38 Issue 3 · 2013
One of the most crucial skills for becoming a
good barrel racer is good timing. Being in rhythm
and in time with the horse results in a smooth, fast
pattern. A horse and rider who are out of time with one
another, on the other hand, usually produce a jerky,
You've seen riders with terrific timing; they
always seem to be working smoothly with their
horses-not against them.
If timing is a problem for you, how can you
develop timing with your horse? The first step is to
really take a look at what you are doing.
Most riders that ride `stiff' lose their timing. They
are concentrating so much on forcing each little detail
and not making a mistake that they ride with every
muscle stiff-and in opposition to the rhythm of the
A lot of times if a rider has had a problem with
her patterns or is on a horse that is making some
mistakes, he or she will tighten up and actually cause
the horse to keep making the mistake.
Here's an example. Say a rider's horse has been
setting up too soon for the first barrel-so the thing to
do is to push the horse on into the pocket. The rider
intends to do that, and doesn't check the horse early.
What she does do, though, is to sit down deep and
tighten up her legs, so she won't lose her balance if the horse sets up. Of
course, her body position is telling the horse it's time to set...
Stiffness in the rider also makes horse's slower to leave barrels. The
rider is not relaxed in the saddle during the turn and able to pull back up
quickly for the takeoff.
Your eyes can be another factor that affects your timing. Sometimes
riders look at their pockets as they're driving to them, but don't look on
around the barrel and on to the next barrel until they are already leaving the
last one. You can mess up your timing by failing to keep your eyes on the
next part of the run.
Another factor that affects timing is hands that are too rough or too soft.
One of the most crucial parts of communicating with a horse is being able to
`talk' with your hands.
When you cue with the reins, you must cue just enough but not
too much. Clues that you are off in your rein pressure are when a horse
is choking down too much coming into the turn or in the turn, setting in a
choppy manner coming into the barrel, or throwing his head.
Clues that the rider is using too light a touch are a horse running just
a little past the barrel, and maybe coming out just a little wide. The horse is
responding to the cue as well as he can, but he's not getting enough help
from the rider.
Cueing a horse at the wrong time is another way to ruin the rhythm of
a run! You need to cue early enough to give your horse room to set for the
barrel, but not so early that you lose speed and time.
Some riders look good elsewhere until they begin to kick their horse.
Moderate kicking can be beneficial-and let the horse know it's time to run,
but it needs to be in rhythm with the horse's gate-and to urge him to go faster.
Some barrel racers kick their horse so hard and so fast they actually knock
the air out of the horse as he is trying to run!
Likewise with batting or using and over-and-under. Some riders shift so
much in the saddle to bat or whip that they throw the horse off stride-and go
slower instead of faster.
Another thing that has an effect on your rhythm with the horse can be
an equipment change...both in the saddle and in headgear.
Riding a good saddle that fits you and the horse can help you stay in
position to stay in rhythm with him. Likewise, a saddle that does not fit can
destroy your timing by keeping you out of position. If you have to struggle
just to maintain your position in the saddle, it is almost impossible to move
smoothly with the horse.
Changing a bit can also have an effect on your timing by compensating
for a heavy touch (with a lighter bit) or making up for a too-soft touch (with a
bit with more control).
Another factor that can affect your ability to have good timing and be
in rhythm with your horse is your own physical condition. If you are out of
shape, so that you are easily winded, or if your body strength isn't adequate
to maintain the body position required for barrel racing, it can throw you off.
You'll be working harder than your horse-but are not in rhythm with him.
A layoff from barrel racing can also cause timing problems-even for
experienced barrel racers. Sometimes when a person has been injured, he
or she will find that their timing problem has suffered during the layoff.
Sometimes a timing problem is just a temporary condition-as when
someone buys a new horse and takes some time to get with him. If, however,
the problem is an ongoing one that is happening with different horses, take
time to evaluate your riding and make it a goal to improve your timing and
Here are some things that can help your timing:
Swimming is great for timing - To be a good swimmer, you have to do
things correct at the right time. The great swimmer Michael Phelps has sure
worked on his timing.
Basketball and dribbling a basketball is a great way to improve. To be
a good basketball player you have to have timing. Study some of the great
players and pay close attention to their timing. My basketball days sure
helped my barrel racing.
I look forward to watching prestigious horse races such as the All
American Futurity and the Kentucky Derby. I love to watch the great jockeys
when they bat their horses coming down the home stretch; they don't hinder
their horse, they are in perfect rhythm with their horse.
Study timing, concentrate on timing and your barrel times will improve.
bout the author:
Martha Josey personifies barrel racing for many people. She
was the first and only cowgirl to qualify for the National Finals Rodeo in four
consecutive decades. She has the distinction of winning both the AQHA and
WPRA World Championships in the same year. Her career has stretched,
win-to-win, over four decades.
Martha continues to compete in and win on the WPRA circuit. She
produces educational videos, markets her own line of equine products,
and puts on numerous clinics throughout the country. She and her husband
also train and market the very best in barrel horses at their home ranch in
Marshall, Texas. The ranch is also home to world-class competitions.
For more info: Josey Enterprises, Inc., 8623 SH 43 N, Karnack, TX
Timing & Rhythm
by Martha Josey