Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Mechanics Of The Turn

Radio Silence broken...LOL...My Honey flew in for the weekend and we have been spending some "quality" time together. Alas, it seems that I can only stay away from blogging for only soooo long. It's like an addiction...in a good way.;)

I am always so interested in the posts that others do on what it takes for horses to win in certain events...Adventures Of A Horse Crazed Mind has really enlightened us on Reining-type horses. Stephanie did absolutely fantastic posts on the current trends in Western Pleasure and Hunter Under Saddle horses.

So what about Barrel horses?

Raising and training ideal barrel horses has become pretty specialized too. A lot of people think that speed is the most important asset a barrel horse has. But speed isn't everything. As a matter of fact, too much run in a barrel horse is NOT a good thing. You can have a super fast horse, but if they cannot gather up, rate, turn and explode out of the back side of the barrel...you have a race horse, not a barrel horse.

The biggest difference between barrel horses and horses bred for other events is that a good barrel horse can and always will come in all shapes and sizes...and interestingly enough, can often come from non-traditional bloodlines. Like anything, bloodlines are important and certain bloodlines are known for repeatedly turning out winning barrel horses. But I have seen a lot of horses that are bred for other disciplines that I felt would have made excellent barrel horses.

Take for instance this horse...
The immortal Scamper. Now, I am not knocking Gills Bay Boy's breeding...I like it!! I love seeing foundation running blood proving, yet again, why they became legendary. But names like Question Mark, Tonto Bars Gill and a double shot of Leo(through Johnny Do It) just aren't names that a lot of modern barrel horse breeders brag about, even when they are present in the bloodlines. I always thought it interesting that breeders did not jump on the bandwagon to start reproducing these bloodlines like they have other's??

So what does it take to make a phenominal barrel horse?

Well, good breeding is a start.
They do have to be fast.
They have to have the right attitude too.

But the maker or breaker of most barrel horses is...the turn!!

How a horse gets around a barrel and away from it can propel a horse of average speed into the big leagues. It can also pre-determine(for the most part) just how long that horse is going to stay sound and just how easy(or hard) they are to pilot around the barrel pattern.

The horse that turns a barrel ideally is one who both pushes and pulls himself around the barrel. They always stay gathered and all four feet are actively working to turn the barrel. These horses can be considered All-Wheel Drive horses. Two prime examples of outstanding barrel horses that run like this are these two...
Scamper was definitely an all-wheel drive horse. Charmayne often remarked on how balanced this horse was around the barrel and seldom slipped. That is because he used all four feet to keep himself moving forward.

A more currently reknowned barrel horse is Martha...

Anyone who has ever watched this mare run is just amazed at how fast she can get around a barrel. Looking at her form, it is easy to see why.

The next type of turn is the Rear-Wheel Drive horse. These horses usually have a lot of natural rate, get their hindquarters deep into the ground and can really drive out of a barrel. A horse that has too much drive from his hindquarter often has the problem of losing forward momentum. They sit, push, sit and push themselves around the barrel. It is common to see these horses knock barrels down on either the backside or coming out of the barrel, because their hips are not pushing them far enough past the barrel to clear it. To fix it, it is simply a matter of teaching the horse to rate less and keeping their front-end active.

Two examples of these type of horses are Christie Petersen's Bozo...
I know that Bozo looks like he runs pretty level, but I guarantee it took a lot of training to get him this way. He was so quick and could set his hindleg so well coming around a barrel that he often tipped barrels coming out of them, especially the second barrel. Because the second barrel takes an extra stride to complete the turn, when he would set that hindleg and power off, he had a tendency to push himself out right on top of the barrel. If you have ever watched some of Christie's runs on him, she looks a little wild coming out of second because she is is actively trying to keep him moving that one extra stride.

The other is Cruiser...
It's pretty easy to see how deep Cruiser gets into the ground. It took a long time for Charmayne to get this horse seasoned. Which brings up an interesting point...both of these horses(Bozo and Cruiser) took a long time to season. Turning a barrel was so easy for these horses that they just didn't have to think about it much. That gave them too much time to gawk off into the stands or think about the dash to the next barrel. Time and consistant training turned their natural ability into a winning attribute though.

The third type of turning style is The Front-Wheel Drive horse. This is the least desirable of all the turning styles. That doesn't mean that horses that run like this cannot be winners...but darn are these horses are hard to ride and nearly impossible to control when they start into that turn.

