10 Steps to Better Your Barrel-Horse Training

10 Steps to Better Your Barrel-Horse Training

A fast time is what it takes to win a check at a barrel race, but when it comes to training a barrel horse, slow and steady wins.

barrel racing turn (Credit: Bee Silva)

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The American Quarter Horse Journal

Compiled by Jessica Carr

Start with these barrel horse training tips to help you pattern your barrel prospect so you can be on your way to a solid run.

  1. Use the cone method. Place three cones around each barrel to pinpoint your approach, rate and turn for each barrel. It can help you visualize the steps while establishing pattern consistencies with your new barrel prospect.
  2. Create a pocket for your horse. You do not want to run your horse straight at the first barrel. When approaching the barrel pattern, you should actually be lined up with the third barrel and gradually angle your horse to the first barrel.
  3. Learn to rate. You want to teach your horse to shorten his stride and prepare for the turn. Start out at a lope, then break down to a trot before reaching the first barrel.
  4. Be in the driver’s seat. Use your seat and your reins to reinforce the rate. Make sure the horse’s shoulder, rib cage and hips are framed and balanced between your reins.
  5. Hone in the speed. Once the horse is even with the barrel, completely stop the horse. This will teach the horse to rate and use his hind end when turning.
  6. Finish the turn. You want to proceed by walking the horse around the barrel. This continues to teach your horse the rate mentality and you can make sure the horse is keeping his shoulders up in the turn.
  7. Cue the horse. Be conscious of your own posture when you ask your horse to rate. The angle of your hips will change from being upright in the saddle to shifting your pelvis and somewhat sitting on your back pockets. Don’t shift too early or your horse will start shouldering in to the barrel or ducking.
  8. Head to second. Once your horse has cleared the first barrel, be sure to cue him over. If you just made your first barrel to the right, you will want to use your left leg to scoot him over. Be sure to scoot the horse over to give him a pocket coming into the second barrel.
  9. Taking the horse’s mind off of the pattern. Try switching up the training so your horse doesn’t become too hot-headed on the barrels. Working poles is a good way to keep their shoulders up and learn flexibility.
  10. Continue your education. If you have an inexperienced barrel horse and travel to barrel races, take him with you. If it’s a jackpot and has allotted time for exhibitions, sign him up. You can go as slow as you want and it doesn’t matter. It exposes the horse to new surroundings while helping him become a seasoned barrel horse.

Downloadable Training Books

  • Guide to Barrel Horse Training. Professional barrel racers Stevi Hillman, Mary Burger, Sue Smith, Jolene Montgomery and Ashley Schafer share their secrets to success. (Free download for AQHA members.)
  • Barrel Racing Tips. Sharon Camarillo breaks down the A.R.T. of barrel racing: approach, rate and turn. (Free download for AQHA members.)
  • The Need for Speed. Fine tune your barrel racing and pole bending patterns with training tips, exercises and drills from expert horsemen. (Free download for all users.)

More Resources

Rethinking the Barrel Racing ‘Pocket’ – Sit in on a clinic with barrel racing legend Jane Melby as she uses a three-step maneuver to reinvent the pocket.

Barrel Saddle Fit: The Theory of Evolution – Considering the influence of racehorse blood, is there a need for an architectural adjustment in barrel saddle trees? A saddlemaker, breeder and veterinarian weigh in.

Barrel Horse Style – What makes a good barrel horse? Any barrel racing style goes. Top barrel racers describe their unique horses and how to capitalize on individual strengths.

Common Tack Issues in Barrel Racing – Improving your barrel horse's performance might be simpler than you think.

Horse-Training Tips for a Sour Horse – Problem-solving techniques can help overcome a horse’s competition sourness.

What It Takes to Win Consistently in Barrel Racing – Champion barrel racer Kristie Peterson offers some advice on what it takes to win consistently.

Training for Quick, Correct Barrel Racing Turns – Top barrel racer Stevi Hillman breaks down how she rides her horses around the barrel, avoiding hurry but focusing on quickness.

Find more barrel racing training articles and history about famous barrel horses at www.aqha.com/barrel-racing.