Barrel Racing Short Story: The Case of the Tipping Barrel

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Short Story - Case of the Tipping Barrel
Illustration by Jean Abernethy

Enjoy this short story from Young Rider magazine involving barrel racing in which Emma’s perfect new horse brings out her riding flaws.

Young Rider Magazine LogoEmma couldn’t believe she finally had a barrel horse of her very own. A big, beautiful bay Quarter Horse gelding nicknamed George. He’d won the 1D—the fastest division—in their region last year. Sure, her parents said the money he cost meant no smartphone and even no car when she turned 16, but Emma was sure George was worth it.

She’d been running barrels on her sister’s hand-me-down pony, Sparkles, but now she could pass Sparkles down to her little brother, Aiden, and really become a champion.

George was her dream horse. He was perfect.

Practice Makes Perfect?

Emma’s big sister, Madison, who also rode barrels, told her to start off slow with George and get to know him before going full speed. Emma had been taking that advice, doing trail rides and controlled runs and arena exercises. Everything was going perfectly.

That all changed one month before the first big barrel racing event of the season. Emma decided they were ready to do a real run. They measured the barrels, and Madison stood on the arena fence to watch.

Emma could feel how fast her heart was beating, and her stomach was a knot of excitement. George knew what was coming and tensed, fidgeting from side to side until Emma moved her hands up his mane, leaned forward and gave an encouraging kick.

George pounced forward into a full run, the power from his hind end like that of a race car. Emma smiled and grabbed for the saddle horn as they made a perfect turn around the first barrel. They headed for the second, and—BAM—her leg went straight into the metal barrel, tipping it over.

She was stunned. And it hurt. She tried to recover. They finished the run, but it was slower and sloppier than the first half.

“You sat down too soon!” Madison yelled. “Try it again a little slower, and don’t turn so soon!”

Emma tried again, trying hard to not turn or sit too soon. But again, they tipped the barrel. She tried two more times, and both times the barrel tipped.

“You can’t keep running him,” Madison said. “Just trot it a few times so you don’t end like that. We’ll work on it more next time.”

Someone to Help

George was perfect, so Emma knew the barrel tipping had to be her fault. Madison kept trying to help, but two weeks later, the barrel was still tipping.

“Why don’t you call his old owner and see if he can give you tips?” Madison said. “Ethan is a grade behind me at school, and he’s really nice.”

Short Story - Case of the Tipping Barrel
Illustration by Jean Abernethy

“Can’t you ask him for me?” Emma pleaded. Ethan was sooo cute, and Emma couldn’t imagine calling him and talking to him.

“Don’t be dumb,” Madison said. “Just call him.” Emma felt more nervous calling Ethan than she ever had been before a run. But she had to get George on track before the first race. Her parents spent all that money on him, and she knew he’d been a champion for Ethan.

When she finally got up the courage to call him, she could barely speak. Ethan had to ask her to repeat herself twice. But he was super nice and said he’d come over to help them.

The next day, Emma spent an hour messing with her hair and changing outfits before he arrived. Madison and Aiden kept teasing her.

Ethan had just turned 16 and drove himself over in his dad’s truck. He petted George’s head so gently, saying he’d missed him. Ethan is just as perfect as George, Emma thought, knowing Madison would tease her so much if she knew what she was thinking!

Finding the Problem

Ethan had them do a run so he could watch. Sure enough, down went barrel two.

“I think I know what’s happening,” Ethan said. “You’re putting your hip toward the barrel, so George is moving his ribcage in to put himself under you, and he’s hitting the barrel.”

Emma was so distracted by Ethan she had to take a minute to process what he said. He showed her with his own body.

“When he turns correctly, you want to be in line with him, which means you’re both curving around the barrel, not bowing in toward it. Does that make sense?” he said. He drew her a diagram in the arena sand. She nodded.

They ran the pattern again, and this time it didn’t tip! As she rode back to Ethan, he gave her a high five, and she smiled the biggest smile ever.

“Don’t practice at full speed for a while,” he said. “Focus on the technique. Same thing at the race. You have plenty of time to increase your speed as the season goes on. Get it right first.”

Emma nodded and almost forgot to thank him.

Race Day

She wanted to show all her friends how great George was, so it was hard not to let him go all out at the race. But she knew Ethan was right. And he was watching. So she didn’t go full speed and really watched her form. They came in second place in their division with no tipped barrel.

Ethan gave her a big high five again. “You guys did great,” he said. “You’ll be up a division in no time.”

Second place or not, it felt like a pretty perfect day.

This article on rules to feed a horse by appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of Young Rider magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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