We always have members who are either new to the site or new to barrel racing that ask for exercises and drills to work on with their horses. Barrel Racing is a great sport, it's a lot of fun, but it isn't just something that you can accomplish in a few weeks time. This thread is going to explain the different levels of exercises and drills you can do with your horse. It's always good to ask questions about problems but this is just a general "What are a few exercises I can try with my horse" informational thread. Feel free to add if I leave anything out or you feel as you can contribute any information for other users. Barrel racing exercises are always about adding something new and keeping it fun for your and your horse/s. So enjoy! And please add your knowledge and ideas for the different levels and experience for all riders.
I'll add definitions at the end!
Beginner Level Information - The smartest idea for you to do, as a beginner, is to find a trainer in your area. It's always good to have that in person experience. You can't possibly know all there is to barrel racing on your own. You need help, and you can't learn everything there is to know by asking questions on a forum or watching a few videos on Youtube. Usually it is best for a beginner to start with sport on a finished horse, I mean a horse that knows their job and can teach you the ropes. It's not a great idea for a beginner to barrels to start out with a beginner horse.
That said, the first and most important rule for a beginner to remember is to always take things slow. The worst thing you can do is push your horse and yourself too fast. You want to build that solid foundation for you both as a team. Also, you should know your horse and know when s/he is ready for that next pace. Training and seasoning a good barrel horse takes years, so don't expect this to happen over night. The slower you take things the more likely you are to have a longest lasting horse and fewer problems in the long run. You also want to make sure that you and your horse have a solid foundation, IE, proper collection at all gaits, neck reining, understand the importance in leg pressures, having good willingness to work, understand leads and lead changes, and having soft and responsive actions. Having this good base will set you up for the proper actions when riding your horse. That said, you want to start out with plenty of flexing and release work on different patterns. Work on serpentines, doing figure 8s around the barrels, setting up "pockets" for your horse, direct reining around barrels, All of your beginner work doesn't have to be with just the same pattern over and over again, you constantly want to change up the workout and exercises to keep your horse from getting bored and pattern sour. It needs to be fun and keeping his mind working at all times! Don't be afraid to try new things with all different props such as barrels, poles, cones, tires, ant beds, trees, and any odd thing you find lying around your barn. When working on your flexing and rounding around the props take exaggerate your turns, you want to be able to stay collected and in the right position all the way through your turn while maintaining a smooth forward movement. Also remember that every ride doesn't have to be about work, go on a trail ride, so flat work around the arena, long trot to keep your horse in shape..Don't work barrels every day. This is good to continue to do at ALL levels of experience, you can never do enough changing the game up for a barrel horse..Again remember to keep things slow!
Picking Up the Pace -
When you feel as though you and your barrel horse can do the pattern with your eyes closed and backwards, you're ready to move on to a trot and eventually a slow lope..Remember to keep up with your different drills and exercises! You can NEVER do those enough. Also, keep up with your trail rides and long trotting. Remember to keep it fun for you both..Now you can really start working on the pace of things, to teach and reinforce the "rate" of a barrel horse you want to walk or trot to the barrel, when your knee is even with the barrel stop, ask your horse to disengage the rear hip towards the barrel, back and few steps and then continue around the barrel..Keep that nice round arch through out your turn and maintain that smooth forward motion. Work on the technique first.... don't worry about speed at all until your turns are perfect. Remember, adding the speed is the last thing to worry about, if you add it too soon without the correct training you can set yourself up for much more work than is needed. I can't say it enough! Change up the game, keep your exercises fun and remember that it's not all about speed yet.. Worry about keeping yourself and your horse liking the workout, the moment you become frustrated your horse will pick up on it and then you surely will have a problem..Training a barrel horse takes time, it's not something that's going to happen within a few months.
