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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.

  3. 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.

  5. 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.

  7. 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.

  9. 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.” Visit the Purina Mills website www.purinamills.com where you will find valuable information on a variety of great well balanced Purina feeds and nutrition. They have been in business for over 100 years and have done extensive research on their feeds.

  11. 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.”

  13. 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.”


  1. 1Is 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.

  3. 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.”

  5. 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.”

  7. 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.”

  9. 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.

  11. 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.”

  13. 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.

  15. 1Check 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.


  1. 1What is the physical shape of the rider? “We don’t expect our horse to go out and make a winning run if they’re out of shape. We can’t do it either.” I recommend an exercise program for barrel racing fitness, and I feel that the physical condition of the rider is a real factor in winning. “If a barrel racer is overweight, it makes a real difference.” Even a rider who’s only 10 to 15 pounds overweight is still at a real disadvantage. “Most of us gain those first excess pounds in the legs and rear, and that extra weight keeps us from being able to have the balance we need.” “I also think it’s important for the rider to do some limbering and stretching exercises to warm up before the run. Bull riders have know for years that this type of preparation is helpful, but barrel racers have traditionally just warmed up their horses. ‘Loosening-up’ type exercises also help a nervous or tense rider to relax.

  3. Is the rider prepared mentally? Organization, taking care of details, and staying consistent in dealing with the horse and the competition are vital to a winning barrel racer. Most riders who are uncertain about their run feel that way because of some gap in their preparation for the event. “When you’ve done your homework, you are more confident and more aggressive.

  5. The performance of the rider. Are you inadvertently causing a problem by something you have overlooked in your riding style? Here, the best tactic is to have someone video your run. If a video camera is not available, have someone carefully watch your runs and discuss them with you. Have them look at your hands, feet, and body position throughout. Are they correct? What about your approach to the area? Are you keeping your composure and helping your horse stay calm, steady, and reassured as you begin, or is your nervousness transmitting itself to your horse? Watch the run yourself. Could you be overriding your horse, putting extra pressure on him by being ahead of him all the time, or are you holding him back?




  1. 1Is the horse getting too hot or cold in the trailer? Is a sheet or blanket necessary? Probably not because in most trailers the horses body heat will keep him warm. Is he trailer sore? Do you need more mats or more bedding for shock absorption? “Are you careful to stop and walk your horse regularly on longer trips?” What about your feed and water practices? “Most rodeos are at 2:00 p.m. or 8:00 p.m. I always like to feed on schedule. I don’t like to feed less than 5 hours before I run, that way he’s not too full, but he’s not hungry. I save the hay until night, after I have competed. I also feed hay in the morning unless I’m up to run that morning.” I also withhold water from the horse for a couple of hours prior to the run. I definitely water my horse after the run and before the trip home in my Cimarron/Big Tex trailer.

  3. Pay special attention to the important warm-up/cool-down periods. “A horse has to be properly warmed up prior to a run and your job as a rider is to know when he’s ready to compete. You must exercise him enough to loosen his muscles up but not enough to make him tired. This varies with different horses, and trial and error is the only way to find out the best program for a horse. "You can usually spot signs that your horse is warmed up and relaxing. Look for them and use them to your advantage. After the run, get off your horse and loosen the saddle enough to give the horse some air, but not so loose that it can fall off. Take off leg protection boots immediately, then hand walk the horse until he cools completely (10 to 30 minutes). When he is cool, offer him some water.”

  5. Make sure your practice is working for you and not against you. More people “over-practice” than not. “If you are a little ‘off’ in your competition times, make sure you are not using your horse up by working him too much or too hard in the practice pen. Use practice time constructively.”

TIPS: Shoe horses at least every six-weeks. Feet are very important!

Start your conditioning program now - for YOU and YOUR HORSE!
(If you are feeling a little sluggish in the summer maybe playing basketball or tennis regularly will help get you in shape AND get that competitive spirit going!)


Go through the CHECKLIST to see if there is any part of your total barrel racing program that has been overlooked!


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