Ride Safely by Martha Josey
Barrel racing is a way of life to many people. It is an incredible sport that more and more horse owners are participating in each year. I want to emphasize to you that just like in any sport, there is risk of injury to the athlete. You love what you do, but no one wants to get hurt. You want to make your favorite sport as risk free as possible. To properly do this you must train yourself to think, “SAFETY FIRST”. Following are some tips for you on how to reduce that risk of injury, keeping you healthy, happy, and competing to be the champion you want to be.
At Josey clinics and schools before anything is done on horses we get all of the students together for an equipment safety check in which we check all equipment from head to tail. Too many times we find equipment that does not fit properly, not adjusted correctly, or that needs to be replaced because of its condition.
Check your equipment daily to see that it fits properly and is in good shape. Old equipment gets worn, stretched, and loosened. Schedule a regular time to clean and condition your equipment, especially leather products. Cleaning gives you a chance to look at your equipment closely. If it’s worn with even the most remote chance it could break, REPLACE IT RIGHT THEN! Brand new equipment must also be monitored carefully, as it will usually stretch after using it. You may have to adjust the piece several times, depending on the stretch of the leather.
Buy quality products! Cheaper prices can be a caution sign of lesser quality. This is not always the case, but examine a cheaper product carefully; is the stitching going to last?, is the leather of good quality?, are the metal pieces strong and well-made? By the time you replace a piece of equipment a couple of times because of quality, you could have saved money by spending a little more for a better made product. Also keep in mind when you buy equipment, just because something is expensive it does not guarantee the quality is there. Once again, examine thoroughly!
Check your Chicago screws every time before you ride. Loose Chicago screws are one of the most common dangerous threats to your safety that we find at the Josey clinics. Check them, and check them often! I would always put a drop of nail polish or glue on the screw before I tightened it to help hold it in place. Even doing this I still checked it before every run. If your head gear comes loose, you can imagine the possible danger. You wouldn’t drive your car at a high speed with a chance of the steering wheel coming off. It’s the same thing if you lose your headgear.
Check and adjust your equipment. Reins may stretch. Adjust them! If they are too long you can’t communicate, “WHOAH!!!” If your saddle is loose, it can roll to the side or even throw you under your horse if it shifts. Make sure everything fits properly. If you are new to your equine sport, ask an experienced rider you trust for help with adjustments.
Saddle fit. Your saddle needs to fit YOU. A trail ride in dad’s old cutting saddle might work, but not for a competitive run. A saddle should help you sit deep and keep you balanced in your runs. If a saddle is too big you may slide around…and right off. We’ve had parents ask in our Western Store, “Should I buy bigger for my younger growing athlete to grow into?” NO! Saddles are so well made today they will last for years in wonderful shape. People are always looking to buy a good used saddle. By the size you need right now. If your size changes, you can get another saddle, but if it is too big and you get thrown and injured, it could change your life and end your riding!
The correct bit. This has to be the most common question with competition horse owners. Your bit helps you relay your command to your horse, giving you control of your ride. The wrong bit means a loss of communication. We are very fortunate to have R.E. Josey, Ty Mitchell, and a couple of others at the Josey Ranch. They are some of the most knowledgeable horsemen today when it comes to bits. If you do not have “a real expert” with the needed knowledge to recommend what you might try, reach out to someone who can guide you in the right direction. Many people are ready to tell you what you need to use. Always remember…every horse is different, AND…is this person really qualified for me to trust them with my safety. In my book, Run to Win with Me, there is a guide to all of the bits we carry at the Josey Western Store that I feel will help you greatly when deciding on a bit. On our website barrelracers.com we have a bit section that tells in detail what each bit is for. You can also call a the Josey Western Store at 903 935 5358, Monday through Saturday, 8am to 6pm and we will be glad to help you. Remember that a bit is a large part of your communication.
YOUR COMMUNICATION WITH YOUR HORSE
Your horse typically looks for signals from you as to what he should do. Make sure you are sending him the correct signal. Are your hands even on the reins? Uneven hands (or uneven reins) may be telling your horse to turn, and you not even realize it. Are your hips square in the saddle? Are you communicating your turns by pressure from the appropriate leg to your horse’s side? You should spend enough time on your horse that you know each other well, with no doubts on what you are telling your horse to do. The slightest bit of confusion raises the risk of injury.
SAFETY EQUIPMENT FOR THE RIDER
Don’t be afraid to use safety equipment! Have you ever seen a barrel racers knee that was cut or torn open badly because they hit a barrel that didn’t have a barrel cover on it? It can cause scarring or knee damage that can affect you for life. Especially in barrel racing, the competitors are trying to not only run their best, but also to look their best. Your image can mean a lot to your career, so not many people want to strap on Storm Trooper looking shin guards over their jeans to protect their shins and knees. There are alternatives with today’s equipment. There are slimmer shin guards that will fit under your jeans and be practically unnoticeable. We carry “Bang It, Dang It Barrel Racing Socks” in the Josey Western store that are basically knee socks with padding sewn in. You can protect your knees and shins discreetly.
Helmets. A head injury can cost you your life. Each of us probably knows of someone that lost their life to a head injury. I am so happy to see more riders today wearing helmets than ever before, but still, it’s only a few compared to the thousands of barrel racers in our country. We’ve asked many questions over the years as to why barrel racers won’t wear helmets. Basically it comes down to “no matter how much bling you add, it still looks like a helmet, and doesn’t go with my outfit”. If you won’t wear a traditional helmet, I ask you to please consider a brand new product on the market. My staff and I are thrilled to be currently working with Resistol Hats on a new safety hat that has just been released: the Ride Safe hat. It is a more traditional looking Resitol cowboy hat…with the helmet-like protection built into the hat. It even comes with a chin strap to keep it in proper position on your head. While shooting some videos at the ranch, we had several riders try out the hats. Each one of them was surprised with how light the hat was and how comfortable it was to wear while riding. We hope this “hat with the safety features of a helmet” will be a big hit and bring so many more in rodeo sports to wearing safety headgear. Too many lives have been lost already due to head injuries.
We love our rodeo sports with a passion. To those of us that do, right up beside our pictures of our favorite quarterback, we have a photo of our favorite barrel racer, roper, or bull rider. Just as that quarterback never takes the field without his pads and helmet, please remember your safety products before you enter the arena. Let’s make our western rodeo sports, bigger, better, and safer our rodeo competitors.
Check your equipment, know your horsemanship, keep safety first…and go get the money!
You can find many great inside horse training tips and advice on my website: www.barrelracers.com. We are constantly updating videos to not only help just barrel racers, but anyone who owns a horse. Also, my new book, Run to Win with Me is a great reference guide that covers prospecting for a horse, proper equipment and safety, training exercises, how to recognize warning signs of health issues and so many other great subjects you should know as a horse owner. For more information, horse sales, products, or training questions, please call the Josey Western Store at 903 935-5358.
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. For more information, visit BarrelRacers.com.
This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 9, Issue 4