Perfect Your Barrel-Racing Path

Review these horse-training exercises from world show finalist Missy Wallace.

Courtesy of America’s Horse Daily

Multiple AQHA World Championship Show finalist and Professional Horsewoman Missy Wallace of Poolville, Texas, has perfected the fastest path around the cloverleaf pattern.

Her secret? Consistent entrance and exit points. They’re different for every horse, and if you keep them in mind, you’ll keep your barrel horse in a better position 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.

So study the Wallace Clock, and get your walking shoes on. You’ll be in the fast lane in no time. (Note: The entrance and exit points explained are for horses who take the right barrel first.)

Do Your Homework
Before you dive into the clock, Wallace recommends taking a good look at your barrel horse’s basics.

“There are several skills needed before you can use the Wallace Clock,” Missy explains. “And you need a horse that’s very broke and very skilled with lots of barrel experience. Your horse has to be smart with a great attention span, An unbroken horse won’t work with this method.”

Master These Skills First:

When your horse can confidently do these basic skills, increase the difficulty.

“Your horse needs to learn to ride circles in varied speeds at the trot and lope,” Missy says. “Your horse needs to be able to go very slow, very fast and medium. He also needs to learn the half-halt, which means decreasing your speed (at a trot or lope) by half with subtle hand and leg cues.”

Also, make sure your horse proficiently responds to leg cues and moves away from pressure.

Walk the Clock
Now that your horse’s foundation is solid, you’re ready to teach your horse the Wallace Clock. But first, grab some comfy shoes and teach yourself.

Using the clock as a guide, walk on foot to the first barrel. Find the exit point first. It’s at 6 o’clock. Memorize your position, visualizing it at the beginning of your straight line to the second barrel.

Then walk counter-clockwise around the barrel and find your entrance point, which is about 10 o’clock. Memorize it as the point where your horse should start making the turn around the barrel. Standing at your entrance point, look back toward the starting gate and visualize your path to the first barrel.

Keep in mind that your distance from the barrel can vary, depending on your horse’s size, experience and athletic abilities, but approximately 10 o’clock will always be your entrance point to the first barrel. (You’ll eventually want to tweak that 10 o’clock entrance area to find the point where your horse enters best. Your horse might enter better closer to 11 o’clock or earlier than 10.)

“A seasoned horse usually enters a lot closer to the barrel than a novice horse, who probably enters at a wider angle,” Missy explains. “All horses have different skills and physical differences, but the goal is for every horse to leave the barrel at the same point and run a direct line to the entrance where the horse must start the turn, placing him on a line for the next barrel. As horses become more skilled, this entry point changes a little in distance from the barrels.”

Now walk the second and third barrels, determining your entrance and exit points based on the Wallace Clock.

It is important to keep your exit points consistent, so they line up with the entrance points of the next barrel, Wallace says.

“When you exit, you want to set that back foot down so the horse can push forward to go to the next barrel in the straightest line that you can,” she says. “Every time you miss an exit point, it sets you up wrong for the next barrel, and it’s hard to run a straight line if you don’t make your exit points.”

Time to Trot
After you’ve walked your pattern on foot, noting each barrel’s unique entrance and exit points, grab your horse and begin the pattern at the walk. Concentrate on finding the same points you established on foot.

“It’s easy to walk through and see where everything is, rather than trotting first,” Missy recommends.

Once you’ve walked the pattern enough to learn your entrance and exit points from horseback, begin to trot.

Lots of trotting to develop these lines will teach you and your horse to establish a pattern,” Missy says. “Each barrel requires a different turn because of the line and exit point.”

As you’re practicing, keep in mind the process your horse’s body goes through as he turns around the barrels. Within just a couple of strides around the barrel, your horse arcs his body, half halts, puts his feet down without stopping and rolls back.

“The horse runs straight, then when he arcs his body, he automatically changes his pace,” she says. “The horse half-halts when he gets on the back side of the barrel, then he rolls back.”

Experienced horses, Missy says, 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.

“If you teach them to turn, they can all learn to use fewer strides,” she says. “Two strides cut time tremendously. A horse that takes four strides around the barrel takes much longer than a horse that takes two.”

Focusing on the horse’s movement around the barrel will help you keep forward motion in mind.

“I don’t like to stop, because I like to keep the motion going forward,” Missy says. “Barrel racingis about going forward as fast as you can, so I don’t want to my horse to stop and put his feet down. 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.”

As your entrance and exit points become second nature to you, gradually build speed. Soon, you’ll be able to concentrate more on quickness while you subconsciously visualize your entrance and exit point and the straightest lines possible.

“Perfect practice makes perfect, no matter what speed you’re at,” Missy suggests. “As you build speed, you need to make sure it’s still perfect.”

Keep in Mind
Your entrance points are not necessarily the points where you should check your horse or provide other cues. Cue your horse according to what works best for his experience level.

The Wallace Clock’s entrance and exit points 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.