6 Crucial Pieces of Barrel Racing Tack for the WIN
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Training our horses can be rewarding and a product of a huge portion of time, energy, and money. A significant element of one’s success is derived from quality equipment. Barrel racing tack is a crucial piece to being the most effective in training and competition.
In every sport ever played, participants quickly realize how valuable quality equipment is to their success. Having the right gear can either make or break you, literally. It can help prevent injury, give you support in areas you are weaker, and (when properly taken care of) should not break, leaving you hanging in the throws of competition.
Barrel racing is no different.
In fact, proper equipment is probably even more vital to our sport because it is not just our athletic ability and safety we need to protect. The horse is a critical component to our performance but a lot of riders are on a budget and seek ways to cut back the costs associated with competing. Your partner’s safety is not the area to do so.
A lot of people try to argue that a properly fitting saddle allows them to cut corners on other equipment for the purpose of saving money and reducing the amount of weight the horse carries for added speed, but these are all fallacies used to excuse negligence in the equipment department.
This comprehensive list of barrel racing tack will aide and protect you and your horse’s growing talents in your athletic pursuits. Not all horses respond to all equipment the same and not all of it will fit your riding style to a “T”. Use this as a guide to finding and properly fitting the right tools to bring out the best in your equine athlete.
1) Tie Down
I’ll get the most hotly debated piece of equipment out of the way first. This is one that really depends on the horse, where they are in their training, and how you use it. When used correctly, this can be an extremely useful tool to begin young horses on the pattern and restart blown up horses.
I tend to loosen it significantly or remove it altogether as the horse gets more confident packing their own and a rider’s weight through the turns. Using it on green horses and for slow work can greatly enhance the effectiveness of the bit by preventing them from seeking pressure release UP.
This directional limit to pressure release forces a horse to seek pressure release DOWN through poll flexion, which is a cue that can sometimes be lost when putting a horse under the pressure of high speed performance sports.
This also keeps their head just above the height of their withers where they are most athletic. Make sure it’s not too tight though, as a short tie down can limit their range of motion and prevent proper extension.
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2) Rear Cinch
A rear cinch is commonly used for performance horses like roping, ranch work, and barrel racing where dallying, quick direction changes, and fast turns can cause the saddle to slip, pop in the rear, rub withers, etc.
This one is often viewed as a preference, however, I highly recommend one one and here’s why:
Although some barrel racers choose to run without one, we must keep in mind the purpose of athletic equipment and that is not to just spend extra money or look cool. It’s sole purpose is to protect your horse.
“General rule of thumb - the front cinch is there to protect you, the rider. The rear cinch is to protect the horse”
Even the smallest movement in a well fitting saddle can cause pinching and soreness. The withers create the perfect pivot point for a saddle to rock, even ever-so-slightly, when a rider leans forward, causing friction between the saddle and the horse. A rear cinch will prevent this problem by allowing for even weight distribution and keeping the saddle in place.
Many barrel racers claim their horse doesn’t like it or it gets in the way of their leg or spur. These are not good excuses to skip out on vital pieces of equipment. You wouldn’t skip the front cinch just because the horse doesn’t like it, would you?
He needs to adjust to the rear cinch in the same way he needed to get used to the front cinch. If a horse is broke well and working off leg pressure like he should be, the rear cinch should not interfere with your cues at all.
In addition, your legs should never be in the rear cinch region - this is a strong indication that you are leaning forward, allowing your legs to get behind you. Keeping your legs engaged with the horse’s ribs and not behind you will also prevent your spurs from getting stuck in the cinch.
Make sure you are bending at the waist, not rocking your weight forward, kicking your feet back. Your waist and your knees are your pivot points.
A rear cinch serves no function loose and can actually be harmful by potentially allowing a horse’s foot to get caught or slide back into the flank. So make sure it is snug and performing it’s function of protection through direct contact with the belly.
