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. 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.Compiled by Jessica Carr
    Photo credit: Bee Silva