Know when your horse is ready to speed up

Many barrel racers often struggle with knowing when to ask their barrel horses in training for an increase in speed. Joyce Loomis-Kernek is a very experienced barrel racer and coach to many.  Her website offers many articles and tips to help you become a better barrel racer.  You can check out the tips archive here.

One article I particularly enjoyed was the one titled “Know When Your Horse Is Ready To Speed Up”

In this article Joyce states: “When your horse is understanding everything you are showing him, he will get quieter, better and faster. When he is not understanding everything you are showing him, or he is not ready for the next step, he will get fussy, worse and slower. The slower you go in the early training stages, the faster you will go for a longer period of time. A horse that is trained slow enough to understand the steps and then speeded up as he shows understanding of the steps will have a longer career”.

Horses that are rushed or pushed to go faster than they are ready will loose their confidence, loose their rate/gather and start dreading their job.  If you have a horse that doesn’t want to work, ask yourself why.  Are you pushing him too fast? With so much money being added to futurities many horses are pushed to peak in their 4 year old year (and in some areas 5).  Training using a calender rather that listening to the horse and training at their speed results in a less than solid horse in the long run.

Joyce says in her article: “Few horses can peak early and remain a great horse. A horse will never reach his full potential if he did not solidly understand each stage up to his competition. A horse will actually tell you when he is ready to speed up; barrel racers just need to learn to read the signs”.

Pushing a horse too fast to make a futurity event is like cramming for an exam.  You might be able to get a passing grade on your exam having crammed the information in your brain in a short time, but try and write that same exam a week later or a month later!? The info just isn’t there, you didn’t really learn it.

We want our horses to actually learn and understand what they are doing and build on it.  Finish and pass grade 4 with flying colors before going on to grade 5 and so on.  A good example of whether a horse is actually learning (rather than just doing it) is when they can do what you were asking in the next lesson better than you left them on the last ride.

Listen to your horse and follow their lead.  Every horse will learn at a different rate and every horse will handle the information differently.  If your horse is proceeding with confidence and understanding, consider taking the next step.

For more of Joyce Loomis-Kernek’s articles check out her website for articles and tips.Her website is

Joyce is a former Miss Rodeo America, World Champion WPRA Barrel Racer, AQHA World Champion, Professional Clinician and Speaker.

Comments 10

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your info I have a standardbred that I’m training for barrels and poles and we are starting out at the rodeos so any helpful tips are greatly appreciated. Thanks Again Nancy Doner

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  3. Im going to be starting a almost 13 year old mare on barrels sounds stuiped but its all i have to be able to run barrels on..she has ran them befor but i was just wondering how to get her to go faster and get a qwicker time.

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      Get her in great shape and look after her really well. Take your time, you can’t make a really good barrel horse quickly and you will regret it if you go too fast too soon. Be her coach and build her confidence one solid run at a time. The speed will come.

  4. My horse picked up poles really well and loves to run them, but we barely ever worked on them. We worked barrels at least 3 times every time i came out and then i had to go somewhere for 2 weeks and when i came back he ran a near perfect pole run and troted the same way he had on barrels. He trots the first 2 fine and wants to run home but if i ask him to go any faster around the 1st 2 he kinda freaks out and swearves alot. He’s never done anything but jumping, english, and trail rides before i got him. And he is geting worse and worse about the gate when we go to shows. He backs up and it takes about 2 min for me to make him walk in but he plants all 4 feet if people try to drag him in.

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      First I would rule out any unsoundness and dental problems before going any further. It sounds like something is bothering him or you are going too fast too soon. Maybe he doesn’t like doing them 3 times every time you ride. Maybe you could try just doing them a couple times a week. Remember he needs to be able to do it perfect going slow before you go any faster. I would slow down and go to the vet.

  5. Hi Ms Joyce, I was wondering if your could help me with my barrel horse? He’s now 12 and has been running the barrel pattern since about 4. He always got down on his rear and just pivoted around the barrel. So pretty he would at times try to go out the same way he came in. A real athletic ! one day while practicing he pulled his front left shoe going around the second barrel, and now has stopped working the 2nd & 3rd. Awesome 1st, but on the back side of 2nd & 3rd he is breaking down almost to a walk to make the turn. What can you suggest? Also he’s getting real chargie and dropping his shoulder and not wanting to give me his head! I going but to slow work, but what can I do to build his confidence again?

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      This isn’t Joyce, but Michelle with Free Barrel Racing Tips. Because your horse was working so well, for so long and then a sudden change I would take your horse to a reputable horse vet. He could have pulled or tore something deep when he grabbed that shoe. Everything you are describing are symptoms of some sort of unsoundness.

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