3) Leg Wraps
These come in all sorts of cool colors and patterns! In addition to adding a pop of color to your style, they are vitally important to protecting your valuable equine athlete from injury.
Leg wraps are often used to safeguard the legs during exercise by supporting tendons and ligaments under strain and protecting the lower leg region from injury by an overreaching leg or hoof strike.
They can be essential for shielding a leg from serious injury, particularly from a horse wearing shoes. Some are even designed to absorb some of the shock from heavy hoof-to-ground impact.
Be sure they are placed snug and evenly to prevent injury or dirt/rocks from getting underneath.
3) Bell/Overreach Boots
Like the leg wraps, bell boots prevent injury from a horse overreaching with a hind hoof and striking the heel of the opposing front hoof.
Resulting injury from not using bell boots is very easy and very common.
It can happen particularly in situations when horses are working at high speeds on soft turf and the front foot stays on the ground a hair too long, allowing the hind foot the opportunity to come too far forward and strike it.
High speeds, quick turns, direction changes, soft ground - sound familiar?
Thus creating the perfect conditions for injury to your partner in crime.
Bell boots are such an easy tool to prevent injury, it’s best not to ride without them.
4) Breast Collar
There sure are some cutesy breast collars out there now! With fabulous prints and eye-catching bling for a scene-stealing style, they are hard pass up!! I can never resist drooling over the beaded matching sets. Beaded tack is the bomb!
But these tools are more than just a decorative accessory and have a very functional purpose. Designed to be placed around the shoulders and chest area, this piece of equipment is also a “preference” item but serves a very specific purpose.
Even the best fitting saddles have the potential to slip or turn slightly under fast rates of speed and quick turns.A breast collar assists in stabilizing the saddle in place and preventing it from slipping backwards, protecting the withers and back of the horse from injury and soreness.
A properly fitted, functional breast collar should rest above the point of the horse’s shoulder and not restrict movement.
The breastplate should rest on the center of the chest. Be sure the center strap that connects to the front cinch between the horse’s legs is not too tight, causing it to rub. You should be able to slip your hand under all areas of the breast collar for an effective, proper fit.
5) Saddle Pad
I get that a lot of horse people are on a budget, but this is another item you should not skimp on! Quality saddle pads are vital to protecting our horses’ backs.
Even the best fitting saddle is rigid, fixed in place, and non-conforming while a horse’s back during exercise is certainly not. A quality saddle pad is a must to cushion the back against the underside of the saddle, allow some wiggle room for growth for young horses, act as a shock absorber, and promote even weight/pressure distribution.
A great way to prolong the life of a quality pad is a Navajo blanket between the horse and the pad to protect it from deterioration caused by sweat and dirt. This will make your dollar stretch further and pay off BIG in the long run.
For the love of french toast, use spurs!
When first starting, I made the mistake of thinking my horse didn’t really need them and that they were just another unnecessary expense.
I bought into all the excuses too, trust me.
Spurs make all the difference between having a horse freeloader and an equine athlete.
With performance horses, you are asking for far more advanced cues and a level of softness/collection than the average rider out on the trail.
“To perform at a high level in this sport, you need spurs to achieve soft and supple body parts that you can’t obtain with bare heels alone.”
In a sport where not just seconds, but milliseconds, can be the difference between a check and going home empty handed, spurs are vital for quick, concise communication.
Ultimately, it’s your horse who will suffer without the proper equipment and it can cost you even more money in added vet bills, message therapy/chiropractic work, or even a new horse when it isn’t used.
Ignoring the potential for friction, pinching, and sliding with improper barrel racing tack can (and has) cost people great horses. Pain will quickly sour and ruin a good horse as well as undo months of costly training.
Don’t let this be you - invest in the proper equipment so you can bring out the best in your athlete and achieve the next level of greatness!
What are your thoughts? Comment below and check out my next article on 5 Rear Cinch Myths for the Barrel Horse BUSTED (Coming Soon!).