Readying Your "Team" For The Next Step -
Once you and your horse are ready to bump up the speed again and get serious about seasoning as a team remember to keep up those drills. I NEVER run my horses at home. It's just a personal preference, but my horses know when it's "Game Time" and when it's time not. I only run when away from home practicing in a different arena or at a show. When you're ready for this step, remember that now it still isn't about running as much as possible. Take your horse to shows and use a few exhibition runs..This doesn't mean run over and over again around the pattern. When starting seasoning I will usually buy three exhibitions or so, walk one while working on rate at the barrels, slow lope the next one while still working on that smooth forward motion and correct positioning, and then my last "run" will be an actual run on the pattern. If it isn't perfect so what!? You fix problems at home, not at a show. Don't get frustrated, you're still in the beginning of your career together. No one is going to be great over night. You have to work your butt off for it and remember to keep it fun!
I know I've said it 100 times throughout the thread already but always, always remember to keep things different and fun. You constantly want to keep your horse's mind on you and your workout, not fall into repetition. You don't want a sour horse on your hands, that is one of the absolute worst problems to come back from. Also, you have to know that your horse will actually like barrels, just because YOU want to run barrels don't mean that your horse is cut out for it. A successful barrel horse has to love their job and be physically and mentally capable of the stress it takes to become a barrel horse, it isn't a sport for every horse.
Ways to get yourself and your horse into barrel racing are - Talk with your ferriar, people at the feed store, check with local arenas, and there are a ton of websites you can search by state for shows in your area, you can even just "Google" it!..It all has to do with actually getting out there and doing your research! National Barrel Horse Association - #1 in Barrel Racing
I'm also adding a few sites and videos that would be nice for you to check out, you can NEVER be "good enough" of a rider or team to work on those basics and work on yourselves together..No one every knows everything there is to know about running barrels, the second you think you do is when you need to find something else to do or take a piece of humble pie. Also, great, great people to check out and find videos of are Charayne James, Martha Josey, Sherri Cervi, and Fallon Taylor..There are others but those are my favorites to watch to get new ideas.. Barrel Racing Drills for Barrel Racing Success Charmayne James :: 11-Time World Champion Barrel Racer Sherry Cervi Barrel Racing Tips - Maintenance of Champions (Sherry Cervi)
A serpentine pattern
A "Pocket" - This is the area, usually between 3 to 5 feet around the barrel where you want your horse to go into the barrel and their turn. Charmayne James has a great video for beginners to watch over the "Axis Points". The axis points are another personal preference but it's a great start for a new person to barrels to get the idea of a pocket.
Rate - This is where your horse will begin to knock to "set up" and slow down for your turns around the barrels, with most horses you will have to help your horse know when to "set up" for their pocket.
Direct Rein - Again personal preference, most barrel racers will use the correct hand placement, which is dropping the outside rein in your turn and picking up the rein in a upward sweeping motion. Not out to the side, picking up to your face, or any other crazy motion. This correct way is to pull your rein slightly up and a little towards you belt area..Others may have different opinions and ideas, but this is what I've always been taught.
Body Position - This is something that is so, so important when it comes to any discipline. You want to have a very good seat and good balance before adding speed to your runs. When running into the arena, between the barrels, and out of the arena you want to be forward and leaning up in your saddle. Give your horse it's "head" and son't be in your horse's mouth, this will throw your horse off and usually yourself too..When turning, when you drop that outside rein you should reach down with your OUTSIDE hand and plant yourself with your horn. Some people ride two handed around the barrels, but the "correct" way is to hold your horn and direct rein around the barrels..
Whips and Spurs - Remember that these are TOOLS, not always necessary and can throw you and your horse off of your game if not used correctly. These are also NOT to be used at home or during practice. These may be necessary on SOME horses but not every horse..
Banding Your Feet -
Quite a few barrel racers do this, I see it as a crutch or an aid, but you can come to depend on the bands to keep your feet in the stirrups. I've also been to shows that don't allow bands..
Having the Right Equipment and Making Sure It Fits -
This is SO, SO important, the last thing you want to happen is your horse to be in pain or uncomfortable during work. A sore horse can cause or lead to so many problems that could have been avoided all together if taken care of properly to begin with.
Lastly, and over and over again, Keep it fun!!! Remember that you and your horse aren't going to become amazing over night but with hard work, dedication, PATIENCE, and an open mind you'll become a better team..Good Luck!!!
Another thought - If you have any other questions that this didn't cover please start a new thread that we could possibly further help you with!!
Other users, feel free to add if I've left anything out!!