What does it take to bring a prospect from the pasture to big-time barrel racing?
By Fallon Taylor with Danika Kent
Nice barrel horses are like money; they don’t grow on trees. One or many trainers have invested hours, days, months, and years to get the finished products you see at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo on TV.
Our sport has become increasingly popular, which means the value of a really good barrel horse is rising as well. Are you independently wealthy, or are you like the majority of us who have to train our own? Do you have the confidence to take your prospect to the big leagues and make your dreams come true without breaking the bank?
I think you can! I did. I took a long hiatus from barrel racing professionally and trained horses for other people in the meantime. In my pasture were four amazing prospects by my stallion and world champion producer, Dr Nick Bar, and out of the mare I went to the NFR on in the 90s. Those should be good enough, right?
Well, like many barrel racers, I didn’t think I had the skill to bring these babies to their full potential. I didn’t know the first thing about taking one from the pasture to the NFR. I have always been blessed to ride amazing horses, but Mom and Dad weren’t footing the bill this time. It was all up to me.
Fortunately, I’d also had many opportunities to ride with amazing trainers as I was growing and learning, but their skill with a horse seemed like magic I would be unable to replicate on my own. When I met my husband, he encouraged me to pick my favorite prospect out of the pasture and try my hardest. I set my heart on the little sorrel filly with a star that looked so much like her dam, Flowers And Money (“Flo-Jo”). That little filly was Flos Heiress, or "Babyflo."
I went straight to the round pen on the first day and to the barrel pattern after little more than an hour. This is not what I recommend now that I know better, so take this from me: I skipped many chapters in slow work I thought wouldn’t affect Babyflo’s future, but if you watched us at the 2013 NFR, you could see gaps in my training.
Now, I have a protocol for how I start my prospects around the pattern, but I think it’s important to keep an open mind when your colt shows you exactly how he wants to work and materialize into his own greatness. There weren’t many people who thought Babyflo would achieve what she has, judging by her appearance and style, but now, she has set the bar for little horses as well as lefties.
The Fundamental Four
The following are my four fundamentals when it comes to bringing up that baby.
- Don’t skip a solid foundation. I send all my prospects to a trainer or colt starter who gets them very broke. For my style of training, I need a prospect to counter arc and side pass very willingly before I start them around the barrels.
- Wax on, wax off. This is the part that takes so much time. Much like the coach in "Karate Kid" said, there is no rushing step No. 2. Set up one barrel in the middle of an arena and lope giant circles, working your way down to your ideal turn, then back out to the big circle. Practice this a little each day until your horse settles down in a turn and feels confident in what is expected around a barrel.
- Don’t rush anything. I will never forget telling my husband that Babyflo would never be a horse I could trust and that she wasn’t ever going to feel finished enough to rodeo on. Thank God I was wrong. We kept chipping away, little by little, and made the most of tiny progress. A terrible run has beautiful moments that can be celebrated. An attitude shift on a colt’s bad day will help both of you get through this chapter.
- Get better. Most of the time, each prospect you train will be better than the last, simply because you’ve gained more skills. This means your colt might be faster, quicker, and more agile than your last. Faster, better, stronger is what we are all working to achieve, but if we don’t work on our own skills, confidence, and strength, we won’t have the ability to keep up with them. Make sure you’re doing all you can to better yourself.
Take these guidelines with you next time you saddle a prospect, and as that horse progresses, keep in mind that just because you’ve made it to No. 4, that doesn’t mean you can’t go back and perfect pieces of 1, 2, or 3. You never know how far that one step back will launch you forward.