Two of the best examples of these horses are Stitch...
He almost scrambles around the barrel and most people comment on how rough he looks to ride. Stitch's saving grace is that his is fast. He isn't nearly as "front-endy" as this horse though...

Rocky is the prime example of a horse that literally pulls himself around the barrel. There is little a person can do to control a horse's shoulders when they run like this. Either they go into the barrel in the perfect spot and you get around or you hit the barrel.
It is important to realize that horses that run like these horses do, have the highest rate of injury and often don't last as long as other types of running styles. A lot of time what happens is that they get lazy with their hindquarters and drag their hocks out behind them. The hock joint isn't designed to take that sort of torque. As was the case for Rocky. He developed arthritis in an unusual place in his hock and after only a couple or three years of hard running ended up having to retire.

Like any event, horses that have different styles need different types of training to reinforce the idea of the "ideal" way to run. You can take a horse that runs ideally and mess him up, but you will never completely change a horse that naturally runs one way or the other. As all of these NFR cowgirls will testify too...sometimes you just gotta go with what you got.


Tracey said...

Interesting post, especially your reference to breeding. There was a mustang this year competing at the worlds, which of course had the mustang community abuzz :) Certainly no breeding there, eh?

"Turning a barrel was so easy for these horses that they just didn't have to think about it much. That gave them too much time to gawk off into the stands"

Isn't this just so true of horses that are naturally adept at something? Kids, too, I think...

MichelleSG said...

Do the rear end horses have more injury issues than the all four horses too? And when you say they take longer to train how much longer? Twice as long, a few months longer? I have no barrel racing knowledge, I'm just asking to be nosey and more well read. I like the 'tutorial' type posts you write since I have no knowledge in the field you are talking about. Sorry if my questions come off as completely random, city mouse here...

kdwhorses said...

Glad you got some quailty time with Chris! Woo hoo!

Great post, very educational! Loved hearing it all! Scamper was a awesome horse!

cdncowgirl said...

Awesome that you guys got some quality time together... making plan for the move?

As for horses, I am in LOVE with Martha (I know I'm not alone lol) and when I think front endy I always think of Stitch. Rocky was really on his front end but he didn't look anywhere near as rough as Stitch does. Like you said, good thing he's faaast!

BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

Michelle-I think that all-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive horses would have about the same amount and type of hock issues, since they basically use their hocks well up under them. The thing that can be the biggest problem with horses that use their hindquarters too much is that getting really deep in the ground slows them down. If that cannot be corrected to a certain extent, they just won't be fast enough around the barrel to be competitive. But those kinds of horses can almost always go on and become really good rope horses.

Time? It is hard to decide what is enough time. Christie Petersen spent 4 years getting Bozo broke enough and solid enough to be competitive. Charmayne spent about two or three years on Cruiser. Continued slow training, miles down the road or as a working horse and building the runs up to competitive speed is all a person can do. Somewhere along the way your gut will tell you when you or the horse has reached the wall.

I have taken horses that other people gave up on and won on them. I have sold horses that I didn't feel had "it" and their next owner loves them. It's all about the nick sometimes.

Cdn-looking at that picture of Martha coming around the barrel, she is flat out running around it. It is such an awesome thing to watch.

Rising Rainbow said...

I would think a good barrel horse would have to be free in the shoulder. It seems to me a dropped shoulder in the turn would make it difficult for the horse to push out of the turn as you describe. Is that right or am I off base??

BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

Yes...and No, MiKael. A horse does need to ideally keep his shoulders up as seen in almost all of the pictures I used. The gray horse, being very heavy on his front end is going to pull himself out of the barrel pocket. For these types of horses it is very important for them to land at certain points within the turn to avoid hitting the barrel.
All types of horses can drop their shoulder at the wrong time in the turn and hit the barrel. Most often the most noticeable place is coming into the turn. Most of the time when barrels are knocked on the backside or coming out, it is pilot error-the rider releases just a bit too soon and that is the cue for most horses to leave the turn.
If a horse is too free in his shoulders or his head is pulled out of position(too far to the inside), the result most often is that the horse's shoulder will leave the turn, causing him to bow out around the barrel. Most of your forward momentum is lost then. The horse then has to get straightened out and regather himself. By then you are usually at the next barrel and scrambling to get him set properly for that one.

