One of the most crucial skills for becoming a good barrel racer is good timing. Being in rhythm and in time with the horse results in a smooth, fast pattern. A horse and rider who are out of time with one another, on the other hand, usually produce a jerky, rougher pattern. You’ve seen riders with terrific timing; they always seem to be working smoothly with their horses-not against them. If timing is a problem for you, how can you develop timing with your horse? The first step is to really take a look at what you are doing. Most riders that ride “˜stiff’ lose their timing. They are concentrating so much on forcing each little detail and not making a mistake that they ride with every muscle stiff and in opposition to the rhythm of the horse.
A lot of times if a rider has had a problem with her patterns or is on a horse that is making some mistakes, he or she will tighten up and actually cause the horse to keep making the mistake.
Here’s an example. Say a rider’s horse has been setting up too soon for the first barrel – so the thing to do is to push the horse on into the pocket. The rider intends to do that, and doesn’t check the horse early. What she does do, though, is to sit down deep and tighten up her legs, so she won’t lose her balance if the horse sets up. Of course, her body position is telling the horse it’s time to set.
Stiffness in the rider also makes horse’s slower to leave barrels. The rider is not relaxed in the saddle during the turn and able to pull back up quickly for the takeoff.
Your eyes can be another factor that affects your timing. Sometimes riders look at their pockets as they’re driving to them, but don’t look on around the barrel and on to the next barrel until they are already leaving the last one. You can mess up your timing by failing to keep your eyes on the next part of the run.
Another factor that affects timing is hands that are too rough or too soft. One of the most crucial parts of communicating with a horse is being able to “˜talk’ with your hands.
When you cue with the reins, you must cue just enough but not too much. Clues that you are off in your rein pressure are when a horse is choking down too much coming into the turn or in the turn, setting in a choppy manner coming into the barrel, or throwing his head. Clues that the rider is using too light a touch are a horse running just a little past the barrel, and maybe coming out just a little wide. The horse is responding to the cue as well as he can, but he’s not getting enough help from the rider. Cueing a horse at the wrong time is another way to ruin the rhythm of a run! You need to cue early enough to give your horse room to set for the barrel, but not so early that you lose speed and time. Some riders look good elsewhere until they begin to kick their horse. Moderate kicking can be beneficial-and let the horse know it’s time to run, but it needs to be in rhythm with the horse’s gate-and to urge him to go faster. Some barrel racers kick their horse so hard and so fast they actually knock the air out of the horse as he is trying to run! Likewise with batting or using and over-and-under. Some riders shift so much in the saddle to bat or whip that they throw the horse off strideand go slower instead of faster.
Another thing that has an effect on your rhythm with the horse can be an equipment change”¦both in the saddle and in headgear. Riding a good saddle that fits you and the horse can help you stay in position to stay in rhythm with him. Likewise, a saddle that does not fit can destroy your timing by keeping you out of position. If you have to struggle just to maintain your position in the saddle, it is almost impossible to move smoothly with the horse. Changing a bit can also have an effect on your timing by compensating for a heavy touch (with a lighter bit) or making up for a too-soft touch (with a bit with more control).
Another factor that can affect your ability to have good timing and be in rhythm with your horse is your own physical condition. If you are out of shape, so that you are easily winded, or if your body strength isn’t adequate to maintain the body position required for barrel racing, it can throw you off. You’ll be working harder than your horse-but are not in rhythm with him.
A layoff from barrel racing can also cause timing problems-even for experienced barrel racers. Sometimes when a person has been injured, he or she will find that their timing problem has suffered during the layoff. Sometimes a timing problem is just a temporary condition-as when someone buys a new horse and takes some time to get with him. If, however, the problem is an ongoing one that is happening with different horses, take time to evaluate your riding and make it a goal to improve your timing and rhythm.
Here are some things that can help your timing: Swimming is great for timing – To be a good swimmer, you have to do things correct at the right time. The great swimmer Michael Phelps has sure worked on his timing. Basketball and dribbling a basketball is a great way to improve. To be a good basketball player you have to have timing. Study some of the great players and pay close attention to their timing. My basketball days sure helped my barrel racing.
I look forward to watching prestigious horse races such as the All American Futurity and the Kentucky Derby. I love to watch the great jockeys when they bat their horses coming down the home stretch; they don’t hinder their horse, they are in perfect rhythm with their horse. Study timing, concentrate on timing and your barrel times will improve.
Martha Josey personifies barrel racing for many people. She was the first and only cowgirl to qualify for the National Finals Rodeo in four consecutive decades. She has the distinction of winning both the AQHA and WPRA World Championships in the same year. Her career has stretched, win-to-win, over four decades.
For more information, visit BarrelRacers.com.