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Conditioning a Barrel Horse

Barrel racing is a tough sport on both rider and horse. Barrel horses are athletes that need to be in really good condition when running barrels. A horse that is not in good condition and started on barrels may get sore and associate the pain with running barrels. This can lead to problems that are hard to correct.

If you plan on starting a horse on barrels or are getting a seasoned horse back into shape, start on their conditioning before putting them on the barrel pattern. Long trotting and slow loping are the best two ways to get a horse in top condition. These gaits will build up muscle and lung capacity allowing the horse to perform better and not be gasping for air after a run. Part of getting your horse into shape is building his lung capacity and stamina. Having an exercise program for your horse is the best way to monitor what exercise your horse is getting. This makes it easier to add or take away parts of the program according to his condition and needs.

Find a good, safe place to exercise your horse. An arena is good because of the cushion of the dirt or sand, but can become very boring for both you and your horse. If you have a large pasture you can do most of the exercising there. Dirt roads without rocks are good for this because the scenery isn’t so repetitive. Make sure that you don’t exercise your horse on ground that is too hard, like on roadways, cement or icy ground. Always put protective boots on your horse’s legs before riding to protect his legs from injury.

To get your barrel horse in condition you should work up to riding him six to eight miles three or four days a week. These days should consist of warming up with a walk, long trotting and slow loping. In the beginning you should do more walking and slowly take the walking time and add it to the trotting and loping segments. After walking a half of a mile, alternate long trotting and slow loping for a half of a mile. Do this for a week and then add another half of a mile. It can take months to reach the full six to eight miles, but getting a horse in top condition takes time and patience. Of course, if your horse is in good shape before starting the program you may increase the mileage faster.

On the days you aren’t following the exercise program you should your horse lightly or exercise him in a round pen. Allow your horse at least one day off a week to rest and relax. Turn him out in a pasture to run freely or lay around. This allows his muscles to still work, but at his own, natural pace. This also allows him to relax and not become bored with the exercise program.

After following this program for about 90 days you should see a vast improvement in your horse’s condition and stamina. He is almost at his peak performance at this point. Now you can add a sprint to your exercise program on one day of the week. Start out with a walk and trot to get his muscles warmed up and stretched. Ask your horse for a sprint for about 250 yards. Ask for as much speed as he will give you, allowing him to run as fast as he can. Slowly bring him down to a lope, trot and then a walk. Walk him until his breathing is even and he is cooled down. This does not need to be done more than once a week. If you are running your horse at a barrel race almost every weekend, you can skip this part of the workout.

Once you start competing regularly this rigorous exercise program can be cut down to a maintenance program. If you are competing almost every weekend you can shorten the exercise down to 45 minutes of walking, trotting and loping three to four days a week. Always be sure and give your horse at least one day off a week and don’t ride him hard every single day. Horses get bored with routine and can start to misbehave. Remember to not work him too hard the day of or the day just before a competition.

Source by Ron Petracek

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