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EmmaWay24 09-24-2013 11:08 PM

Getting around that first barrel
Ok guys,

I hear the same questions answered quite a bit on hear but was wondering if you could help me out with a problem I haven't seen mentioned a ton.

My gelding is young and obviously not going to have the strength or training to make great turns. I am not trying to push him past a slow canter but he has a lot of trouble getting around that first barrel and keeping his canter. When I first started him on barrels he could get around the first pretty good but was just throwing his shoulder at it. It was just a matter of time before he started hitting the barrel and after I bruised the hell out of my shin I decided to tackle that issue and really focused on keeping his shoulder up. He is no longer diving but its like halfway through his turn I feel him loose his hind end (in almost feels like he steps in a hole with his hind legs), takes the turn wide, and often drops to the trot for a few steps.

I thought, O.K. this is a horse without the strength to get through this turn (he really has no problems to the right getting around the barrels fairly tight and without breaking). So I have spent the last month using my dressage background to strengthen his hind end. Lots of transitions on the lounge line with side riens. Under saddle I have been doing spiraling exercises, tons of every kind of transition (canter-walk, canter-trot, canter-halt), lengthening the stride in the canter and shortening the stride in the canter, making square turns in the cater, etc. I am actually kind of amazed at his improvement. He has slowed way down taking shorter, more balanced strides. He is able to pick up either lead I ask on a straight line 100% of the time (before it was about 50% of the time for the left lead). He can canter from the walk both directions (before he was unable to canter from the walk at all to the left and only once in awhile to the right). He is pretty darn good to the left and to the right he reminds me a lot of my old dressage horse - he can canter slow and upright and probably is close to being ready to learn canter pirouettes. Anyway, this was so great and I went back to barrels for the first time in a month and a half yesterday and did tons of rate work, trying to get him to slow down and get back on those hind quarters around the turn. He did amazing, so bendable in the trot, happy to canter in between and walk/trot the barrels. I decided to canter him a few times through the pattern at the end and he still is having issues with that first barrel. I just don't know what else I can do to fix this problem and was hoping you guys have input

I will try and get a video this week but any advice for my next practice?

Here is an old video in the mean time:

Leo - YouTube

His canter has improved since but as you can see it wasn't too terrible. The biggest issue in this video is his cross firing, he is getting MUCH better with this issue and I think its just a young horse figuring out balance in a tight turn, he never cross fires away from the barrel pattern. Also you can see his turns to the left are BIG, this was my attempt to not let him drop that shoulder - unfortunately it lead to a giant turn. And although it feels worse now, even his turns to the left in this video have that "loosing his hind-end" feeling and I am pushing him to keep him going through the turn. I can't really see anything that looks like he is slipping or getting off balance, can you?

(And don't make fun of my chicken-wing arms - I was pretty embarrassed when I watched the video and saw I was trying to fly off my horses back ;) - also am working on less rocking, its my instinct to try and help him keep his canter going I guess)

AlbertaBarrelGirl 09-25-2013 02:02 PM

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First before I say anything I don't know everything, but the problems you are have are the same ones I have with my five year old. He's a big solid built gelding and its hard for him to control his body, these are some thing I have figured out to help him.
Ok so far everything you have been doing will help so much in the later stages of the barrels, and your right he still has to learn how to control his body in the turns. The reason he feels like he's stepping in a hole is because now you have control of his shoulder you need to control his hind end, you are picking his shoulder up, but not the proper way. When a horse picks his shoulder up his whole body should pick up and move as well, but he's picking up his shoulder and letting is butt swing around in a fish tail motion (like a car losing control) This makes him lose the forward motion which causes him to go into a trot. Looking at your video at 0:55 he came into the barrel really well, but he did not transition onto his hind end to set up for the turn, he's just loping a circle. That's not what barrels are about, he should be sitting down on his butt setting up for the turn. To help with this do lots of roll backs down a fence, start slow at a trot, trot down the fence sit down in your saddle and ask him to stop, back up a few steps the drop your hand that is by the fence and ask him to turn while keeping is back feet in one spot like a spin, than trot down the fence and repeat in the other direction. When he masters it at a trot continue into a lope and so on till you can run down the fence stop turn and take off in one smooth motion.
Ok as your heading to second make sure you finish your turn on first and be aiming at your second barrel's pocket before you are even half way across the arena. Your second barrel was acutely very nice in your in that run, but same as first he needs to sit down. Going up to third make sure your line is strait and come into the turn a bit tighter. Your pocket does not have to be this big, as you get faster having him come in that big will cause him to hit the barrel when your coming out of the turn.
I hope this makes sense so far :wink:

