Barrel Racing Checklist

Winning Ways - Barrel Racing Checklist

I like to use checklists because sometimes they can remind me of something I already know but just over looked. So, be sure and…

    1. Check the horse’s legs for possible soreness or injury. Could the horse be bruised anywhere? Has he overreached and caused some damage to the sensitive bulb area on his front hooves. What about in the cannon area? “A horse can get sore somewhere; not enough to be lame, but just enough that he has to look out for himself during your run.” Also, make sure you are using the proper protective equipment during both practice and competition. Have someone trot the horse while you watch for any sign of lameness or soreness. Irregularities in the gait can best be detected at a trot, and are often a sign that something is wrong. When a horse is sore but not really limping, the problem might be shown in short-stepping (taking shorter steps) on a particular leg or head-bobbing when that leg reaches the ground. These are both clues to help you find a soreness or problem. If you suspect that there is something wrong, you should find the best diagnostic vet in your area and let him thoroughly examine the horse. Be on the lookout for any gait irregularities or inconsistencies. Sometimes the only time they appear is just after a barrel run when the horse might be the most uncomfortable. KNOW YOUR HORSE. Knowing how he should feel and move helps you spot changes that mean he is not at his best.


    1. Check his ears for possible sores or parasites. Sometimes a horse’s ears can get so sore that he doesn’t quite run as hard because he is really uncomfortable there. Follow your vet’s instructions for treating a horse with ear problems.


    1. Monitor the condition of his teeth. Make sure that there are no teeth interfering with the bit or eating, or sharp edges which are causing him discomfort. Again, consult your vet for treatment.


    1. What does your horse look like overall? It can be hard to spot a problem or a change when you see a horse every day. Step back and take a “stranger’s” look at him. Is his coat dull? Double-check how long it has been since his last de-worming. He should be on a regular schedule. Many vets now recommend de-worming every six weeks. If parasites aren’t at fault, an examination by your vet should detect the problem or determine that there is nothing physically wrong with the horse.


    1. Evaluate your feeding program. Does your horse need more vitamins? Is he full of energy or a little “dull around the edges?” Although the personality of the horse makes a difference in his actions, knowing your horse will let you know what is “normal” for him. “If your horse is working ‘down on the ground’ and not too ‘high,” you might want to increase the amount of high-energy food he is receiving; if he is too high and ‘up in the air’ you can do just the opposite.


    1. Assess your horse’s fitness level. Is your horse in the best physical condition possible? Have you devoted the hours of exercising and conditioning necessary to have a winning barrel horse? A horse that’s not in shape can tire and lose valuable time on the long run home from the last barrel. A consistent and dedicated exercise program is an absolute must for a winning barrel horse. “I ride my horse every day to keep him in winning shape. Sometimes that’s really hard, but it’s one of the steps to winning. I also try to turn my horse loose for about an hour a day to give him an opportunity to enjoy himself a little.”


  1. Look at his feet. This means shoeing. Incorrect shoeing can adversely affect your horse’s performance. “For example, I believe a barrel horse has to have enough ‘cup’ in his foot to help him hold the ground. We don’t use a long toe in front because you take a chance on straining the tendon. I have found that the best shoeing technique for most horses is to follow the angle of the shoulder on those front feet.” For the back hooves, we also try to follow a natural line in back. Toes left too long there can strain the hocks, and if there is not enough toe, the horse can break over too quickly and overreach, bruising himself. Regular shoeing is important. “We shoe our horses every five weeks, that way, you seldom have the problem of a horse losing shoes.” Another common problem that causes riders to lose tenths is equipment that doesn’t fit, is too heavy, uncomfortable, or doesn’t work for a particular horse. “At every one of our clinics, there are a large number of students whose times we are able to improve by just adjusting or changing equipment.”










Is your tie-down too long or too short? Experiment here. “Take the time to go through trial and error to discover the right length tie-down for your horse. Getting ready to make your run at a rodeo is not the time to be deciding how long a tie-down you need. You should have worked all that out before.” If the tie-down is too loose, it can fail to provide a balancing aid for the horse; a tie-down that’s too tight can restrict a horse’s movement. All horses do not require a noseband and tie down strap, but if they do, make sure it is adjusted correctly.

  • See if the noseband is too binding. This is a common problem. “Don’t use a noseband that is too restrictive. It is uncomfortable to the horse and can also interfere with the action of the bit.”
  • Check for a curb chain that’s too loose. “If you have to take your reins and raise your hand all the way up to your face to get the curb chain to make contact with the horse, it’s much too loose. Tighten it up so you don’t have to get out of position to check your horse. Likewise, a curb chain that is too tight might be placing so much pressure on the horse all the time that he can’t understand the rider’s cues.”
  • Are your reins too long? “This works just like the loose curb chain. If the reins are too long, it is hard to maintain contact with the horse and keep your body in position because you have to shift, which causes your arm to be too high. Reins that are too short can slow a horse down by keeping too much constant pressure on the bit.”
  • Look for not enough or too much padding. If a horse’s back is sore, he just can’t run quite as hard. Be diligent about having adequate protection for this sensitive area. Be aware that too much padding, as well as making the saddle roll and necessitating a tighter, more restrictive girth, can also make a horse sore. Also, be sure to keep your pads, cinches, and breast collars clean.
  • Beware of breast collars that cut off wind. “Make sure that the breast collar is ‘vee’d’ in front to allow the horse to breathe. It should have a strap to the girth to hold it down.”
  • Make sure your girth isn’t causing sores. Make sure the girth is comfortable to the horse, with the center of the girth centered under the horse.
  • Check the fit of your saddle. “A saddle must fit the horse and the rider. A high-withered horse needs a different type saddle than a flat-backed one. Make sure that your saddle is not causing a problem.” Horses come in a variety of shapes and sizes and the Ultimate Saddle by Circle Y, was created with that in mind. We originally took a naked tree and set it on as many different size horses as we could, making the necessary changes to the tree as we went along, to achieve that all-important fit. When finished, we were very satisfied because the tree fit so many different horses. The Ultimate Saddle is built on a three-quarter, Quarter Horse bar tree. This allows for a good fit on a variety of horses. For extra, extra wide withers, the Ultimate Saddle is also available in full Quarter Horse bars. The Ultimate tree is durable, but lightweight and made of wood reinforced with a high-tech fiberglass material. Now, assuming your horse is healthy and your equipment fits, it’s time to carefully analyze your barrel runs to look for  ways to improve or trim precious time.








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