Thursday, February 7, 2013

It Doesn't Work, So Knock it Off

I read something today that confirmed my conviction about an ugly practice I have noticed in certain arenas – actually, it’s more of a shoot than an arena.

I like barrel racing.  At least, I enjoyed the couple of times I attempted it, and I plan to do it again in the near future.  I also admire the speed and training and the staying-on-around-sharp-turns part.   

But I absolutely detest the way some riders kick and beat their horses when they clear the last barrel and head for the timer.  Not only is it poor horsemanship, but it is also terrible equitation. 

Have you ever seen those chicks fly in the air off their horses’ back, because they are kicking them so hard?  If you haven’t seen it, here’s a picture.  They seem to think this poor treatment makes their horse go faster.

And the horse looks so happy at its job...not.
Today, a well-respected publication focusing on horse health, called The Horse, ran an article about a study that shows that beating and kicking a barrel horse made no impact on how fast the horse finished the pattern.  In fact, all that treatment did was cause the horse to resist going into the arena, and the ones that were kicked the most were more likely to rear. 

Well, there’s a surprise.

Here’s what the researcher had to say about the study:

"At some amateur levels, barrel racing riders are encouraged to aggressively use both the whip and the leg to increase the velocity of the horse," said Karen Waite, MS, equine extension specialist and researcher at Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing, Mich. "But there appears to be no relationship between the use of the whip, leg, or reins and the final run time of cloverleaf barrel race patterns."

Here’s a link to the article.  You may have to register to read, if you haven’t before, but it’s free and very worth it.  The Horse has thousands of free articles that give insight on horse behavior, health, “equinomics” and more. 

I hope this study makes a positive difference to some horse and rider teams out there.


  1. I did a summer of barrel racing with my last horse many years ago, and I can't begin to count the number of people who were literally blown away I didn't even have spurs on. My horse understood what turning the last barrel and being able to go straight meant. I have a hard time believing these horses that have done it for years don't too. Yuck.

  2. Hi Carly,
    I think when people are learning, they sometimes forget to measure the quality of the lessons, and then it becomes ingrained and never questioned. Glad you opened some eyes!