Many barrel racers often struggle with knowing when to ask their barrel horses in training for an increase in speed. Joyce Loomis-Kernek is a very experienced barrel racer and coach to many. Her website offers many articles and tips to help you become a better barrel racer. You can check out the tips archive here.
One article I particularly enjoyed was the one titled “Know When Your Horse Is Ready To Speed Up”
In this article Joyce states: “When your horse is understanding everything you are showing him, he will get quieter, better and faster. When he is not understanding everything you are showing him, or he is not ready for the next step, he will get fussy, worse and slower. The slower you go in the early training stages, the faster you will go for a longer period of time. A horse that is trained slow enough to understand the steps and then speeded up as he shows understanding of the steps will have a longer career”.
Horses that are rushed or pushed to go faster than they are ready will loose their confidence, loose their rate/gather and start dreading their job. If you have a horse that doesn’t want to work, ask yourself why. Are you pushing him too fast? With so much money being added to futurities many horses are pushed to peak in their 4 year old year (and in some areas 5). Training using a calender rather that listening to the horse and training at their speed results in a less than solid horse in the long run.
Joyce says in her article: “Few horses can peak early and remain a great horse. A horse will never reach his full potential if he did not solidly understand each stage up to his competition. A horse will actually tell you when he is ready to speed up; barrel racers just need to learn to read the signs”.
Pushing a horse too fast to make a futurity event is like cramming for an exam. You might be able to get a passing grade on your exam having crammed the information in your brain in a short time, but try and write that same exam a week later or a month later!? The info just isn’t there, you didn’t really learn it.
We want our horses to actually learn and understand what they are doing and build on it. Finish and pass grade 4 with flying colors before going on to grade 5 and so on. A good example of whether a horse is actually learning (rather than just doing it) is when they can do what you were asking in the next lesson better than you left them on the last ride.
Listen to your horse and follow their lead. Every horse will learn at a different rate and every horse will handle the information differently. If your horse is proceeding with confidence and understanding, consider taking the next step.
Joyce is a former Miss Rodeo America, World Champion WPRA Barrel Racer, AQHA World Champion, Professional Clinician and Speaker.