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Keeping Barrel Racing Horses Sound and Sane


Interview with Ki Allen
By Peggy Gaboury

Barrel Racing as a whole has a high turn-over of horses. Most horses are competitive only for a few years, and the riders frequently compete a horse only for a short time – 18 months, maybe two years – before sending the horse to the sales and starting with a new one. Kiazziah “Ki” Allen, of Delhi, Louisiana, is unusual for her ability to keep working the same horses for many years. Most of her horses are still running soundly well into their teens, and she has several who continued into their twenties. 

Ki is a person who likes to be quiet, keep her head down, and do her job, so it took a bit of effort from me to get her to open up and talk. She didn’t want to seem critical or to tell other people how to do things, so she talks here about what how she trains, rides, and keeps her horses sound and sane.  She is the first to say that she does not run in first place every time, but she has run steadily in the money for a long time, and so do her students. She runs a riding school, and the place is always overrun with children, some as young as 6 years old and far too short to tack up for themselves.  Her job, as she sees it, is to make good horsemen of them all. Her students ride in multiple events, mostly in youth rodeo, where they consistently perform well. In addition to barrel racing, her horses and students compete in reining, pole bending, break-away roping, stock seat equitation, English equitation, goat tying, and other events. Following is a description of her training methods in her words.

  “I don’t really ever start a horse for barrel racing. I start them for riding. If you can guide the horse, and the horse is rideable, you can do anything with him. You can run a barrel pattern, or do a reining pattern, or turn a cow back on any horse that is trained to work. It helps if they have some ‘cow sense’ in them, but if they are trained well, they can do it anyway.”

“I don’t spend much time on just patterning the horse on the barrels. I use a variety of exercises to make the horse maneuverable in any direction. I want him to be able to speed up or slow down, and turn anyway I need him to turn. I don’t want my horses to see the barrels set up and think only of running that pattern.”

“I don’t keep the barrels set up at home, not in the arena. I have them out in the pasture, where the horses graze around them all the time. Sometimes I send the kids out to walk, trot, and canter the pattern, once in each direction. Sometimes we work the pattern backwards, or only pieces of the pattern. Sometimes I set up a shortened pattern and have 5 or 6 of the kids run it – one right after another, in quick succession; then we do something else.”

“All of my horses can do Dressage. I often see horses at the rodeos who are running all out, but they don’t have enough core muscle to support themselves. These horses are going to have hock injuries, sometimes stifle injuries. They lean in too hard and tear up their tendons. Slow, systematic work at home can protect them from a lot of that.”

“My horses don’t run in broken wire bits. I don’t use jointed bits in their mouths. They run in pelhams, with about 4 inch shanks, with 2 reins or with one rein adjusted so that curb contact is the secondary, not primary, rein effect. If the horse knows his job, you don’t need to use a harsh bit on him. Too much bit will slow him down, and it is even worse if the contact is intermittent. I see horses going with the reins thrown away, and then the riders haul on their mouths at the last minute. Because of these inconsistent and harsh rein effects, the horses can turn too fast and hit the barrels, or they are so out of balance coming off the turn that they can’t move away with good speed.  Anytime the rider unbalances the horse, you are going to lose speed!

“Devices like War Bonnets, draw reins, and tie downs make the horse over-bent by force. The horses are not being trained to use themselves correctly.  Horse who run this way almost always have issues with hocks and stifles, sore backs, and sore in the poll. They have to see the chiropractor all the time.”

“The best thing for barrel racing has been having the multiple divisions. If you are not running for top speed in 1-D all the time, you can train a horse.  You can keep using him for a long time if you don’t always run flat out. I try never to use more 80% of my horse. If I were heading for the finals, I might use everything I have then, but for local competing, I use maybe 70-75% of the horse. A horse only has so many runs in them, and you need to reserve the best for the one or two times when you really need it.”

“The way barrel racing is set up now, you can make a check without being the fastest horse out there. You can win a check and be 2 seconds off the fastest time, but a lot of people just want to win in 1-D. Students can run in 3- or 4-D and win a little consistently. My students do it on 18 and 20 year old school horses. That has been a good development for the sport.”

“In the long run, consistency and steadiness in performance win more than occasional bursts of speed.”

About Ki Allen: Ki offers stock seat riding instruction at Ki Allen’s Riding School in Delhi, Louisiana, where she is the owner and Head Instructor and Trainer. She was born to parents who owned a small breeding farm, so she always had horses to ride. She often attends seminars, clinics and takes lessons in order to learn more.

She was the lead equestrian gymnast, roman rider and trick rider for Dixie Stampede in Pigeon Forge, TN and was a trick rider with the Harper & Morgan Rodeo Company in Iowa, LA in the “Trick Riders of America Troup.” Over the years she has performed at fairs, festivals and special events throughout the U.S. and Canada. Contact Ki at: (318) 878-2100 or e-mail: 

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