Turn and Burn

Champion barrel racer Kristie Peterson offers some advice on what it takes to win consistently.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Kristie Peterson is a four-time Women’s Professional Rodeo Association world champion barrel racer, originally from Colorado but now living in Chilton, Texas. Kristie is the owner of the famous barrel horse French Flash Hawk, aka “Bozo,” and together they were as competitive and fierce as any barrel racing team out there.

But that was then and this is now, and, as a grandmother, she has transitioned into a different phase of her life that she loves and enjoys just as much as she loved and enjoyed the rodeo road. Today, she trains horses with her daughter, Jordon, for themselves and clients.

Here are Kristie’s tips on how to get the most out of your barrel runs:


As people age, when they return to riding from time off or after suffering injuries, their balance is often the first thing they lose. Kristie says what many people say: Relax – which is inevitably easier said than done.

“If you don’t relax and go with the stride, especially in the turn, it’s really stressful on your back,” Kristie says. “Relax your rear end in the saddle; it’s much easier on your body and easier on your horse.”

AQHA Professional Horseman Richard Shrake gets you started in the right direction toward a better relationship with your horse in AQHA’s FREE Riding Lessons With Richard Shrake report.

Her suggestion is to get “butt heavy” in the saddle and relax your whole body starting from the shoulders down. Working on relaxation starts at home but should carry over into competition. However, Kristie says, it’s an active form of relaxation. You have to visualize it and practice it for it to work.

“It’s a mental thing; we all know that,” she says.

Adding Speed

Kristie doesn’t buy into fads, gimmicks or tricks. She keeps her training simple and her advice just as straightforward. Adding speed between barrels, according to Kristie, is all about confidence – confidence in yourself as a rider and confidence in your horse.

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“It usually just happens. Your horse gets to where he understands it’s a game and he starts enjoying himself,” Kristie says. “Your confidence and your horse’s confidence improve, and with that, the speed just comes. Your body gets more aggressive with that confidence.”

Kristie points out that it’s important to keep your preparation in place for the turn. Sitting and relaxing into the turn brings your horse’s hind end under him and allows him to leave the turn faster and harder. But you still have to set him for that turn, Kristie warns.

“Start your turn, then you are going to sit and relax, which is what I do when I ask a horse to stop anyway,” she says. “The horse prepares to get under himself to make that turn. Ride two-handed to the barrel. Five feet from the barrel, drop a hand and sit, and that’s his cue to get in the ground and turn. Get this consistent, even at the high lope.”

Mental Competitiveness

Confidence and being prepared for your runs is what gives you a mental edge, Kristie says.

“When you get to the rodeo, get off your horse and on your feet and walk the alley. Get a mental picture. Don’t be rushed, don’t have any excuses, and visualize yourself in the arena making your run.”

Not only that, Kristie says, but you need to know who ran before you and how they did. Did they turn out? If so, you need to know so that you don’t miss your turn or get rushed. Routine and confidence are the keys to having an edge over your competition.

AQHA Professional Horseman Richard Shrake explains the importance of rhythm and why timing is crucial to good riding in AQHA’s FREE Riding Lessons With Richard Shrake report.

“Be confident and don’t look for excuses,” Kristie says. “And don’t second guess yourself after you are done. When you are there, relax. Go in with a confident, clear mind.”

Kristie loves the mental games she plays with herself.

“You’ve already paid the money, so learn from mistakes and don’t be mad about them. That way, next time, you can visualize a different outcome.”

Bonus Tips

    • When you go buy a horse, make the owner show you how the horse works. Many times, when you ride him and he bucks you off, they say he’s never done that before.
    • If a horse will push you around when he’s on a halter, chances are good he will push you around when you are in the saddle. Get respect everywhere. When you are handling your horse, you are always teaching him something.