The biggest thing with first is setting up properly before you even get there, when your in the ally, or if you do a circle before you start make sure you start running just a bit to the inside of your third barrel (my one mare turns so hard and fast I stare strait at third till I'm ready to turn first) Run him towards and gradual start your turn till your at your pocket, ask for the rate and then turn the barrel. Your body position is really good, just remember your shoulders control his shoulders and your hips control his hocks. I would also suggest moving your hands up his neck a bit further, I know this sounds strange, but do your see any NFR girls running with her hands by her saddle up to first? No that's because there insuring there horses have direction, which is really all horses want.

One more thing he should be flex his body a bit more than what he is. This is a great exercise I use even on my seasoned mare. I hope you can see the image attached.
Put four cones ( or buckets) in a square about 10 or 15 ft away from each other (you can make them wider if you feel he is struggling with them, and has he gets better put them closer together) and put one cone right in the middle of the four. Start him in the middle and turn one corner, then go in turn the middle, then turn the next corner keeping his body flexed to the inside and his shoulders up. If you cant see the image I will try and get a video up to show you.
He's a handsome boy and looks good he should make a barrel horse no problem, but just like with everything he needs time. Happy Running :D

beau159 09-25-2013 04:49 PM

Have you had Leo thoroughly examined by a specialized lameness vet? How about a good chiropractor?

My horse Red is crossfiring in his turns the same way your Leo is (at about 34 seconds in your video). I just got back from the vet this morning and my horse has a mild case of locking stifles. At about 42 seconds, he didn't use his hind end at all. Even though he didn't cross fire, something didn't look right. And then at 56 seconds, he flicks his tail right before you take the turn. Yes, some horses are tail flickers, but sometimes that tail flick means something hurts.

If I just hadn't gone through this myself, I probably would have not even thought of it for your video. But something looks "off" to me in his hind end. And it's worth checking out.

EmmaWay24 09-25-2013 07:17 PM

So helpful!

I am going to try some roll backs this week as well as another video.

Beau - Does Red cross fire when you are riding away from the pattern? Leo has a naturally strung out canter and when I first started lounging him he would cross fire a lot, gradually he has improved and now he only cross fires once in a while on small circles (10 meters or less). I see the tail flick you mention and it is right when he switches leads behind. His willingness to work and good attitude made be believe it was a strength issue combined with a conformationally long back that makes it easier for him to counter canter. But maybe his improvements will only go so far if he has a stifle issue. Is this the case with Red as well? And is it something that can be overcome?

beau159 09-25-2013 09:34 PM

Red only crossfires on a small circle, like a barrel turn. And I actually didn't feel anything wrong until I watched a video of my run 3 weeks ago. I've always had difficulty with getting him to use his hind end. But I suspect this issue has probably been there for about two months, or longer.

Red too has a great work ethic. He'll go around that barrel if I send him at it. He will try so hard for me. But something was physically going wrong back there.

With Red we've caught it very early so he should have a good prognosis.

It seems like you've spent a lot of time getting him to use his body properly and that's fantastic. But something doesn't look right in the way he moves back there. Sure, it might be a strength issue like you suspect, but if he were my horse , I 'd have him checked. Just in case.

Do you have a good lameness vet near you? Chiro?
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SorrelHorse 09-27-2013 11:00 PM

I agree with everything that Beau said.

Now, assuming this isn't a pain issue (Always check that first) it sounds to me like she isn't driving off that inside hock. Either she hasn't been prepared for it, or she just naturally has a tendency to kick her hip out. Either way, it's very fixable.

See the key to a good turn is having the shoulder up, hip in, and inside leg up underneath them. (Dena Kirkpatrick bases most everything off this). When the horse goes into the barrel, they rate. Their hind end needs to tuck under them, and the inside leg supports them. On the backside and leaving the turn, they drive off that inside leg to fire out and run again.

You say you slow lope the pattern. The fist thing I would do is stop doing that. :lol: Add some more drive to him. Drive and push him into the barrel at a decent rate of speed, then just "breathe" him down at your rate point to the slow lope. About 3/4 of the way around the barrel, give him a hard outside leg and drive him out of that barrel hard. It'll increase his drive out and keep him from shutting down on you.

