Rider Fitness Fusion - Barrel Racing Advice
Rider Fitness Fusion
Start where you are and finish where you want to be.
What costs nothing, but gives a return on effort invested? What’s accessible to everyone and doable by anyone? What will benefit your health, your horse, and your riding? Exercising! Consistent, intentional movement that gently pushes you outside of your comfort zone will expand what you are capable of as a jockey. And if you secretly know that YOU or your horse is ready to get fast (and stay fast) this post is packed full of practical advice on how to get there.
If you aren’t doing this right you aren’t doing anything right…
Here’s the thing…I’m just as guilty as the rest of you. I hunch in front of my phone or computer screen and look for ‘fit-spiration’ on Pinterest while eating left over pizza. If that isn’t an oxymoron I don’t know what is. But the good news is I’m proof you don’t have to be a complete healthy nut, hemp seed eating freak to win on the barrel pattern. If you simply know how to sit or stand up straight then the odds are in your favor – because most people don’t even know that POSTURE is that important.
Caption – seat bones are evenly weighted, hips are level, shoulders are even, chest breathes open, and head feels lifted. It’s hard work sitting down!
A common theme for perfect posture goes like this: Head feels lifted from the crown, chin is level to the ground, shoulders press down as chest opens up, spine lengthen long, abdominal muscles engage toward the spine, hips remain even, thighs rotate to the outside as buttocks activates, knees remain stretched, legs feel long, heels and balls of the feet press evenly into the ground.
What’s that you say? You thought you already knew how to stand up straight? Unless you are feeling the burn, you are probably not standing with “perfect posture”. Most people think that cranking the shoulders backwards is enough, but then core engagement is lost and nothing is supporting the spine. Posture is the foundation of every athletic maneuver in any discipline. And if “perfect posture” isn’t muscle memory for you then your muscles are fighting to be somewhere else.
The quicker posture is regained then the quicker balance is retained and maintained. This is because the same muscles that are used to stay balanced (NO MATTER how advanced the position or movement) are the same muscles that are used to stand with good posture. Posture is kind of like a ‘home base’ or foundation; your body always needs to go back to find it, and it needs to know where it is before it leaves to try anything else. For instance, if you have a hard time balancing on one foot, don’t proceed to try a balance ball. Or if you have trouble trotting without holding on to the horn or reins, don’t go loping off just yet.
1 Caption: can’t lean here…. Chest open, back is long, hips are level, core engaged. 2 Can’t lean here either…. Chest open, back is long, hips are level, core engaged.
Want to test your posture, or get your good posture better? In these videos I give you some key ideas to base the position of your body from, and show you the difference between doing it wrong and doing it right. Remember a little burn is fine, but if you feel strained take your time!
Part one vid
Only acquire what you desire.
Having super model type measurements, a spotless work-out room, and a trendy brand name yoga outfit is what taunts us on social media (I’m on that Target budget y’all). While having a sporty lifestyle is good for pictures, it’s not so good for self esteem. So decide what you desire. And since I’m a barrel racer too I bet I could guess. You want a fast horse who responds appropriately to your well-timed cues. You want to be the best rider for that horse so he stays sound and winning, for longer. And most of all you want to learn how to acquire all of those things.
To barrel race at a level higher than where you’re at, and more at a level on where you want to go, one must emulate the skills of those at higher levels. Typically barrel racers who have been in the game at the top of their game the longest have some athletic traits about them – no accident.
So you don’t have to have 6 pack abs, but you might consider do what it takes to have an independent seat. Knocking into barrels and leaning into turns isn’t something your horse does for fun, better balance can help you sit through a fast turn. Can’t do the splits like a ballerina? At least learn to get your foot in the stirrup without hopping around like a rabid kangaroo. Maybe cardio isn’t your thing, but figuring out how to not be so winded after a run would be beneficial. Does your horse pop you out of the saddle when he accelerates; don’t get behind – just get stronger! If we want to acquire fast turns, smooth sprints, and well-timed stops then we must desire what will get us there. And physical fitness is largely responsible for being our helper.
Ballet and barrel racing have very similar traits as far as the athlete is concerned. Both need a reliable core, excellent balance, great flexibility, and undeniable strength. Both focus on perfecting one task at a time, feel their body through the task and their bodies have good timing in the rhythm of that task. In these videos I share some simple exercises to help you acquire what you desire.
