barrel horse trainers question how long until finished/ what is taught? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 10 Old 04-15-2014, 09:31 PM Thread Starter
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barrel horse trainers question how long until finished/ what is taught?

I read somewhere a few years back that it takes at least 2 years to finish a barrel racing horse. I'm just wondering what exactly is the daily routine like for a horse specifically in barrel race training?
I'm not trying to pick on any one/thing but what exactly does one teach a barrel horse in two years?
I mean, i understand speed, turning on a dime, not freaking out in the alley, proper canter leads and flying lead changes, pocketing/not leaning in or shoulding the barrel, standing tied up when waiting, listening to a riders cues, and of course trailer loading.... but seriously, i KNOW that teaching the above details i just mentioned does NOT take 2 whole years to train on a horse that doesn't have previous problems in any of those areas. So i'm wondering ~ WHAT ~ is taught to a competitive barrel horse in 2 years ???
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post #2 of 10 Old 04-15-2014, 10:16 PM
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Subbing, as I'm curious too.
I come from a family of contesters, but never really "got" it- I'm more of an English girl. My aunt will make the horse walk the pattern if it gets too hot or messes up a part of the pattern. I've also heard that you should only full-out run the pattern at shows, not practice?
I'd love to know more, too!

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post #3 of 10 Old 04-15-2014, 10:46 PM
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It's really does take approximately 2 years to train a solid consistent barrel horse.

You will move faster if your horse already is broke, broke, broke.

Walk, trot, canter, back, sidepass, WHOA, rollbacks, leg yields, turn on the haunches, bending, flexing etc.

Barrel horses must know more then to go fast and turn.

Once your horse is broke, broke, broke...You start on the pattern. And you walk it. And when the walk is solid...You trot it. And when the trot is solid, you lope it. And at first when you lope it, you trot around the barrels and are only loping inbetween. Then you move up into loping the full pattern.

By now, your well into a years worth of training. Because you do not do barrel work every single day. Talk about boring. You need to keep their mind fresh, so work the pattern 5 times and then trail ride. And then there's refreshing of the basics a few times a month.

Once you get a great loping pattern, you can start adding speed inbetween the barrels. And slowing for the actual turn.

The last step is going to be pushing into and out of the turns. The horse must learn to balance themselves in the turns and learn their own style of running. This is going to take time. Some horses are naturals, others take some time to come into themselves.

The 2 years isn't all barrel work you must mix things up. Trail ride, work cows, do some dressage or reining. Because if you work the barrel pattern over and over... You will kill them both mentally and physically. Keeping them mentally sound is extremely important. It's easy to burn them out or fry their mind if they are pushed too hard, to quickly.
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post #4 of 10 Old 04-16-2014, 09:54 AM
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I and all trainers I know can take a already broke horse and have it loping a nice pattern in 30 days.

Yes doing barrels everyday, it doesn't make them hot. I don't practice barrels on my finished horse daily but when learning I do. Until they know what their doing. Typically they catch on fast.

Obviously I want all the basics down first. If they don't know how, I teach them how to pick up their shoulder, side pass, pivot, their leads, and to stay collected.
I walk the pattern first, picking them up and showing them their pockets. Walking normally doesn't take long, then I'll trot up to the barrels and stop to walk around them. Eventually I'll trot the whole pattern. I trot for a few weeks, working on body control and perfect turns. I don't usually lope until the horse picks it up during trotting. It's almost always to the third barrel, I go with it. Next I start loping to each barrel and stopping at them. When we've got that we lope the whole pattern. I've never had an issue with fighting one to get correct leads or anything. Some horses are more athletic than others or learn quicker. Some learn slower and take more time. Once they can lope a nice pattern I'm done. One thing to be said though, i dont work on barrels but maybe 10 minutes at most a day. i get what i want then quit on a good note. After that we might practice barrels once a week if that. Seasoning and speed comes on it's own. I don't push a horse for speed I let them get faster and faster on their own. My current gelding was started in December of his 4 year old year, in July of year old year he was running 2D times. He's smart and very athletic. This will be his actual second year of running ( I couldn't ride last year) I consider him a finished horse already and treat him as such. We really only run at shows, and don't work on barrels a whole lot at home. That's my 2 cents anyway, I'm sure someone will disagree with me.
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post #5 of 10 Old 04-16-2014, 10:07 AM
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The seasoning part is what takes the longest.

