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Barrel Racing Clinic


Photos by Ellen Acree Ingram

On Sunday, September 18, 2016 two friends, with over 50 years of barrel racing experience between them, offered a barrel racing clinic – Winning Times Two. The clinic was open to anyone who wanted to learn some effective training and competing techniques, horsemanship, and possible bit changes that can make a barrel horse more responsive and happier to do his job. Trainers April Pearson and Cam Locke worked with a dozen riders for several hours at the Robert Rainey Memorial Arena in Byhalia, MS. The covered arena was large enough for each instructor to work with a set of horses and riders at the same time at different ends of the facility. Both instructors took turns working with each group.

The attendees ranged from riders just starting out in the sport to those with experienced riding skills. There were young riders and a novice, older adult rider. All learned more about the technical side of training a barrel horse to respond to body cues, such as sitting down, using eye contact to run straight lines from one barrel to another, and better balance to avoid pulling unnecessarily on the reins when traveling 25-30 miles an hour and making hard turns in both directions.

“A lot of people don’t look where they’re going,” April said. “They look down or somewhere else. But keep in mind – where ever you look, your horse is going to go. Some horses have an ‘alley way problem,’ an anxiety problem about coming into the arena. If the horse backs up, the rider looks behind them to see where the horse is backing. But, instead, they should keep looking forward and encouraging their horse to go forward. We had one gal with a really stressed horse. Cam and I both yelled ‘pet him!’ And when she did, the horse dropped his head and relaxed.”

April works mainly with problem horses that take a lot of time to fix and get them doing what she wants. Her main approach to training is “Pressure and Release.” The horse responds to the release of pressure, not the pressure, she says. So when you stop pulling on the horse’s mouth, the horse responds to release of pressure. Emphasize the release to accomplish your training goals.

Two tricks to helping riders keep the horse’s head, and thus his body, straight are to: (1) look at your destination; look where you’re going. (2) Look between the horse’s ears. April said she had the riders look straight ahead at her through the horse’s ears. These techniques keep the horse straight without pulling in his mouth.

April and Cam have competed in barrel races extensively in several states, winning awards and money. Both enjoy the teaching aspect that goes into training well-made barrel horses. “We had people who, of course, wanted to learn how to lessen their competition times. There is no magic way to do it. Your horse has to have mastered the right foundation basics before you can make much headway going around three cans,” said Cam. April added, “That's right. Rome, nor a good barrel horse, wasn't built in a day. We showed our participants how to achieve the ‘precise’ turn by starting out slow and working up. It’s a blessing for us to make these new friends and share with them as much information from our experience as we can.”

The clinic was sponsored by C & W Quarter Horses of Byhalia, MS. April and Cam are both on Facebook, or can be reached by phone: April 662-554-8254 or Cam 918-575-3449.

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