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Simple Barrel Horse Training Exercises

Barrel racing is an exciting and enjoyable form of competition for horses and riders. Like all forms of equine discipline, it takes quite a bit of practice and preparation to be successful. You can’t just start out barrel racing and expect your horse or yourself to do well. Instead you must lay a foundation to help your horse learn and understand the barrel pattern. This can take quite a bit of time and a great deal of patience.

In this article, we describe some barrel horse training exercises including several drills that you can use to practice cues, straight lines and turns. Read on to learn more.

A Steady Pace & Repetition Are Keys To Success

Barrel Horse Training Exercises

When introducing your horse to barrel and speed patterns, you must work slowly. Once your horse has learned the patterns, you must continue to practice on a regular basis so that your horse will remember them and continue to improve his performance. Here are a couple of helpful basic drills to get you started.

Circle Drill

This is an easy drill to do because the supplies necessary are simple and flexible. To do the circle drill, you can use pole bending poles, tires or barrels. You’ll need at least six of these objects to set up your circle. If you want a larger circle, you can have more, but six is the minimum.

To perform the circle drill, you’ll move your horse through a large, circular pattern while circling the individual pole bending poles, tires or barrels. Do this drill completely in one direction and then completely in the other.

This means that if you want to work on your right-handed turns, you’ll complete the drill moving to the right in every gait, walk, trot and lope. Once you’ve completed the drill, stop, leave the pattern and then return to do your left-handed turns.

Focus on making the circles perfect. As you move around each of the objects, be sure to maintain a consistent distance of 2 or 3 feet.

Always start out slow and work up to higher speeds. Don’t be in a rush. If you don’t feel confident doing this drill at the lope, just work at the walk and trot until you feel more secure.

Triangle Drill

For this drill, you use a classic barrel racing triangle pattern. As you approach the triangle, you’ll begin at the far end of the arena and work the pattern just as you would in classic barrel racing.

After your first barrel, change it up a little bit by not going across to the second barrel. Instead, move on directly to the third barrel and turn right again and then run back to the first barrel and make another right turn.

This sounds complicated, but it really isn’t. You are just practicing doing all right turns or all left turns rather than alternating directions. You can continue to work the pattern until both you and your horse are comfortable with your turns.

Remember that any time you do a drill, you should work all of your turns in one direction first, completely at walk, trot and lope. Remove your horse from the pattern then return to work in the other direction.

The triangle drill is an excellent choice for working on both straight lines and turns. After you’ve completed a circle around one barrel, focus on making a beeline for the next barrel.

As with any drill, begin by working it at the walk and then move on to trotting and loping after you and your horse are both completely confident and secure.

What Kind Of Horse Is Best?

best barrel racing horse

Your horse must be willing and able to perform a wide variety of maneuvers at the walk, trot, lope and full out gallop or run. For this reason, you should also take care when choosing your barrel horse.

While it may seem as if a hot horse would be the best choice for this exciting and fast competition, this is not really the case. There’s more to barrel racing than just speed. The best barrel racing horse is a horse with a good temperament and a willing attitude. Athletic ability is also very important.

Tips For Barrel Racing Success

When drilling, focus on success with each barrel. If you’re not happy with your horse’s performance with one barrel, repeat until you are satisfied. Don’t move on until you are completely confident that you and your horse are both doing your best. Remember to reward your horse with praise and pats when you’re satisfied with his performance.

Nicky Ellis
Nicky has been an editor at Horses & Foals since 2017. Horses have been in her life from her earliest memories, and she learned to ride a horse when she was 5. She is a mom of three who spends all her free time with her family and friends, her mare Joy, or just sipping her favorite cup of tea.


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