You can run a picture-perfect pattern at home, but that always changes when you load up and haul to an arena with other horses, sounds, sights, and adrenaline. It takes some horses longer than others to be able to focus at a barrel race or rodeo, with everything that is going on.

You can't set a time on how long a horse will take to season. Some take to it just fine. Others will have issues.

By the time my current horse Red is "finished", it will have probably taken 4 years. He was pretty green when I bought him, so we had a lot of basic fundamentals to work on. And then he's had to have quite a bit of time off here and there for having different soundness issues. He's certainly taking longer than the norm, but I pride myself on the fact that I can walk him into that arena like a western pleasure horse, because he's so cool and calm with his job. Now it's time to haul and pick up some speed.

I personally do not like to work barrels every single day, because of their joints and their minds. Others will do differently.
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post #6 of 10 Old 04-16-2014, 12:14 PM
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In my takes way longer to get a "finished" horse than just a couple years. And it really depends on each individual horse and the person training the horse.

To me a finished horse is one that doesn't just knows the pattern, but is seasoned to running, hauling, ect. You can have the prettiest pattern at home but you take that perfect pretty pattern to a new place and most times it is going to be a pretty rough and fall apart. Seasoning and hauling are a huge part in how the horse is going to finish out. And that is the part where the individual horse/trainer comes in...a friend of mine has a VERY nice 6yr old who is running this year...he has had 22 runs away from home and you would swear he has been hauled and running for a year.

Seasoning is about getting the horse away from their comfort zone and learning to focus on their jobs. Some could careless what is going on around them, while others takes a lot of work to get just relaxed in that environment and focus on you. Heck teaching the pattern is honestly the easy part! It is the seasoning that could can be very hard. Because once you get the horse have some horses who think they know exactly what needs to be done and would rather not listen to you. I call it the teenager stage when they think they know better than the rider. Also when seasoning sometimes you have to slow the horse down and build their confidence. It is a new experience, loud, tense horses around them so they can get overwhelmed VERY quickly and fall apart when asked to go the speed you were at home. And like I said I am in no hurry, so I will slow them down a few notches to build them back up and get them confident.

And your question about what is taught to a barrel horse in 2 years...well me personally they learn the pattern, and I start working on consistency. They are not even running really till the 3rd year on the pattern. And when training I work the pattern probably 3 days a week with drills and foundation work between. I am not in a race to see how fast I can get one trained, so I take my time because I want a SANE horse at the end of it all. If you look at the Futuritys you will see what I mean...they pop those things out fast and most I see are very hot, doped up, and bludgering idiots.

Everything you stated above the horse should already know BEFORE they even see a barrel. I want a solid foundation on mine before patterning, because if you don't have a solid basic foundation your not going to have a solid barrel foundation.

So if any of that made sense, I sorta feel like I was jumping around. It takes so much small stuff to get a seasoned finished barrel horse. And I would never try to cram all that into 2yrs. It is much more than speed and turning on a dime. It takes a lot to get them to run AND turn on a dime.
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post #7 of 10 Old 04-16-2014, 05:13 PM
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I am going to try to make this as short as I can.

I'd say two years sounds about right BUT every horse is different, some take longer and some move along faster.

I got my Appaloosa as an unbroke 3yr old May 7, 2012. He was as WILLING as they come, still is. He was my first unbroke and I was determined to make a good solid horse and cover ALL of the steps I needed to, and some I didn't think I'd need but wanted to do anyway.

I started out with TONS of ground work because he was virtually unworked with and only knew how to lead and even then it was dodgy. We did a ton of leading, ground, and round pen work. As I did round pen work I used noises that I intended to use in the saddle to help him differenciate the gaits. Cluck for walk, click for trot, and kiss for canter. I also did bridle work on the ground with him. Getting him used to the bit to turn, stop, etc. He LOVED being worked with(still does.) He picked everything up like that ~snaps fingers~ to the point where he was getting really bored really quick.

While doing round pen work I desensitized him to a TON of stuff. Anything I could think of he would encounter wherever we went riding. I used towels, umbrellas of various sizes and colors, tarps, a HUGE flapppy bird kite, exercise balls, etc at first.Obviously starting with the least scary and only working my way up when he was so used to it he was practically falling asleep.

Then we moved onto bigger things. People flying by on quads and dirt bikes, someone firing off a loud gun, flags of various sizes, someone flying by on another horse, a buzzer noise because my show ground's timer has a buzzer when you've been in there too long, I even hailed a police car that drove by every day and asked him if he would turn on his lights and sirens for me, he was very kind and happy to. Dice took it all in stride and never got overly scared at anything, the most he did was pick his head up fast. He's more of a curious horse than a timid horse, he'd walk through fire now if I asked him to. I did all of that until I was sure he was okay with EVERYTHING. If something was still making him "nervous" we'd go back a few steps and work til it was solid.

