Hello everyone! Welcome back to Rafter 3 Horse Development. This is Jamie with you today and we are going to be talking about my top three exercises to improve softness in our barrel racing horses.

Softness is something that can be overlooked in barrel racing to the point of detriment for both horse and rider.

So, what do we do to implement more softness into our training?

Exercise #1 Bending 

The first exercise I want to discuss is fairly broad, but you can use it in just about any sense. Bending is extremely important, and I am not just talking about walking around and yanking your horses head side-to-side. When we look at bending and what happens within our horses bodies, there is a lot more going on than what meets the eye.

Did you know that when you’re properly bending your horse, you are actually creating straightness? Sounds really strange, but when you are actually bending THROUGH YOUR HORSES BODY, you are creating straightness. This does not mean that just because a horse is bending means it’s actually straight (or vice verse.)

To think about this more clearly, let’s think about how a train or semi truck may bend. They have axis’s they rotate upon, but our horses bodies have ribcages and spines. Unlike the semi  tractor trailer or train, when they bend, different portions of their back and ribcage expand and contract creating bend within the horses body.

The Refined Rider, a dressage academy has this to say: “If you think about it, the spine is just like a mini train. Each vertebrae is one train car, and they each bend. But they are so closed together that when all the parts bend in the spine, it creates a curve when its surrounded by organs, a ribcage, and covered in muscle and fat. The purpose of the ribcage is the same as that in humans. It protects the organs. But each rib is connect to a segment of the spine. So when the spine bends, the ribs go with it. Try this: Stand up straight and bend your body over to the side while remaining facing forward. Or get on all 4’s like a horse and bend your body one way or the other. In the simplest form, this is how the horse’s ribcage will act when the horse is bending. The ribs on one side of the body will move closer together, while the ribs on the other side will spread farther apart, all due to the fact that the spine in bending.”

Overbend and under bend in our horses will actually create INSTABILITY! They are moving their ribs and spine constantly, so this can wreak havoc during high-performance barrel racing runs if we are not in full and complete control of our horses bodies and understanding properly what their back and ribcage is doing, especially around our turns.

Now that we have a bit of background, let’s take a look at some great exercises that involve bending!

Bending starts with flexion

Riding circles, alternating larger and smaller circles

Exercise #2 Pole work

Pole work is another important exercise and tool we can use to improve our barrel racing horse’s softness. There are many different exercises you can implement with poles, from pole bending to trail obstacles. If you look at what the “main-stream performance” Quarter horse industry does with their trail obstacles, I think we can learn a lot and use some of their strategies with our barrel horses.

Pole work is not only good for developing softness, but in additional it develops balance and coordination which are important for barrel racing horses. Developing these aspects will improve your runs and help your horse during their turns. The softer and more balanced our horses are, the easier and quicker they will get around barrels.

Here are some videos showing examples of various ways you can implement pole work!

Exercise #3 Stop and back

Stopping and backing your horse may seem a little irrelevant, but in fact it actually leads greatly to developing softness and control over your barrel horse. Many times, we hear riders say that they feel quite “out of control” with their horses. You are not going to have a soft horse if they are constantly out of control.

One of my favorite ways to accomplish this is by practicing soft stops and backs. What I mean by this is simply walking, trotting, or loping your horse and then asking them to stop and then immediately back. I do this randomly and at different intervals to overcome the horse’s temptations to predict what you are asking them to do. This works in multiple ways by helping your horse get used to listening to you, curating softness and willingness, and strengthening your horses back and hind end.


Final thoughts on Rafter 3‘s- 3 Exercises To Improve Softness In Barrel Racing Horses

Today we discussed how to curate softness and the 3 exercises to improve softness in barrel racing horses. We hope that this article was helpful and gave you some creative and fun ideas to implement into your barrel racing training program! Have a great day and God bless you all!

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