Mary Burger explains her style of introducing prospects to the barrel pattern, her approach to the barrels and how she advances her horses.
By Mary Burger with Kailey Sullins
In “Tools for the 2-Year-Old” I shared what I expect from my 2-year-olds: Collection, responsiveness and fluidity are basics I require in both my futurity and rodeo prospects. Once a hose learns these basics I introduce it to the pattern from start to finish. I teach the colt where to position its body and feet in the pattern. I do this slowly making sure each step is correct before advancing with the horse.
When the horse knows the basics I begin my approaches to the barrels. The fundamentals are the same whether at the walk, trot, lope or full speed, however I begin with the walk. As I approach the first barrel I keep the horse’s nose tipped to the inside of the turn. I lay the inside rein up on the neck to lift the shoulder to teach the horse to hold its shoulder up. I leave enough pocket for the horse to come around the barrel and leave closer to the barrel than we came into the turn. as I leave the barrel, at the backside of the turn I straighten the horse’s shoulder by using the outside rein to straighten its nose.
An important thing to remember about your pocket is it’s not an un-fluctuating degree of distance, but rather entirely dependent on each individual horse. A big, tall horse may need a bigger pocket so it can use its stride and a smaller horse may run on the inside tracks of a bigger horse. You must determine that yourself depending on how fast your horse can get around the turn quickly and fluently.
As I leave the first barrel I will go straight to the second barrel pocket and then pick up the horse’s shoulder by applying the inside rein up on the neck to step out or a little bit away to leave enough pocket. Then I take the nose on the backside and straighten the horse out again with the outside rein so it knows where it’s supposed to be positioned.
I do the same thing going to the third barrel. Travel straight to the pocket, pick up the shoulder with pressure on the inside rein and then come off tight with a slightly angled position toward the first barrel as I leave the third barrel.
When the horse is responsive to the cues at a walk then I’ll move to the trot session and then to the lope. It’s important to note that I only add speed when I am comfortable that the colt understands what I want from him and is responsive to my cues in the slower gates.
I keep everything the same as far as my body and hand position in the pattern at a faster gate as I do at a walk. the only difference is I will break the horse down to a slower gate before turning the barrel. When I reach the point in the pattern where I want my horse to sit or rate – the point where I want my horse to start negotiating that turn – I want to break my horse down into a slower gate. I usually use the word ‘whoa’. I teach all of my horses ‘whoa’ means either stand or slow down.
If the horse doesn’t feel like it is rounding around the barrel in the way I want it to then I’ll take the nose and keep it positioned on the inside of the turn and trot around it twice then straighten the horse back out and go on to the next barrel. I do this until the horse is comfortable at the trot. at that point I’ll try the lope. I keep everything the same. I use the inside rein to keep the horse where it should be, at the point I want it to acknowledge the turn I break it down from a lope to a trot and let it have its rotation, or pocket, around a barrel. Then, I straighten the nose when I get behind the barrel and ask for a lope again as I go to the next barrel and do the same thing again for each barrel.
If the horse feels uncomfortable, gets a little strung out or doesn’t feel coordinated when it’s loping the pattern sometimes I lope circles around the barrel to get the horse relaxed. Loping wider circles and then wheeling the horse down to the correct position around the barrel can help relax the horse. When I come back around the barrel and decide to turn it correctly and move on to the next barrel I am in correct position and always try to come off of the barrel a little tighter.
Outside the Practice Pen
When I start adding more speed to my horses from a lope to a harder lope I’ll do the same fundamentals over again. once I get them to where they are actually extending around that pattern and listening and keeping their pocket and coming off of the barrels right then I’ll go to some local jackpots and do the same things. I’ll start exhibitioning at a trot or lope and gradually pick up my speed away from home. A lot of times I don’t even have full speed with one when I’m at home I’ve always had good luck with picking up their speed away from home.