So I started training him to saddle and getting him used to alllll the weird stuff that can happen under saddle. He took to the saddle like it was the most natural thing in the world. We was okay with the stirrups hitting him, weight being put on the saddle pulling him sideways, the saddle being moved up and down on his back. I got very BIG with my movements in the beginnning, I didn't want to tiptoe around him because then if something big did happen he wouldn't be used to it. After he was comfortable I would start carelessly swinging the saddle up onto his back and letting it land any old way, he didn't care. Then I REPEATED all of the "scary" stuff listed above with the saddle on his back because it's different. Being Dice and as good as he is, he flew through it all 10x faster than we had in the first place.

Then I got on him. Taking steps to make sure he was used to it all. He could care less and seemed happy as a clam. When I actually sat on his back he kind of looked back and me and his face just looked so goofy haha. It was like he was saying "Finally!" He then stood there with his head down, nice and calm. Then I got off. He looked at me like "Why did you get off? I thought we were doing more?"

The next time I got on him he was still completely calm, bored even. I decided to see if I could get his feet to move. I gave a small queeze with my leg and clucked like I had on the ground and TADA he got the happiest look on his face and calmly walked off, his ears were constantly swiveling back to me as if waiting for the next cue. After he walked around aimlessly for a bit I sunk my seat back and gently picked up the rein asking for a stop and he did a beautiful woah. With that our ride was done. And Dice was once again disappointed. I swear this horse was literally born to be ridden haha.

Fast forward our walking rides got longer and longer and our turning got better and better. Leg cues started to become more apparent. We went on our first "trail ride" meaning up and down the short wooded dirt driveway. He was perfect. Anything new to him he took in stride.

Then we started trotting. Again I used the noise cue to see if I could get him up to the gait while applying a smidge more leg pressure while he was walking and low and behold trot he did! Trotting was hilarious. He was really excited and didn't know what to do with himself and straight lines were pretty much out of the question haha. We noodled about for a couple of rides (I was always working with him to get him straight, no worries) until he figured out his own balance, I was just kind of there helping and guiding him.

Once he figured out his balance, which wasn't long at all, we started doing "patterns" at a trot and working on walk-trot transitions. We would do BIG circles, serpantines, walk to trot, trot to walk, walk to stop, trot to stop, walk trot walk, anything you could think of that you could do at a walk and a trot we did. We worked on turning on the hind, turning on the fore, sidepassing, backing, moving shoulders, anything and everything.

After TONS and TONS of trotting work I went ahead and asked for the Canter. Got it the first time I asked. (Like I've said repeatedly Dice is an EXTREMELY, unusually fast learner.) Again it was hilarious. Just like trotting he had to figure out his balance at the canter. I'm assuming it's much harder for them at the canter than at the trot. He took it all in stride though and once he was comfortable we repeated everything we had done with the trot. Even bigger circles than what we had done trotting, walk to trot to canter back to a walk, canter to trot to canter, canter to walk, canter to stop, once he got better we did stop to canter, we did HUGE serpantines as he didn't know leads or anything yet, the better he got the smaller our circles and turns got but still not too small. We also started to work on his leads. He prefers his right lead oddly since most horses I've ridden prefer the left.

Fast forward after TONS of walking, trotting, stopping, transitions, sidepassing, desensitizing, backing, leads, trail rides, serpantines, other "patterns, blood, sweat, and tears we finally started WALKING the pattern. Then we'd trot the straight walk the turns, then canter the straights and trot the turns. I did do some rate work but later realized that it was a bad idea because he naturally rated himself and by me teaching it he rated TOO much.

Over the course of time we did all of this I made it a point to take him EVERYWHERE! I took him to various shows to watch and to be ridden in the arena, I took him on trail rides, I took him swimming, I took him team penning and team sorting, I took him to indoors, outdoors, I was even fortunate enough to be able to take him to a race track. When I say everywhere I mean any and every place I could physically take him.

Whenever I took him to shows we would only trot the patterns. That's it. Once he got good with that I'd let him canter the straights and trot the turns.

We also did a TON of speed control. So slow walk to fast walk and all of the various speeds of walk in between, same with trotting and cantering. I got him trotting so slow to the point he was almost trotting in place that's how slow we were going. He's very good at collecting himself and practically naturally worked off of his hind end.

