Nangus-based Adele Edwards and her husband Darrell own 3D Quarter Horses and have bred some of the most successful barrel racing horses in Australia from a very small and select band of broodmares.
Nangus is a village on the Wagga Wagga to Gundagai Road on the north side of the Murrumbidgee River, and its claim to fame is certainly that it’s produced the woman who has become known as the Queen of Barrel Racing in Australia.
Adele holds several national titles, which she’s won on different horses and she further proved her worth as a barrel racing trainer when she won the Equitana Australian Open Barrel Race in 2012 on her then eight-year-old gelding Moon Roc. But as much she’s known for her own competition achievements, it’s the fact that these horses, trained by her, have gone on to be successful for other riders, giving her a reputation for training reliable, fast horses.
The popularity of Adele’s methods has seen her in demand as a clinician. She emphasises the importance of good horsemanship to ensure that barrel horses are able to excel in the arena. She has a simple formula for barrel racing success that can be followed by even beginners to the sport, and she was happy to share some of her training tips with me for HorseVibes.
Introduction to Barrel Racing: Barrel racing is a type of rodeo event. The participants and their horses attempt to complete a clover-leaf pattern around barrels in the fastest way possible.
In rodeo events, which are timed, the goal is to make a run at the fastest time. The time is either being watched by an electronic eye or by an attendant. The timer starts when the participants and their horses cross the start line; it ends when the barrel pattern has been completed, and then the horse and rider can cross the finish line.
The participants can choose which barrel they will go around first, but they must do the right pattern. If a participant runs past a barrel, this will result in a ‘no time’ score. If the participant hits a barrel, there will be a five second penalty. The participants are allowed one minute to finish the race, disqualification occurs after a broken pattern or the rider over whipping.
Starting out: Adele believes that having good hands, seat and legs are vital to any equine discipline. “If you can combine these three, this should bring success and a rider should spend their time honing these skills,” she says.
While it’s true that everyone can enjoy the sport of barrel racing without any specific training, Adele stresses that horses that are consistently fast require a high level of training. “The horse should be taught everything at the walk first, and then you gradually build up to each different pace when they are consistently performing the manoeuvre correctly,” she says, pointing out that teaching the horse to slow down off the rider’s seat and voice, rather than using the hands is very beneficial when speed is applied.
“The less the rider needs to do with their hands in a run, the better,” Adele says firmly. “If the training is done right, then the hands are only going to guide, not pull.”
Control: Adele points out that having good control of each different part of the horse, which includes the neck, shoulders, ribcage and hind quarters is something that will help make barrel racing easier, not only for the rider but also for the horse when speed is added.
“The horse needs to know how to soften to the bit and drive from behind, it needs to have good lateral bend through the neck, and to be able to keep their shoulder elevated and to bend through the ribcage. I do many perfect circles with the horse using all four legs to move forward and with it bent through the whole body from head to tail, along with many other drills aimed towards achieving these goals,” she says.
She likens the importance of the backend of a horse to four-wheel drive in a vehicle. “You have to ensure that the horse stays in ‘four-wheel drive’,” she says. “If they stop driving from behind it slows the front end down and this will create turns on the forehand that slow our runs down through the turn. Similarly a horse who stops too much in a turn and rolls back over itself won’t be as effective as a horse who can move forward in the same shape as the object they are turning around without any stop/start. These turns are much more efficient and fast – they are what we call ‘form to function’.”
Position: You know the real estate motto, location, location, location? Well, the same is true of the rider’s position, says Adele. “The rider’s position in the saddle is very important. Staying centred on the horse without excess leaning, either to the inside of the turn or to the outside of the saddle, will help the horse keep its balance throughout a turn,” she explains.
“During a turn the rider’s weight shifts just a little to the outside jean pocket and stirrup, but be sure to not overdo it, because weight is needed in the inside stirrup in order for the rider to properly utilise their inside leg.”
Look where you’re going: A barrel racer’s eyes are one of their most important tools because of the fact that where you look is usually where you ride. “If the rider looks at the barrel, then the horse will get too close to or hit the barrel. If you come in too close to the barrel, you will more than likely have to leave too wide,” says Adele.
“The rider needs to look forward, down in front of the horse’s inside ear, to the ground where the horse needs to land its next step and ride to that point all the way around the barrel. Ideally in a run, the distance the horse will be from the barrel throughout the turn is around three to four feet. In training I like to leave more room, so the horse learns to always use forward momentum throughout the turn.”
Adele’s strong horsemanship skills have made her successful at retraining problem horses and helping horses that are not performing at their best. She trains in a positive and calm manner ensuring that both horse and rider can understand what she is trying to achieve, and she’s spent time training with the best in the world to hone her skills. She is a well-respected horsewoman who has something to offer anyone interested in barrel racing, and she frequently runs clinics which are listed with the Australian Barrel Horse Association.
Get involved: The Australian Barrel Horse Association publish all clinics and competitions. Barrel racing is a fun family sport where you can start out competing without having to spend money on a lot of items. There are some rules regarding dress code which may differ for each association, so it pays to check before you arrive.