Thursday, 20 October 2016

Dressage Barrel Horse?

My BO is a barrel racer. She only competes in the local circuits but she is quite serious about choosing prospects, training and racing multiple horses. This summer when Kachina was out on pasture she got to see how fast Kachina can move, and since then she has repeatedly told both me and other people how good of a barrel horse she could be.

Running in the pasture

The first few times that she mentioned it I just kind of brushed it off as a funny joke, but lately I've been thinking about it a little bit...

Please understand that I have no plans to abandon dressage, or get competitive with barrel racing. However, I've always been a big believer in well rounded horses and think that for the most part, doing something different with your horse is good for developing their minds and bodies.

I can imagine dressage principles being applicable to barrel racing. Just think, you do a big ground covering extended canter between barrels, a smooth flying change from 1st to 2nd, do a big half halt and turn the barrel with a canter volte or a working canter pirouette, and then back into extended canter. It might look different from your traditional barrel race, and the canter around the barrel would be slower, but I imagine that the increased control and balance may be useful to get a tighter turn without risking knocking over the barrel. I've seen reference to barrel racers using some dressage cross-training with their barrel horses (like here). Both disciplines strive for good power from the hind end, adjustability, being in front of the legs and on the aids, and sitting ability. I thought that someone somewhere would have tried running barrels on their dressage horse, but the closest I could find on the interwebs was this. It's a fun demo, but the rider clearly wasn't trying for speed so it's hard to judge whether the horse could be viable in a race (and I wouldn't race in dressage tack, I don't feel the need to stand out that much ;-) ).

Slap a western saddle on Kachina and she can blend in pretty well

On the other hand, maybe I could learn the traditional barrel racing approach instead, and later translate that into dressage skills. I'd be a little worried that that would create tension or bad habits that would be hard to reverse later though. Barrel horses are extremely good at what they do and are impressive, but when I see a typical run I don't see many of those training pyramid basics that we strive for in dressage. (Any barrel racers want to chime in and set me straight?)

Some of the winning barrel horses at my barn

In terms of horse type, I know quarter horses are the breed that dominates rodeo events, but one of my BO's most successful barrel horses is an OTTB (which she uses as proof that a horse without a natural aptitude for making tight turns can learn). I can see that big warmbloods would have a harder time accelerating quickly or making the turns tightly enough (and check out draft horses barrel racing here, not the most maneuverable!), but at lower levels there are a few breeds that can be competitive.

I have no idea what breed Kachina actually is, but she's kind of in between TB and QH in type, and on the smaller side at 15.2hh, which probably wouldn't be too bad from a barrel racing perspective. It's a bit of a null point at the moment considering that I can't even do a flying change, but once Kachina has the requisite training, is it possible that Kachina's speed plus a dressage approach would allow us to compete at local barrel jackpots with a decent time? (I wouldn't care about winning, I just wouldn't want to embarrass ourselves lol)

She's always been able to outrun this quarter horse and this standardbred,
even if they got a head start. Neither of them are the fittest though.

I don't know if we'll ever actually do it, but it's something fun to think about. It would also be social and convenient as there are a heck of a lot more barrel racers in my area than dressage riders. What do you think, should I give it a try? If any of you take your dressage horses to a barrel race, please send me results and video!!


  1. Good riding is good riding. The good barrel racers have exquisite control over every part of their horses body, and they do it at top speed. I've been riding a former Pro barrel horse and he is just a really well trained horse (albeit I ran a barrel patter on him the other night for shits and giggles and terrified myself, he's too fast for me)

    1. That would be such a cool experience! Maybe I need to borrow a barrel horse for a day :)

      I totally believe that barrel racers are good riders and good barrel horses are fast, obedient, and extremely responsive. All I was saying is that you can be a good rider/horse without necessarily having things like the relaxation and connection that dressage looks for. Different goals for different disciplines (which is fine). Also, in dressage we want the horse to be on the aids and have no anticipation, while I think some anticipation is generally part of barrel racing. There's a reason why barrel horses are "patterned".

  2. With a high strung horse, I would be careful about running barrels. It could make them get tense anytime they enter an arena which is not helpful for dressage. I rode western for most of my life and dabbled in barrels (full disclosure I thought it was stupid. Not knocking it, it just wasn't my cup of tea). I had a mare that after a couple of runs on the speed events would become a hot mess. Jigging, wanting flat out to be the only speed in the arena.
    I totally get what you are saying about the similarities but (playing devils advocate here) but there are huge differences. In barrels you want a quicker flatter canter/lead changes where as I'm dressage you want the canter/changes with more jump.
    I think you should try it on another horse first and really watch the horses at the in gate before you make a decision. I really hope this doesn't come off as really harsh/negative/ bitchy because I really do like you guys. I know that if I tried Stinker on barrels he would fry his brain in a second. But that is my two cents :)

    1. I should add that all of my experience has been with local events and I've never been around people who consider themselves trainers for barrel racers. So it could just be I'm biased due to the number of totally fried horses because the rider didn't know what they were doing.

    2. Don't worry, it didn't come off as harsh/negative/bitchy at all :) I totally get what you're saying and appreciate your concern. That brain frying/becoming a hot mess part is something that I would be worried about too, as Kachina is a hotter horse to start with. That's why if I was to try this, I think I'd try the dressage approach to barrel racing. As in a forward extended canter but keeping the jump and relaxation, rather than a flat out gallop. I wouldn't expect to win buckles that way, but if it worked it could be fun.

      This was more of a fun thing to think about kind of post, I just think the picture of pirouetting around barrels is hilarious haha. No decisions have been made, but whatever I do, I would stop at once if it was having any negative impacts on our training.

  3. I think you should absolutely try it! Kachina seems like a sensible horse. (My two would get way, way too wound up!)

    My BO takes her young and green horses to barrel races- she doesn't compete on them, but she'll let them hang out tied the trailer all night or get on and hack them around. There's always so much going on at barrel races or rodeos, and the exposure is great for them!

    1. There are WAY more barrel races around here that I could use for exposure than there are dressage shows. Plus entries are usually a lot cheaper too!

  4. I think that you could have fun with it but like Eventingsaddlebredstyle said- I've seen horses get so jazzed that they are a hot mess.

  5. It can't hurt to dabble and see what Kachina thinks of it! :)