After he was balanced and comfortable with everything we worked on getting a rollback at a walk in the round pen. Once he was extremely comfortable with that we moved onto trotting rollbacks in the round pen. Once he was really good and near flawless with trotting rollbacks we moved onto cantering rollbacks in the round pen. For these rollbacks I was turning him into the fence.

Once we accomplished that perfectly we left the round pen and the fence and started over out in the open. Rollbacks in both directions at a walk, both directions at a trot, and both directions at a canter.
Somehow we started cantering patterns (not just barrels) with nice decent sized turns around the barrel or whatever we were going around. My theory was you can start out wide and then gradually make the circle tighter as the horse gets better.

I also started taking him team penning more so that he learned he turns and moves when and what I tell him to and in what direction I tell him to. We had done it before but beings as he was getting faster I wanted to make sure he understood. He's never done anything to make me think he's doing anything else but listening to me. When I ride him he's constantly swiveling his ears back to me waiting for me to cue him. Not going to lie there were times when he tested me, when he acted like he had no clue how to do something when just the day, week, or month before he had executed it a million times perfectly. But that's a young horse thing and I was completely prepared for it. Now he'll test me maybe once a month if that, and as soon as I correct him he's back to "ok let's get down to business!"

He seeks me for comfort, guidance, and reassurance. Example, once he was colicy so we put him in the trailer to see if he'd poo. I rode with him terrified he'd try to lay down in the trailer. As we were driving along I kept talking to him but he couldn't see me well because he was close to the front. He let out a low whinney (not the loud ones where they call for their friends) and had his eye back on me. I walked over and pet him and he settled down. And he did end up pooping and then had a TON of gas =P Gas colic man the only time you love when a horse farts! I have this on video I'll attach it. It's really cute.

Last August I believe or September, I started breezing him outside of an arena to show him he could run. He enjoyed himself immensly! And each time as soon as I would ask him to come down he would right away and then just drop his head and walk.

Now this year I've started to let him out on the patterns and I dare say I am extremely impressed with him. I'm so proud of how much we've accomplished together and how much of a team we are.

May 7th of this year will be two years I've had him so I'd say we're pretty much on schedule. He learned some things really fast, others we needed a few refreshers. But I'm EXTREMELY happy and proud of where he is right now.

I DO NOT school the pattern at home anymore. At home we do a ton of long trotting, transitions, trail rides, fun days, and just a lot of "finishing stuff". I'm actually thinking of trying him out in English to see what happens. He's got a cute little jump.

I took him for a ride down the road one day last September and a HUGE dump truck came around the corner and down the road. We had no where to go so I just sat there as far off to the side as I could and let him watch it. The dumb truck driver didn't even move over or slow down grrr. But anyway the truck came barreling past us all fast and loud and my boy didn't even blink. Mama was very proud that day!

There are still a few fine tuning things we have to do on the pattern but it's stuff that needs to be done at speed. Like he rates way too soon still and he is so flexible and his turns are so tight (good kind of tight) that I have to learn how to keep out of the way haha. I've never ridden a horse that turns like him it's incredible so that part is just me keeping up with my own horse haha.

Any trainers out there have any magical tricks on how to turn off the need to help your horse out? He knows what he's doing now but I still want to help him and in doing so I end up in his way and aggravating him haha. I'm good during most patterns but poles. He auto lead changes and yet I still feel this need to help him and I end up hindering and he gets so aggravated with me just like "Mom stahp it! I can do it!" I'm so used to horses I have to physically get through the poles that I'm not used to a horse that just does it. It's so funny, I've trained him and now I'm like wait a minute here, I have to keep reminding myself he's not the little unbroke three year old I bought but the big, smart, strong five year old I've brought along.

I am waiting for him to learn he can push himself on the straights and during the turns. I know he's got it in him, I'm just waiting on him to figure it out. He can fly outside the arena but in the arena he really keeps his speed under check. This past weekend during a doubles event I grabbed the baton from my partner and he kicked into a gear I had never felt before from him inside an arena. And his barrels run this past weekend, which was NOT at his full speed potential, clocked him at a 21.3. For the size of our pattern a 19-21 second run is in the ribbons. 18's on our pattern
is rare and it takes a hell of a horse to pull it.

This entire time I worked on him being soft, light, and supple. He's already flexible to begin with but I wanted to make sure that I could move him with the lightest pressure possible. Now at home I can ride him bridleless at all gaits. Except a gallop =P Don't think we're ready for that yet haha he does love to run.

