When you find an equine
athlete, itís your job to keep him working at his peak level. You are
asking him to give three quick turns at full speed. Itís hard on his mind
and hard on his bodyÖand the ground is a big determining factor on how
well he will work.
Study that ground. Check it out. Some times it can sure be
deceptive. It might look great, and turn out to be shallow with a hard pan
underneath and dangerous because of the chance of slipping and falling.
Or it might look wet, so you would not go at maximum speed to
protect your horse, only to find out that the moisture on it had packed it
and made it a faster arena. So go out there and check out the ground. Kick
it around with your foot. Finding out about the ground lets you do a
better job of preparing.
With ground that is real deep, I know I will generally have to
push harder. The deepness seems to make the horse anticipate the turn more
and set harder, so I will usually ride a little more aggressively at the
pattern to keep the deep ground from slowing me down.
Also, with deep ground, I
sometimes change the headgear on my horse,
going to something a little lighter but, of course, it will be something
my horse is already comfortable with. I would NOT switch to a strange bit
for the first time at a jackpot or rodeo.
On hard ground, most horses will run a little faster and not
turn quite as good because they canít get into the ground. With that in
mind, when the arena is hard, I will emphasize the ďsetĒ for my horse. I
will warm him up with that in mind, then when I run, I will cue him to set
harder than usual.
If I felt it necessary, I might go to a bit with a little more
control for a hard arena.
For a horse to really be a great barrel horse, he has to be able
to work well on both hard and deep arenas. I have been lucky to have
several horses that would work well no matter what type ground they had to
run on. But remember, no matter how great your horse is, there is going to
be some ground that is difficult for your horse.
When you get to the barrel race or rodeo and it has been
raining, you really need to know your ground. Probably the type of ground
condition most likely to hurt or cripple a barrel horse is the boggy,
This is the kind of mud that, when you walk across it, it pulls
your shoes and boots off. Usually you find this when it has rained a lot,
and it was a slow, steady rain on an arena that was worked pretty deep.
But not all arenas get boggy in the rain. Sometimes the rain can
pack the ground so it is a fast track. A lot of big rodeos have been won
after a real, hard rain packs it down.
I prefer ground thatís not too hard and not too deep, but has a
cushion where a horse can push without going to the hard pan.
Sometimes an arena can look good, but not be deep enough and
have a slippery hard pan underneath. This is easy to slip on and you have
to use your own common sense to deal with it. If you watch two or three
barrel racers ahead of you go, and they fall down, you might lope through
the pattern. You wonít win anything, but you might save your horse from
Just use your own
judgment to decide what is best. I do and I have turned down a run instead
of hurting my horse but I know which ground is terrible for my horse and
the more experience you get the more you will learn to study the ground.
I really like to use leg protection on my horses for a variety
of reasons on all types of ground. On hard ground (or in deep sand) the
back ankles (fetlocks) can burn as the horse sets. If heís not protected
back there, sooner or later he might decide to stop working because it
Also, in deep ground, horses can crossfire in the back. You also
see them overreach in deep ground because the front feet can stick a
little so that the back ones come up and hit them. In shallow ground, the
sliding behind can let those back legs get far enough up front to
A lot of girls take their leg protection off their horse when
itís muddy because they are afraid they will lose them or ruin them
because they might not stay attached good in the wet ground. If youíre
afraid the boots will come off, use gray duct tape to wrap around the
boots after you put them on the horse to cover and seal the area where the
fasteners are. Donít wrap them any tighter than the boot fits and remove
the tape immediately after the run.
The good thing is that the people in charge at many arenas are
dragging more and more. I remember when we ran forty or fifty barrels
racers on the same pattern without a tractor ever coming into the arena.
So, we really do appreciate those committees that take great care of the
ground such as the NBHA. Their big shows have great ground and do a lot of
preparing, I give them a lot of credit for making better ground conditions
for barrel racers. Even in the slack, many of the committees have tractors and
equipment on hand and that is really appreciated by the barrel racers. We
also appreciate those committees that prepare the arena in advance, not
just waiting until the day of the rodeo to work it up. What happens when
they do that is that the ground is really deep for the first performance,
then it gets faster and faster with each performance.
I have had people ask me
if I shoe my horse for the ground, and I
really donít shoe differently for different types of ground because I want
my horse to be used to the shoe he's wearing. If you have a horse and heís having trouble keeping his footing
on all types of ground, you might want to talk to your farrier about doing
something different. I hesitate to put any sort of grabs, cork, or borium
on a horse unless I really know him. A lot of people just experiment with
different devices on their shoes and this can really get a horse sore.
Overall, when dealing with ground and learning to make your best
run on every kind of ground, use your common sense, study each arena
carefully, and I know that you will soon become more comfortable with all
kinds of surfaces!