Thursday, April 14, 2011

Feelings Before The Season Opener

The arena is being drug, and the timers are being set. Preparations are being made for the rodeo season opener: the Spring Fling Barrel Race at Kirkwood. We're just about eight days out from when the first runner will take to the arena, and there's a lot of things to be done, in and out of the practice arena. First of all, the week before the season is crucial for practice. Though you make practice runs and go fairly fast in your own arena, you push the limit ten times more when you are actually competing, so it's very important to make sure that your horses are on the path to proper conditioning. It's important to protect them from injuries, especially ones related to the barrel pattern, such as pulled ligaments or out of line spines. This is the time when we really get down to business on maintenance.

We stretch out our horses every day we ride, twice: Once before we ride, and once after, to keep them loose and comfortable. It's very important to make sure their muscles are warmed up, just like if a person were going to do strenuous activities. It's also important to hit a full range of motion in their legs, stretching everything from the hock (right above the hoof) to the withers (right below the neckline).

Another huge aspect is perfecting our training. This is where the cues get really specific, and you have to be extremely hard on yourself to maintain a flawless, consistent pattern. Remember that you have to look to the same spot, have your hands in the same place, say the same commands in the right spots, push with your legs at just the right time, all while going up to 40 miles an hour. It can be a lot to keep track of, and is very hard to master. A lot of barrel racers take this time to examine the scientific aspect of barrel racing: they look at aerodynamics, the exact best place for the horse to make their turn according to their body shape and leg length, and they start looking for the smallest, simplest ways to cut off 100ths, even 1000ths of a second off their time.

All in all, there's a lot left to do before the first show...check in on it later!

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