Get on the fast track to getting faster.
We all have different schedules and schedules that differ! Do yourself a favor and don’t shoot for failure by over-committing to some crazy fitness routine. Consistency counts! So if the most you can do is try to acquire one new skill at a time, and then set out a plan to make it happen. Intensity counts! Sweating 3 hours at a gym is unreasonable; doing simple exercises that utilize multiple muscle groups can be just as effective. Maybe you like running on a treadmill in front of a TV – but if not add some new moves into your routine. Variety counts! Just like a barrel horse needs patterned, slow work and trail rides!
Barrel racers are a really unique breed. We use softness when training young horses, ride difficult horses with more confidence, and can lift a leg over a barrel that’s cut too close. We can ride one-handed at 35mph, keep out butt in the saddle if something trips, and hold our hat on with the other hand. For these reasons and many more – it is vital that we cross train our bodies in different forms of exercise. We are horsewomen. We speak softly but carry a long whip.
Here is an example of a “cross training” schedule that can facilitate fast growth of skills:
*Warm up all days*
Manna Monday: Stretch/yoga day
Tighten the Turns Tuesday: balance and toning exercises
Whip it Wednesday: endurance/cardio
Through Thursday: balance and stretch
Free Friday: cardio and yoga
Saturday Sunday barrel race: APPLY the above
Here is an example of the movements I would do during a workout I would do according to the schedule. They are short, sweet, and leave you sore (ie: return on investment).
1Start easy by sitting down and stretching. This is a great back and hip stretch. Don’t compromise the posture. 2 The infamous downward dog has the heels of the hands and feet planted on the ground while the rest of the body tries to stay straight. Lift the hips and open the chest here.
1 Use a fence a panel to work on stretching and balancing, hold the stretch while you fill water troughs. 2 try a similar stretch without a balance bar and test your balance and strength.
For flexibility we need to stretch. Yoga and ballet are great for loosening those muscles. Yoga allows you to be more aware of your breath, and ballet allows you to be more aware of your body. I do a combo of both because I like to be efficient. Flexibility is important because you wouldn’t want stiffness anywhere in your body to hinder what your horse can offer you.
Balance is absolutely vital in barrel racing. Ballet has blessed me with a foundational understanding of teaching my body to be disciplined to my focus on how I want to balance. Switching gears to riding allowed my never to have bad habits like leaning into a turn or weighting the outside stirrup aggressively during a turn. Staying centered on your horse and between your seat bones takes practice! Especially at speed!
12 1. A great pose that allows the abs to stabilize the elbows and feet but also allows the back, arms and shoulders to lengthen. 2 The plank (equally popular and hated)is my go to for keeping me disciplined so my posture and abs not to sag.
1.testing both balance and strength off the horse keeps things honest. My focus has to change from when my legs are touching to when my legs are split. My goal is to stay as straight as the trees in the background.
A Powerful core. My old ballet teacher used to yell, “get your belly button on your back bone!” And Heather’s post here she gives the analogy of “not spilling the fish bowl”. Just like any other hard working muscle group, the abdominals should feel like they are working and “engaged in the conversation of movement” but not clenched or tucked in. Practicing the postures I mention in the videos can help you become more aware of that feeling. When entering a barrel turn the abs should be a very active part of the rating and turning process.
Strength for speed. There is a generalization that horseback riders are ‘fit people’. Well then barrel racers are the “fittest” of them all! Our job is much harder than sitting a flat seat/pleasure class. Some of the ballet and yoga positions mentioned leave you at the mercy of the technique. To do the pose correctly you must become strong! Pumping iron and pushups isn’t necessary if that isn’t your thing. Pay attention to good posture and the strength will come.
Incorporate it all on horseback starting simply. This video shows what different postures can look like, and how engaging abdominals within certain postures benefit your riding.
Part 5 vid
1 anchor your seat bones and allow your body to rise into a nice posture by pulling the “string”. 2 posture, core engagement, and flexibility will help put your focus on what you can offer your horse, instead of what your body can’t do.
Of the many challenges inside our sport of barrel racing, there are only a few factors that we can control. Our personal physical fitness is one of them. Exercising on a consistent basis, with intentional movement that gently pushes you outside of your comfort zone will expand what you are capable of as a jockey – and we are all capable of our best. Remember to just start where you are, keep progressing and finish where you want to be!