Trainer Michele McLeod offers tips to help with your barrel-racing pattern.
Back on Pattern
Change leads only one time on your pattern. If you begin with the right-side barrel, you’ll start on your right lead, and as you leave that first barrel, you’ll switch to your left lead. If your horse constantly changes leads on pattern, that means you’re moving too much in the saddle. Keep your hips grounded in your saddle, and distribute your weight evenly in your stirrups to maintain your left lead after the first barrel.
When you first enter the arena, select a spot around that first barrel, and know exactly where you’re going. Visualize the barrel on its side, and that’s the length or diameter of the turn. As you approach that spot, sit down in your saddle and relax your midsection to tell your horse to shorten his stride. At the barrel, your horse should be on his hind end, and you’ll sit in the middle of the saddle, maintain a strong core, and shift your eyes just like with the tire circles—– watching exactly where the horse’s feet are going, one stride after the other.
When you leave your first barrel, stay right in the middle of your horse’s back, so you don’t get rocked back as he sprints to the second barrel. Instead of visualizing a barrel its side, go straight at it—–but when you do this, you must maintain your position and control your horse. Use the same strategy of sitting down in the saddle and relaxing your midsection to encourage the horse to shorten his stride. As soon as you sit down, the horse should start collecting himself. Use the same approach with the third barrel.
Often, when riders add speed, they lose control of shortening and lengthening their horse’s stride. This is when the exercises I’ve taught you really come in handy. It’s imperative to establish those cues—–besides pulling back on your reins—–so that your horse will respond quickly. If things don’t go well, return to the practice pen, and practice trotting, then loping around the barrels before adding speed. When you add speed, really emphasize your slow-down cues, so your horse shortens his stride before the barrel. Your horse will come to realize that he has to listen to what your body is doing.
Michele McLeod moved from Temecula, California, to Whitesboro, Texas, in 2005 to train barrel horses full time. She owns and operates Michele McLeod Barrel Horses with her husband, John, and daughters Katelyn, Lindsey, and Jenna, in Whitesboro.