The A.R.T of Barrel Racing Part 3

Courtesy of America’s Horse Daily

In the past two installments (Part 1 and Part 2), we’ve built a solid foundation for your barrel horse, set up the perfect approach and learned how to correctly rate your horse when coming into each barrel. It’s time to bring things full circle and dissect the turn.

The turn is the method used by a rider to precisely place and position her horse around each barrel. The key is to know what you want, and how to communicate to the horse. As a rider, you must cue correctly to obtain the desired response. The approach and the rate determine the success of the turn in each individual barrel.


Sometimes, riders approach a barrel, then ask their horse to speed up for the turn. The belief might be that the speed aids in creating a quick turn, however it makes most horses high and silly as they approach the barrel. Snap and quickness in turns are certainly important, but effective turns are built with precise and proper body position and consistent cues. It’s important to realize that the faster a horse is traveling, the more critical your precise request for rate. Where you ask for rate will depend on your horse’s ability to respond.

Dynamic of the Perfect Turn

Correct hand and body position are key to a good turn. Proper approach and rate mean your horse is balanced and has been taught to collect himself for the turn.

You can use your cone system to help cue yourself at certain points through the turn. It is important to stay relaxed when you increase speed in the turn. Your horse is a mirror image of your emotions and training ability. Stay consistent to your training philosophy and ride your horse between your hands while looking and riding straight to your chosen pocket position.

Rate, then feel your horse shorten his stride before asking for the turn. This makes it easier for him to stay balanced and hold his leads with speed. The position builds a productive, well-planned turn.

Use both hands to help your horse maintain position coming into the barrel. Once you determine your pocket point, use your inside rein to start the turn. Go to the horn with your other hand to keep your balance, ride to the last cone position and, if necessary, pick up the outside rein to direct your horse’s body to complete the turn.

As you leave the barrel, your position will create the correct approach to the next barrel’s pocket point. Your horse’s hindquarters and chest should be aligned in a straight position to the next pocket point.

Circle on Circle

Use two circles within the circle when getting started and eventually increase it to four. Start out at a slow pace and gradually increase your speed as you and your horse become comfortable and balanced.


The serpentine exercise from the first series is a useful tool in riding straight lines and preparing for a turn. It works on lengthening and shortening strides by working on half turns.

Objective: This exercise can introduce the barrel turn to young horses developing their ability to shorten their stride and move fluidly through a turn. It can also help horses that develop problems in the turn.

Process:Lope a large, 40-foot neutral circle in the center of the barrel pattern. When your horse is relaxed, ride 40-foot circles (eiterh all right or all left) around the barrels in any order. Make as many 40-foot circles as it takes to calm and balance your horse. Once you feel him relax and maintain balance, lope one smaller circle around each barrel before leaving. Don’t ask a young horse for a circle smaller than his ability allows him to make.

To change directions in the exercise, simply drop to a trot and change leads. This helps a horse gain confidence in his ability to change leads and helps him stay calm and balanced. *You can also use the corkscrew from the last installment to tune up your turning skills.* 

All Right
All Left

Common Errors in the Turn

  • Poor selection of a pocket point.
  • Dropping lead.
  • Overuse of the inside or outside rein.
  • Loss of impulsion.
  • Not driving into the turn and squeezing with your legs.
  • Balance issues with the horse or rider.
  • Failure to finish the turn because the horse doesn’t answer the outside rein or leg.
  • Stirrups to long. 

Final Thought

The payoff for investing in this program comes from achieving a comfortable ride for the rider and the horse.

Riding the whole horse to eliminate confusion and frustration is the main goal.

Consistent, efficient performance comes through learning evaluation skills that help identify your strengths and weaknesses.

Successful outcomes with your horse depend on your ability to learn to think like your horse, handle your horse in a consistent manner and provide appropriate rewards.

Seeking a responsible mentor or instructor is a great first step in understanding these basics.

Always ride with

Purpose: Select daily, weekly and monthly goals. Establish a schedule and routine. Learn to evaluate each ride and each competition. 

Patience: Wait for your horse to figure out your request. Work on your personal skill level. Seek responsible instruction and cross train. Training takes repetition and patience

Passion: Love what you do. Be grateful for your opportunities. Get excited about developing new skills and learn to be rewarded by your performance outcomes versus competitive outcomes.