You horse should be completely broke
before they ever see a barrel or a pole.
If you haven't already done so, I would advise you check out the barrel sticky. It's got lots of great information in it, including what your horse should know before starting them on barrels (I made that post on page 2). Barrel Racing Exercises and Drills.
And as sorrelhorse already said, working with a trainer
is going to help you greatly, especially if you've never trained a barrel or pole horse before (you didn't say if you have). We can help with what we can over the internet, and you can read books and watch DVDs, but it still cannot replace hands-on training by someone who knows what they are doing.
The most important thing is to not rush into barrels or poles before your horse is ready. You said he has to "earn his keep around here". Well, that's fine and I can understand that, but don't rush him and create problems just for the sake of using him for something.
It takes anywhere from 6 months to 2 years to train a barrel horse. Most often, it is closer to that 2 year mark.
I use my barrel/pole horses for tons of things, and that's what I do to keep a sound mind in their head. Just this Sunday, I am taking both my 2-yr-old and 7-yr-old to a local low-level horse show. With the 2-yr-old, I'll be doing halter and showmanship classes. It is good for him to experience a show environment early on. The 7-yr-old will be doing: showmanship, halter, western pleasure, reining, competitive trail, barrels, poles, ring race, and keyhole. So he's going to get a mix of slow classes, and a mix of speed classes. I want him to learn that we aren't always going to turn'n'burn in the arena, so he listens to me.
Here's a video of my old barrel horse. Watch how he WALKS into the arena calmly. Yet we still took 4th place out of some tough competition (probably 40 or so entries that day). Mandan, North Dakota ND Barrel Racing on Beau - YouTube
And then there's other arenas that I'd do a running start with him and I could barely hold him back because he's ready to go and on the muscle.
How the horse acts plays a big part in what the RIDER is doing. He knew the difference between walk-in-there-calm or hurry-up-and-go.
But that's what I do to keep my barrel horses under control. I do lots of things with them besides barrels.