You are right, ShyFoster, there is MUCH more to barrel racing than setting up 3 cans and running around them.
Hence why there are professional trainers who have dedicated their lives to the sport, why there are entire books on barrel racing, why there are countless hours of DVD training fundmentals, and why barrel racing clinics take place across the country.
Barrel racing is like any other well-trained discipline.
Therefore I would suggest getting your hands on whatever books and DVDs you can. A few good names to look for are Sherry Cervi, Charmayne James, Dena Kirkpatrick, Ed and Martha Wright, Martha Josey, and more.
In general, you want to have a good foundation on your horse (no matter the age) before you start barrel training.
- stop softly from any gait
- back up freely
- travel in a relaxed frame at all gaits (walk, trot, canter)
- controlled speed at all gaits
- turns on the haunces and turns on the fore
- simple and flying lead changes
- direct rein and neck rein
Basically, you want to be able to move any part of your horse's body (nose, neck, shoulders, ribcage, hindquarters) at any time at any speed.
You should also be able to do "perfect circles" with your horse, where their body is maintaining a nice bend with little help from you, and making an absolute perfect circle (no ovals or oblong). I like Dena Kirkpatrick's method of teaching a horse to do perfect circles so that you only need to have one hand on the reins. By teaching the horse to be able to do those perfect circles early, it makes it easy to keep your barrel pattern consistent with one-handed turns from the start.
You don't want to take the barrel turn too tight. That makes your horse lose speed. Make sure you give them a 4 foot "pocket" around the barrel (different trainers will promote different pocket sizes, and it will depend on your horse too).
Make sure you also head in a straight line from one barrel to another. Do not make a curve or arch. The fastest way between 2 points is a straight line.
And it's also important to remember to always practice perfectly. When you let a horse do things wrong (like shoulder in, or turn their hindquarters out on a turn) is when you are going to create bad habits that are hard to fix. Every time you do that pattern, go through it in your mind first, and then execute it perfectly.
And remember that SLOW SLOW SLOW is what will train a good-minded barrel horse. It can take up to 2 years to have a completely finished horse. If you go too fast too soon, you will create bad habits (that are hard to fix) and you may also sour your horse on barrels.
For myself, I like doing lots of other things with my barrel horses to keep them fresh. I am training a 6-yr-old right now, and for 2013 we are going to be going to tons of shows, just working on seasoning and hauling. He'll be doing everything from halter and showmanship, to western pleasure, to reining, to competitive trail, to cattle, along with gaming and speed events. I want a well-rounded and good-minded individual. Will we do western pleasure at a world-level? Absolutely not. We're just going to hit up some local small shows where it doesn't really matter, as long as your horse behaves and does things correctly.
∞•*˚ Βгįťţαňγ ˚*•∞
It is not enough to know how to ride; one must know how to fall.