Keep in mind that some of this stuff overlapped a lot. If I have forgotten to mention everything I'm sorry haha. It's been over the past two years and sometimes you do stuff without even realizing you're doing it. Not going to lie I spent a TON of time on this forum reading and memorizing EVERYTHING I could. Exercises people posted, how to fix something, ideas for different ways to do stuff. It helped a TON!

I made sure to end EVERY training session on a good note. Example, remember how I said he prefers his right lead? Well, when I was working on leads the one day he would NOT pick up even a smidge of a left lead. But I couldn't stop asking because I didn't want him to learn it's ok to ignore my cues. I tried so many things to get it. I kept at it, kept at it, kept at it when FINALLY he got the left lead. I let him canter on it for about 3 strides then stopped him, dismounted, loosened his girth, and sunk to the ground crying in joy. My legs were burning, I was covered in sweat, as was he, But he had DONE it! That day it was like a little light bulb clicked in his head and every time I've asked for the left lead since he's gladly given it to me.

Keep in mind this was the first time I've trained an unbroke. I've fixed, retrained "finished" horses but had never started one from the ground up. I know I made mistakes, I probably did too much of some areas and not enough in others but overall I think I turned out a bang up horse and the best part is we still aren't and never will be "finished". He's so good I can go in and run a pattern then come out put my timid, beginner sister on him and send her into the same arena with a pattern set up and he just walks. He's a one in a million and I am forever grateful to have found him.

oh and a note: I started him in a full cheek snaffle and then switched to a beetle hack which he does BEAUTIFULLY in. I still go back to the snaffle sometimes when I'm schooling him.

Sorry this was so long haha. I didn't want everyone to think I went from unbroke to running in two months =P Also, sorry if there are any mistakes in the formatting, copying from wordpad messed up some of the paragraphs.

Here are some pictures showing some various things we've done. Earliest to now.

Totally looks like he cares right?

First time under saddle.

5th ride

yes this is a horse sized seesaw =P

Not sure what ride this is. It's definitely later on. I don't have many pictures of me riding because I'm usually the one behind the camera haha

When I started taking him to shows

These are the most recent

Again sorry it was so long and I am sure I missed a lot
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post #8 of 10 Old 04-21-2014, 08:29 PM
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I love the last picture. He is hunting that turn, and he is having fun. Look at his ears. :) My old Bandit was just like that, and you brought your horse along exactly as I'd recommend, except I used to incorporate dressage movements.

I always tell people that a horse that knows the pattern should rarely ever run it again. Maybe once a month at home. Maybe. All the tools a horse needs for running can be taught off the patterns. Flying lead changes. Rate. Turn control. Response to leg and weight and voice. You should be able to go from a hard gallop to a lope with minimal effort. It all translates to responsiveness in the arena. :)

Anyway, kudos on your baby. :) What a lovely story.
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post #9 of 10 Old 04-21-2014, 10:15 PM
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I've always been one to say barrel horses aren't ever really *finished*.

I feel like there's always something big or small that can be fixed or improved no matter how far along the horse is in training.

Am I right or wrong?
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post #10 of 10 Old 04-21-2014, 11:16 PM
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Originally Posted by skiafoxmorgan View Post
I love the last picture. He is hunting that turn, and he is having fun. Look at his ears. :) My old Bandit was just like that, and you brought your horse along exactly as I'd recommend, except I used to incorporate dressage movements.

I always tell people that a horse that knows the pattern should rarely ever run it again. Maybe once a month at home. Maybe. All the tools a horse needs for running can be taught off the patterns. Flying lead changes. Rate. Turn control. Response to leg and weight and voice. You should be able to go from a hard gallop to a lope with minimal effort. It all translates to responsiveness in the arena. :)

Anyway, kudos on your baby. :) What a lovely story.
Thank you! That is one of my favorite pictures of him. He's always up for anything "fun" and has a blast doing pretty much anything! He LOVES to be ridden and the more places we go the happier he is! I've never met a horse who enjoys going different places so much.

I am so proud of him and myself. This past weekend he actually got his first blue ribbon in barrels (and I was holding him back!) and he came in as Reserve Champion of our division only behind my well seasoned horse who pulled me a Grand Champion.

I actually planned on doing some dressage type stuff with him eventually. He could pretty much do anything and I'm thinking he'd make a cute English pony (15.3 pony haha) as well.

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