The Art of Barrel Racing

AQHA Professional Horsewoman and National Cowgirl Hall of Famer Sharon Camarillo offers barrel-racing advice.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

If you have the basics of barrel racing under your belt, you can pick up the pace and figure out how to rate your horse’s speed as you move into the turn.

The “rate” is your horse’s ability to shorten his stride and prepare for the turn. It is also the most misunderstood part of barrel racing. You are basically asking your horse to lengthen, then shorten a stride, while maintaining collection to create an efficient, powerful turn, all within a second or two.

To put things in perspective, the type of collection it takes to get this accomplished is comparative to the athleticism required of upper-level dressage horses. That’s why it is important to master the basics of the training pyramid.

Determining a Rate Point

Selecting the right point and obtaining an effective rate are key to an efficient turn. Running by and shouldering into barrels are byproducts of a rider’s inability to identify where to rate her horse.

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Keep in mind your horse’s ability, the arena size and ground condition when identifying a rate point for the first barrel. Remember to always be consistent. Practice cueing your horse to rate with consistent cues and work on it at different speeds.

Cone System

The cone system is an easy way to help you visualize the pattern and pinpoint each element of the approach, rate and turn. Each cone serves as a marker to remind you where you need to cue your horse for a specific response. Set up the cones around all three barrels to help visualize cue points and adjust your rate points to fit your horse.

Cone No.1 is the first point where you can ask your horse to rate. Depending on your horse’s ability and the arena condition, your rate point can be anywhere between the first and second cone. (See illustration.)

Cone No. 3 is where you begin your turn. Pick up the inside rein and shift your weight to your outside stirrup. Then look and drive your horse to the last cone.

In the Driver’s Seat

Rate is reinforced in two ways: by your seat and by the reins. To make sure you and your horse are in the correct position, introduce the rate at a jog with your horse’s shoulder, rib cage and hips framed and balanced between your reins. Use the first cone as a visual cue to position and ask for the rate. Pay attention to your body position when you begin to rate. The angle of your hips changes from being upright in the saddle to shifting your pelvis and somewhat sitting on your back pockets. When you shift your weight, gently increase your rein pressure back toward your pocket. You should feel your horse respond by shifting his weight to his hindquarters and shortening his stride.

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As he shortens his stride, you may need to apply leg pressure to drive the hindquarters up under him to help shorten his stride and to drive him forward through the turn. Continue to reinforce the mechanics of rating and vary your speeds until you and your horse become comfortable.

The momentum of the approach will carry your horse through a turn. Eventually, the momentum, impulsion and proper positioning will slingshot your horse around each barrel and provide a well-timed and efficient turn.

Common errors in the rate include:

    • Poor selection of rate point.


    • Failure to keep the horse straight until he rates.


    • Rating one-handed.


    • Overuse of the inside rein.


    • Failure to ask for the rate.


    • Ineffective rate cue sequence.


    • Loss of impulsion.


    • Sitting too early.

To learn more about Sharon’s training methods, pick up a copy of her book, “The A.R.T. of Barrel Racing,” or visit