How to Perfect Your Barrel-Racing Path

How to Perfect Your Barrel-Racing Path

Entrance and exit points are crucial when clocking the fastest time barrel-racing patterns.

sorrel barrel horse running (Credit: Journal)

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What’s the fastest path around the cloverleaf barrel pattern?  The secret is two things: Consistent entrance and exit points. They’re different for every horse, says multiple AQHA World Championship Show finalist and Professional Horsewoman Missy Wallace of Poolville, Texas. But if you keep them in mind, you’ll set your barrel horse up for faster times. Your only adjustments to the equation will be your horse’s distance to the barrels, which varies with your horse’s size, experience and athleticism. 

Before you dive in,  Missy recommends establishing your barrel-racing horse basics.

Master These Barrel Racing Skills First:

  • Riding in a straight line the length of an arena without swaying side to side.
  • Traveling in a variety of circle sizes in both directions.
  • Performing rollbacks in both directions at various speeds.
  • Stopping.
  • Backing.

Walk and Trot the Clock:

Now that your horse’s foundation is solid, you’re ready to teach your horse the Wallace Clock. The Wallace Clock’s entrance and exit point are simply visualization tools to keep your lines straight and help you understand when your horse should begin turning and when he should straighten out toward the next target. But first, grab some comfy shoes and teach yourself. On foot, use the clock as a guide:

  1. Walk to first barrel. Find the exit point first at 6 o’clock. Memorize your position, visualizing it at the beginning of your straight line to the second barrel.
  2. Walk counter-clockwise around the barrel and find your entrance point at 10 o’clock. This is where your horse should start making the turn around the barrel. From your entrance point, look back at the starting gate and visualize your path to the first barrel.
  3. Walk the second and third barrels, determining your entrance and exit point based on the Wallace Clock.

After you’ve walked the pattern on foot, noting each barrel’s unique entrance and exit points, grab your horse and begin the pattern:

  1. Begin at a walk. Establish control and a “lay of the land” with your horse before increasing speed.
  2. Then, trot. Lots of trotting to develop these lines will teach you and your horse to establish a pattern consistently.

Observe the Barrel Horse’s Body Language:

  • Observe the way your horse moves around the barrel. Within just a couple strides around the barrel, your horse arcs his body, half halts, puts his feet down without stopping and rolls back.
  • Work with your horse’s experience. Seasoned horses can arc their bodies, half-halt, roll back and leave the barrel in one or two smooth strides if trained correctly. Strive for three or four strides at first, then work toward fewer strides. 

Time-Saving Barrel Racing Tips: 

  • Keep your exit points consistent so they line up with the entrance points. 
  • Take uniqueness into account. Every horse differs in size, experience and athletic abilities, so remember that when determining your distance from the barrels. 
  • Practice perfect practice. Even as you build speed, you need to make sure it’s still perfect and correct. 
  • Keep the motion going forward. Barrel racing is about going forward as fast as you can, so I don’t want my horse to stop and put his feet down,” Missy says. “I teach my horse to plant his foot just long enough to switch directions. The horse puts his foot down in many places around the barrel and keeps going forward. My horses go around the barrel on a loose rein and half-halt around the barrel.”

With the Barrel Racing Tips e-book, revolutionize your barrel racing game. The book is free to AQHA members!