Return to Questions and Answers Index

Q&A    Questions and Answers:



I was quite displeased when I saw your article on how you should run a barrel pattern or Q#209. Instead of loosening up your horse with your legs you should be kicking with your legs and lifting your inside rein to about the corner of the tree close to the bottom of the horn. You should also be pulling yourself out of the saddle when you come out of the turn. Also you need to leave a "pocket" or space when you enter the turn. You then want to close the turn tightly. Also make sure that you shape and push your horse all the way to the next turn before you actually turn it.

I also wanted to ask you about the modern western pleasure classes. Are the horses made to move like that and is it mandatory now-a-days that a horse must barely move its legs and have its head so low that is almost touching the ground!? I have watched a western pleasure horse just recently and it looks as if they are in sooo much pain as they barely move their legs and people force them to keep their heads VERY close to the ground.I have seen older pictures of pleasure horses with their heads held at a decent level and they are actually moving their legs in a decent trot and lope. I do pretty much all sports with my pony but I might quit western pleasure if I have to torture my pony in order to win. I think that today's western pleasure is like dressage gone bad.! Please give me some info on this torture and whether this "trend" will end.

Signed~ A displeased young rider


In a way, you agree with me more than you realize. To begin with your last comments, you are right about the foolishness of forcing a horse to act and move in an unnatural way. It sours the horse, and is ultimately counter-productive in competition. The original idea behind keeping a trail horse's head low was that it kept the horse's eyes on the ground and its feet plus getting the horse's head out of the rider's line of sight. Unfortunately, this tends to be uncomfortable for the horse and throws his balance off. (It also tends to reduce his ability to estimate distances, but that's a whole 'nuther discussion.) Fortunately, judges seem to be easing up on the neck parallel to the ground idea.

I like your description of Western Pleasure as "dressage gone bad"! The word "dressage" means "maneuvers of a horse in response to body signals by the rider." It is basically the art of a rider working in harmony with a horse's natural instincts and way of going. That's the same idea I've been trying to convey in the area of barrel racing. If this is how you think about Western horsemanship, why shouldn't it carry over into barrel racing? Rather than using strange and confusing devices and signals, a barrel racer who can apply the principles of dressage to gaming will be way out in front of the competition.

In timed tests, it has been shown that kicking a horse or swatting it with a bat actually slows it down when compared to working with the horse by the rider's position and balance. You are essentially correct about "pulling yourself out of the saddle when you come out of the turn." The reason for this is that shifting your body forward and your legs back cue the horse to move faster and shifts your weight more to his forelegs, where he carries most of his weight. Conversely, as you approach the barrel, you'll sit back and move your legs under you so you can work with him as he rounds the barrel. Sometimes you'll see a barrel horse that is almost lying on its side as it rounds the barrel. This is because the rider's balance is so far off that the horse would tip over if it didn't lean way over. When this happens, the horse has to have a larger pocket to avoid hitting the barrel. A larger pocket means traveling a longer distance, which takes more time. It's simple math. By riding with the horse and using your balance to help the horse make a tighter turn, you shorten the distance -- and the time.

Martha Josey riding a bridleless horse This brings me to this photo of Martha Josey. If "lifting your inside rein to about the corner of the tree close to the bottom of the horn," is so important, what would happen if you rode without any bridle or rein? How would you pull the rein if you didn't have one? The answer is that you just might ride a lot better! In her barrel racing clinics, Martha Josey does demonstration runs with no bridle or reins, her arms outstretched to the side, and her legs wide -- as you'll see in this photo. [Photo used by permission of] By your rules, Martha Josey should be a failure, rather than the top-level competitor she is.

And, of course, there's the case of Charmayne James and her world championship run with the bridle hanging around Scamper's neck. It's kinda hard to do much with the reins in a situation like that!

Like I said, I think you agree with me more than you realize. You just need to follow your instincts rather than some artificial rules, and learn to work more in harmony with the horse rather than kicking the daylights out of him when he's doing what he should be doing. You might even find that taking some dressage lessons will make you a much better barrel racer.

[P.S. After several weeks, "Displeased" wrote back to me to say that she had tried my suggestions -- and, as a result, her times and scores had both improved!]

Previous Question  |  Next Question

Return arrow Return to Questions and Answers Index

Return arrow Return to the "Learning More About Horses..." page

  The contents of this document are not for reproduction.