speed is NOT whipping the lights out of your horse, speed is NOT catching wind off your saddle, speed does NOT necessarily require kicking at every stride.

IF you think about speed in the form of wind resistance and agility then you can really start to understand it.  A race horse jockey stays low profile and centered, their hands are in rhythm with their horse’s stride, and when they do add more pressure for speed it’s usually behind the drive line.

In order to get real fast they get real low and stay out of the way.  This way, all of the work you put into developing agility in your horse won’t be compromised by lack of ability to stay out of your horse’s way.

But that’s not the hard part.

The difficult task is preparing your horse for speed. I think you will find that speed will get easier to add once your horse is ready for it. We know there are a lot of components to building a barrel horse successfully, but today I want to talk about how to physically prepare your horse for SPEED.

If we follow all the intricacies that go into it, we’ll have a stronger, more powerful horse that is also less likely to get hurt.

Below I’ve used the acronym S.P.E.E.D illuminate some ideas for you:

Speed is:

Stretching and Strengthening. In the video below I talked about the importance of developing a flexible and strong athlete. There are ways to do this before you even get on to ride. 

Having specific products and protocols for strengthening and stretching your horse out before you ever go out and run is important.

And remember the longer and stronger the stride, the faster you will cover ground.  See my topline post – How to Improve Your Barrel Horse’s Topline, Stride AND Times to increase stride length with the intent of clocking faster.

Speed is:

Preparation and Prevention.  What do you do to prepare your horse’s body to work hard? What do you do if he gets hurt from working hard? What do you do to prevent him from getting hurt? How can you prepare for a moderate riding session versus making a rodeo run? How can you enable your horse to move athletically? How can you prepare for the ground, the approach to the first barrel, or how the venue set up?

ALL these questions are things we think about from a training, and execution perspective but also need to be considered from a physical perspective as well. Warming up tendons, stimulating circulation and accelerating recovery time play a big role in speed!

Speed is:

Exercise. Does the exercise you give your horse funnel back around to: proper preparation, prevention, strength and stretching stride length?

Trotting random repetitive circles, different sizes and speeds at your horse’s whimsy is not an excellent approach to exercise.  Warming your horse up should be intentional.

For speed event horses the University of Washington recommends fast galloping your horse 200 yards, followed by a four minute walk, repeated 5-10 times for two months to get them in shape. 

Purpose based conditioning is necessary help them get ready to run with least risk for injury. My video below gives a great visual on how to develop speed and control with precision on a circle.

Speed is:

Endurance.  In all reality it shouldn’t be difficult for a horse to run for less than 20 seconds (ie: barrel pattern). But building up proper endurance is required for stopping the clock as well as preventing injury.

You might also check out The Barrel Racer’s Guide to SPEED Development for ideas on how to map out a work-out plan for your horse. The best plans have a mix of warm-up preparation leading into slow work, sprints, muscle strengthening (like hill therapy) and endurance exercises on alternating days with rest in-between.

In my video below I also discuss how often I breeze my barrel horses and the routine I utilize in a challenging work out session.

Speed is:

Divisional and Developmental.  In most barrel races there are 4 or 5 divisions classified by speed. In order to get to be in a faster, more money-earning division you must develop more speed to move up to the next division.

Hopefully by now we can understand whips and spurs aren’t the sole means to get your horse firing faster. If you are taking care of your horse physically with how you prepare his body, and how you exercise him you will definitely develop him into a sound, powerful and FAST athlete.

This development should be progressive and ongoing. NEVER ever get complacent!

In these videos I show you with as much transparency as possible what I do to get ready for an extreme work out or breezing session with my horse.

In Part One I’ve shown you everything I do to get ready to breeze or make a run (I’ll warn you – it’s excessive).

s.p.e.e.d. p1

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In Part Two I’ve shown the drills I ride to making breezing a breeze!

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Here’s a written summary:

• Put on vibe boots and red light topline and ting points (approx 20 minutes).

• Stretch before I saddle.

• Move my horse around slowly on line.

• Stretch one more time.

• Ride the “Lucky Clover Leaf” circle drill + breeze for 200 yards + walk the barrel pattern. Repeat x 3.

• Cool down by walking.

• Lastly, ice compression for no more than 20 minutes in combination with vibration and red light.

The main takeaway is that while part of bringing out speed involves raising our own energy and teaching our horses to respond appropriately to it, you don’t get controlled speed by simply turning into a complete whip-wielding maniac.

You get speed by setting your horse’s body and mind up to act quickly without getting hurt physically or setting him back mentally. 

You get speed by making your horse fit and healthy enough to offer it with quality consistently.

The longer you can stay in the game because you are preventing injury and building endurance, the better chance you have at winning and gaining even more speed.

Just remember the little acronym and you will feel the need for S.P.E.E.D. too!

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