The Tire Barrel Racing Drill

The tire barrel racing drill should be a tool in every barrel racer’s tool box. Not only does it teach the perfect circle to young horses but it can also be great for seasoned horses. From working on body shape to fixing shouldering issues, almost everyone can find something that this drill will improve. So, get some old tires and saddle up!

What is the Tire Barrel Racing Drill Good for?

The tire barrel racing drill is a great all around drill and can help a variety of horses. In general, the drill is great at teaching a horse to hold its shape going in a circle and to make that circle perfectly round. It will teach a horse to move in small circles, keeping his hind end up underneath him, and his shoulders standing up. Additionally, there are many issues that the tire barrel racing drill can help to correct.


If you have a horse that is shouldering, the tire barrel racing drill could be a great way to correct this. Throughout the entire drill, the horse will be asked to keep his shoulder picked up. Because the horse cannot “lean” against a barrel in this exercise, it really teaches them to keep their shoulders up throughout a turn.


In the tire barrel racing drill, the horse will only be allowed to turn once he has become soft and supple in your hands. As such, turning becomes a bit of a reward. The horse begins to associate turning with being soft. If you have a horse that is bracing on you and otherwise being stiff, this drill can be a great way to correct that.


Speed Leaving the Barrels
Does your horse kind of mosey out of his turns? Would you like him to be a bit more snappy and exit the barrels with speed? The tire barrel racing drill may be your ticket. If need be, you can practice pushing your horse out of the turns for a more speedy exit.

The Set UpTire Barrel Racing Drill

To set up for the tire barrel racing drill you will need five tires and a single barrel. You can use cones or pylons in place of tires, if you want. The reason that tires are preferable is because horses generally do not shoulder tires. Tires are a lot more discrete than barrels, or even cones. Rather than acting as something for the horse to turn around, they are more just physical markers for the rider.


You will be setting the tires up in a circle that is approximately 60′ in diameter. Try the best that you can to evenly space the tires out around the circle. Place the barrel in the center of the circle.

The Drill

You can do this drill at a trot to start but I really believe that the most benefit will be derived when it is done at a lope. For a younger horse, you may want to do a few sessions at the trot until everything is super fluid at that gait. Once that is achieved, you can move up to the lope. You can even do an intermediate step of loping around but then breaking down to a trot to go around the tires.


Start on the outside of the circle of tires. Begin by doing a circle along the outside of the tires. Once your horse is in the correct body position to turn, turn one of the tires in a similar way to how you would turn a barrel. Keep an even distance around the tire and really try to drive you horse’s hindquarters up underneath him.


You will make a full circle around the tire and then continue along the big circle. Depending on your horse, you can turn the next tire in the circle or move passed it. The biggest thing to remember is that you never want to initiate a turn if your horse is not in the correct position to make a turn. Move along the big circle until your horse has the correct body position and is soft.


I highly encourage you to use two hands while doing the tire barrel racing drill. At these slower speeds there is no reason that you NEED to be riding one handed. Additionally, this drill is all about body position. The best way to work on this is with two hands on the reins using split reins.


The Barrel
Every once in a while, you can bring your horse into the center of the circle to turn the barrel that is in the center. Again, you will want to keep an equal distance around the barrel with your horse’s hind end driving up underneath.


This is where you can work on getting your horse to be snappy coming out of his turns. As you complete your entire turn of the barrel, ask your horse for a bit more oomph as you ride them out to the outside of the circle.



Q: How long should I work on the tire barrel racing drill?
A: A horse can tire out on this drill pretty quickly, particularly if you are doing it all at the lope. Once your horse is moving fluidly allow him to stop. Give him a brief break. Pet his neck. Then you can turn around and go in the other direction.


Q: My horse is having difficulties with shouldering. How can the tire barrel racing drill help?
A: One of the advantages of the tire barrel racing drill is that it doesn’t use tires. As such, it is great for teaching a horse to turn tight circles like in a barrel run without rely on the barrel to keep your horse standing.

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Another advantage of this drill that helps with shouldering is the fact that the horse will never know when you are going to turn. This keeps your horse guessing because he won’t know if you are going to turn the upcoming tire or another one further along the circle. Keep your horse guessing by randomly turning tires along the circle and passing others by.


Q: My horse is switching his hind lead when we turn the tires. How can I fix this?
A: Younger horses, horses that are out of shape and horses that aren’t used to loping small circles may initially have some issues with this drill. It’s hard work to turn a tight circle, especially when you are asking them to keep their hind end up underneath them. As such, they may do goofy things like switching their hind lead. Most horses will do this as a result of dropping their shoulder. Therefore, if you keep their shoulders standing up, you likely will not have this issue.


That being said, if you are having this issue, it is likely only temporary. It is part of the awkward phase, as I call it. They will eventually get passed it. You kind of just have to ride it out.


If you horse switches his hind lead, you can do one of two things. You can drop him down to a trot and pick up the lead again. Alternatively, you can ride it out, picking up that shoulder and asking the horse to really get his hind end up underneath him. I advocate for the latter approach. The reason for this is because it forces the horse to figure out his feet.

Finish Line Thoughts

I want to emphasize that there is no magic drill that will build you the perfect barrel horse. That being said, the tire barrel racing drill is a great tool that you can use in molding that perfect barrel horse. Give it a shot using the guidelines outlined above and let me know how it goes. Do you notice a difference in how your horse handles? I would love to hear from you.


And remember, it’s always a #gooddaytoride.


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