A critical factor in having a good barrel run is ensuring that you are warming up your barrel horse correctly. A barrel horse that is correctly warmed up will be primed and ready to make the best run possible. In contrast, a barrel horse that is not warmed up correctly could, at best, make a poor run, and, at worst, end up injured. As a jockey, it is your responsibility to make sure that you prepare the horse underneath you in the best possible way.
While warm up routines will vary from rider to rider and from horse to horse, the fundamentals of what occurs and what the desired outcome is are all the same. If you are looking for a routine for warming up your barrel horse, then you have come to the right place.
What Not to do When Warming Up Your Barrel Horse
Do Not Tire Your Horse Out
I want to start off by explaining what you should NOT do when warming up your barrel horse for a run. First off, your goal should not be to tire him out. I get that barrel horses can be a little hot and have a lot of energy. As such, it may be tempting to long trot and lope until some of this energy has died down. However, this is the exact opposite of what you want to do. Why would you want to tire a horse out before he is going to be asked to run as hard as he can?
Think about this. Suppose an athlete is about to run the 100 meters at the Olympics. They are feeling good and are jumping around with energy. Do you think it would be a good idea for him to go out for a jog shortly prior to the race? Of course not! That would likely only slow him down come race time.
The same is true for your horse. Your goal should not be to tire your barrel horse out.
Do Not School Your Horse
Additionally, when warming up your barrel horse, you do not want to go to training on him. If you are at a barrel race about to make a run, you should have all of your ducks already in a row. He should be able to do all of the things that you require in a run. As such, you should not be having a teaching session two minutes before you go into the arena.
Not only does a training session take your horse’s mind off the task at hand, but it could also fluster him. What if your last minute training session doesn’t go well? Then you have an aggravated horse on your hands and I highly doubt that he will be in the right head space to make a winning run.
Do Not Try Something New
Horses are creatures of habit. If you bring something new into the picture, they may not take to it right away. This is applicable when warming up your barrel horse for a run. If your horse is used to warming up in a certain way and then you go and change it, you may not get the results that you expected.
Be consistent, warming up your barrel horse for a run the same way that you always do (assuming that conditions allow). This will give the horse a sense of comfort. He will know what is going on and will be confident in what is coming next. That confidence will in turn lead to a confident horse running down the alleyway.
The Goal of Warming up your Barrel Horse
The goal of warming up your barrel horse, quite simply, is to get the horse ready to make a barrel run. Plain and simple. Don’t make it any more complicated than that.
Can you Hear me now? Good.
In order to make a good run we need our horse listening to us. When we cue with our leg for him to move over he should move over. If we ask for rate, he should rate. When we ask for him to pick up his shoulder, he should pick up his shoulder. The horse should be listening to us and responding to us.
Get Those Muscles Warmed Up
In addition to getting the horse listening to us, another goal of warming up your barrel horse is to physically warm up the horse. How long this will take will depend on what the climate is where you are running. For example, as I type this, it is the beginning of December. It is going to take me a bit more time to get my horse’s muscles warmed up than if I had been getting ready to run in Texas in the middle of summer.
Your horses muscles, ligaments and tendons can be compared to a rubber band. When they are cold, they are tighter and more prone to snapping. Once warm they are way more limber and flexible. We want just enough warmth so that they are flexible but not so much that the horse is hot. This will help to prevent against injury during the run.
Another goal of warming up your barrel horse is to get them relaxed. Funny, I know. Asking a barrel horse to relax is like asking the sky not to be blue. But, in all honesty, we want to get those horses as relaxed as possible before they head down the alleyway.
An anxious horse tends not to listen and is often not confident in their current situation. None of those things are desirable when heading into a run. In contrast, if our horse is relaxed, just like when you are relaxed, he will be more confident and will more likely be listening to your cues.
So, How do you go About Warming up Your Barrel Horse?
What should be done for a warm up will vary from horse to horse, from rider to rider and from situation to situation. I know that is not very helpful, but it is the honest truth. However, there are some general rules that you can follow when warming up your barrel horse, regardless of what kind of a rider you are, what kind of a horse you ride, or the situation that you find yourself in.
Walk, Trot, Lope
First off, if possible, you should walk, trot and lope your horse in both directions. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. At some rodeos you barely have room to turn your horse around on a piece of gravel, let alone lope nice big circles. Do what you can but ideally you would want to do this.
Your walking, trotting and loping should not take long. As mentioned above, our goal is to get the horse just warmed up enough that they may be starting to sweat just a little. We don’t want to tire them out. A few revolutions each direction may be enough.
Push all of the Buttons
When warming up your barrel horse, you want to also push all of the buttons to make sure they are all working. What do I mean by that? You want to make sure you have control over all of your horse’s body parts. I usually do a quick run through all of the basic maneuvers. I will yield on the forehand, yield the hindquarters, side pass. stop and counter arc. I won’t do any one of these maneuvers very long (remember, we don’t want to be training here). It will be just long enough to ensure that my horse is listening to my cues.
You may also want to do some lateral and vertical flexion when warming up your barrel horse. This depends on how soft and flexible your horse is. For example, my current gelding is already really soft and flexes at the slightest pressure. As such, I do not flex him at all because I do not want him anymore soft. Flex your horse based on what you think your horse needs.
The last thing I would recommend when warming up your barrel horse for a run is to get off. If you warm up in a bridle that is different from your competition bridle, this would be the time to change things out.
Additionally, tighten up your cinch, if need be, and otherwise check your equipment to ensure everything is good to go. There is nothing worse than having an equipment malfunction during your run! Check out my post on the four common equipment problems that I see to keep yourself safe in the arena.
At this point, I would also put my SMBs on. I usually warm up in bell boots (like these ones) but hold off on putting on my SMBs until just before I run. This ensures that my horse’s legs do not get too hot prior to my run.
If you are wondering whether you should be running in SMBs, check out this post. Additionally, if you are looking at SMBs, I highly recommend checking out the Legacy2s by Classic Equine. I did a post exclusively about those boots because I love them so much.
Depending on your horse, you should be warming up your barrel horse shortly before you run. Ideally you would be able to warm up your horse, get your equipment all set, sit for a couple of runs and then be heading down the alleyway. Of course, I know that this is not always possible in practice as things do not always go the way we hope, especially with a horse. Do your best and always try to do what you know works best for your horse.
Finish Line Thoughts
As I noted above, warming up your barrel horse should have the goal of getting your horse ready to make a winning run. That’s it. If you are doing anything more or less than that, then you may be short changing yourself even before you set foot in the arena. Get your warm up right and you will be well on your way to earning that belt buckle.
And remember, it’s always a #gooddaytoride.
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