When you're just going slow, and you stop at your rate point, push his hip to the inside. Sometimes I will stop at my point and back around the barrel. This reinforces rate as well as pushes the hip to the inside. Mix it up, but keep the idea the same. This works coming off the barrel too. Trot big to the barrel, and if you can push the hip in at the trot the whole way there. At your rate point, bring him back to a slower sitting trot. Pick up a strong posting trot 3/4 of the way around (Same place you would drive off if you were loping it) and when his hip is clear of the barrel push it in again. That will stop some of his cross firing if he thinks his hip is always going to be pushed to the inside.

Speaking as someone who owns a hip-blower, these exercises and little things will make a huge difference. Sometimes side passing in a circle around the barrel helps too.

I'm sorry, I don't remember whats in these videos, but here are a couple things from a barrel lesson that my trainer gives. I hope they are good examples, of riders of all levels. I would pay attention to the big palomino horse, he has a ton of drive and shows the "speeding up" and "breathing down" very well most of the time.

1RedHorse 09-28-2013 06:56 PM

Personally....I like your horse better to the right barrel 1st.

Id like to see more videos but I think its more rider induced than anything.
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QuarterAppy 09-28-2013 08:26 PM

Subbing! Very good information. Sorry I don't have more to add!
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EmmaWay24 10-01-2013 01:52 PM

I'm having the vet out to take a look at him to be safe but yesterday I cantered a few patterns and he only swapped behind once so I am hopeful he is figuring it out and gaining strength and that this isn't a health concern.

Red horse, I would agree it's likely rider error, I have no previous experience barrel racing. Could you maybe point out the issues? Do you think my balance is off? I am a dressage rider and the feeling of having my wieght to the outside of a turning horse is very foreign to me, is it possible I am leaning in toward the barrel too much and causing him to try and readjust his balance by switching leads behind?

Until the vet comes I am starting to try rollbacks and just trotting the barrels and working on really pushing off after the turn like sorrel horse suggested
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beau159 10-02-2013 10:12 AM

Glad you are having him checked! Better to be safe than sorry. Is your vet experienced with equine lameness?

I suspect my horse's issue has been going on much longer than I've known, as I've got practice videos where he swings his butt around instead of engaging it (but did NOT crossfire). Thought it was "just him". At 2:25 in this video from July is where I lope him through and we have our usual bad right turn. Back end looks fine there, as far as his footwork.

But I truly suspect he probably was starting to have a problem back then in July (or earlier), and it just didn't progress to obvious crossfiring until later, like here:

Let's just say I am going to be VERY suspicious for soreness for any horse that doesn't use his/her back end properly, from now on.

Your riding isn't really that bad (although hard to see because the video is small and far away). I guess the best way that I could describe it, is that it seems like some of the time you look like you are just out on a pleasure trail canter ..... not on the barrel pattern. I've taken English lessons so I can totally relate the opposite problem: I'm so used to keeping my weight to the outside, it felt so weird to put it on the inside for my English lessons.

One thing that you could do better is to LOOK with your whole body. When you go around a barrel, you seem to continue to keep your body orientated straight ahead. Instead, when you come around your turn, you should be turning your head and shoulder to look at your next barrel so you can head straight for it.

Using myself as an example, as I come around the 3rd barrel, I'm looking toward home and starting to rotate my upper body in that direction too.

And I can't tell where you are looking in your video, but always make sure you do NOT look at the barrel. You don't want to run ON the barrel, do you? Nope!! You want to run around it. So look at the spots on the ground where you want your horse to travel. So especially to help him to not anticipate the turn, as your head to the barrel, pick your spot on the ground you want him to reach. And get him to that spot before letting him start to turn.

Every horse is going to work a little differently. For the horse pictured above, I would rotate my hips right before I was ready to turn. So if I was making a turn to the left, I'd rotate my hips counter-clockwise, and use my inside leg (back a bit) to kick during the turn. And I never really "sat" in the turn. I kept myself up. (Learned all this for him at a Lynn McKenzie clinic.)

My current horse Red? That way of riding does not work for him at all. And I'm still trying to figure him out (once I get him sound again, anyway), but I've got to make sure I sit and ask him to rate/collect before the turn and it's been working to put my outside leg back to drive him from behind.

So it'll take a little trial and error to see how your horse is going to work the best.

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