In barrel racing, it’s those smooth and effortless looking runs that can really stop the clock. Any time we can soften our horse and gain free, easy movement we have an opportunity to improve our efficiency on the pattern. The more efficient we are, the quicker our time. There are different drills and exercises that can help with this and you don’t need barrels to do it. The following drill helps your horse improve his suppleness and maneuverability. It will help him become more aware of his own body placement while opening up his shoulders and softening his ribs and face.
Start this drill slow at a walk or trot and make sure you have a good handle on it before you try it at a lope.
Imagine a big round figure 8 and follow that path. Your first circle will have your horse bent to the inside of the circle.
After completing your first circle, head to the second bubble of the 8, while keeping the same bend in your horses’ body. Your horse will now be arced away from the circle. Your horse is “counter arced or reverse arced” (depending on your chosen lingo). Complete this circle and head back to your first circle taking the bend to the inside. It is normal if this second, (reverse arced) circle feels a bit harder to keep “perfect”. Use your leg aids to help pushing him around the bend while using your reins as a soft guide.
If you started your first circle to the right, your horses’ body is arced to the right. Your second circle will be to the left, but your horses’ body will still be arced to the right. Your right leg that was being used on the inside of the circle for bend, will now keep that bend but be used to push the outside of his body around the circle.
If you are having a really hard time keeping a perfect circle don’t hesitate to open it up and make your circles bigger. Start at a walk, and then move to a trot. That is often enough for one ride so you could end after a few rotations at a trot and pick up there for the next lesson. The next ride you could try loping. You could even start with loping the bend to the inside and trotting the bend to the outside until you feel he is ready to lope it all. Take small steps and set your horse up for success.
You want to work both sides of your horse so you will need to either stop or change direction. Going too fast too soon can cause your horse to fight and be frustrated. Start slow and work for softness and maneuverability before speed.
Not only will this drill help your horse become more aware of his own body placement, it will also open up his shoulders and soften his ribs and face. You will find your horse may handle the lead change out of first barrel better and handle corrections at the barrels more handily as well. Taking any resistance out away from the pattern will help your work on the pattern. A softer, more maneuverable horse will result is a more efficient horse who will clock faster times.
For more drills like this, check out www.barrelracingdrills.com an online compendium of over 80 barrel racing drills and exercises to improve your barrel racing success!