I have found that it is quicker and easier to take a stiff horse and supple his shoulders and ribcage sufficiently than it is to take a "bendy" horse and teach them to maintain body position.

ezra_pandora said...

I definitely don't know a thing about barrel racing. I was starting to learn from a trainer friend right before I got pregnant. 8 years ago, but that went no where, lol.

Speaking of the immortal scamper, did you read the article in, I think, Western Horseman about cloning?? What do you think about that. I do believe the did or were going to try cloning Scamper. I think it's wrong so I just didn't read the article, but my hubby was reading me snippets.

Vaquerogirl said...

Great Post! Thanks for the insight. I used to run barrels ( when I wore a younger womans clothes) but I never realized that there are front wheel drives, etc. Great analogy!
And thanks too for turning me onto Stephanie!

BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

Ezra-Charmayne did clone Scamper. The clone's name is Clayton and I believe his first foals are already on the ground.
There was never any intention to run Clayton in barrels. His sole purpose was to reproduce foals.

I don't know what to think about cloning.

Melanie said...

Gee thanks BEC!!! I used to dabble in barrels when I was a "tween" (as they call them now), and still enjoy playing around with them. I used to find that gaming gave my performance horses a much needed break from the monotony of the show ring. Sometimes it was hard to get them to drop their show form and just have fun though...lol!!!

I like how you used the analogies of all, front, and rear-wheeled drive. I can totally see in my mind how those horses move around a barrel. :)

So...is Shooter possibly a future barell horse??

Chelsi said...

GREAT POST!!!! I hoped that you were going to do a post on barrel horses but I kind of felt bad for pingeon holing Stephanie in to doing one (though arent you glad she did it? I learned a ton.) I also learned a ton from this post. I visual of AWD vs. Rear and front made it really clear to understand. I will never watch a barrel horse run the same way again. I took a few barrel lesssons some time back and was suprised to learn the techniques I was taught to run a pattern. Maybe you could run us by that. I will e-mail you a pic of a diagram I wrote and see if I got any of it right! lol

Also... I have to ask you... something that has always bugged me about barrel racers is the big wide wing flapping kicking thing they do coming home. You know where the riders legs are bouncing a foot or two off of the side of the horse a million times a minute... What is with that?

gtyyup said...

Thanks for a great post! All of the comments were interesting too.

Yes, what are your plans for Shooter?

BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

Shooter's lot in life is to be a barrel horse. He will get the opportunity to play around with other events like low-level WP, some reining, maybe some working cowhorse(have I ever mentioned how much he likes to herd the dogs and cats when they wander into his pasture?) and some ranch work on him before he hits the rodeo circuit though.

Horse Crazed-That leg whacking bugs the crap out of me. Watch it in slow motion and you can see them knock the wind out of their horses with every stride. Sometimes I think a person doesn't realize how wild they get, cause I have some video of myself gapping like that and I don't remember doing it. Normally I do prefer to sit quiet and mooch.

I also cannot stand girls who hollar 'whoa' as they get to every barrel. It is so annoying. Most of the time they are already into the turn before they actually say 'whoa' or 'hey'. Not exactly effective if they are using it as a cue for their horse to set for the barrel-LOL.

Andrea said...

Oh I loved this!! We have a barrel horse that needs some work in her turns. She could be really fast but she needs work, and between my husband and me, who are barrel horse morons, it's just not getting done. We have a lady down the road from us that we are going to take our horse too for help. But this post was really informative. I think our horse goes off her front end. But I kinda worked on that a bit and leveled her out a bit. She was rough!! I got her to relax her shoulder, I did a lot of slow work with her. I don't go fast. And I really have no clue on how to ride barrels.

What's impressive to me in those pictures are the riders. Look how centered they all are. Well, except that last one. That ride doesn't look as comfy as the others. It looks like she is about to knock her knee off her leg, ouch!!

But I love to learn more about barrels. I would love to ride a horse that acutally knows what it's doing, to see how it's supposed to feel.

I used to think barrel racing was sooooo easy and it was a silly event, but dang, I have tried it and boy was I wrong. It takes some serious skill!! I would love to take lessons. Are you sure you want to move to Colorado and not Louisiana???? We don't get snow!!

Lil Mama said...

great post. Very educational.

Danielle Michelle said...

Amen! I never a barrel horse out until I've worked them for a bit on patterns. It's in the turns!