4 Success Tips for Training the Barrel Pattern

Do you have a horse that you would like to start training the barrel pattern to? I am excited for you! There is nothing like starting a horse from scratch on the pattern to a fully trained barrel horse. There will be ups and downs, don’t get me wrong, but the process can be very rewarding.


To help you out in training the barrel pattern, I have compiled a list of four success tips before you get started.

Train Like You Want to Run

When training the barrel pattern I see a lot of girls doing really wonky stuff on the barrels. Some girls overemphasize the approach to the barrel, dragging their reins across their horse’s neck and asking the horse to step way over away from the barrel. Other girls tip their horse’s nose to the inside so far that their horse is nearly bent in half.

Training the Barrel Pattern

While this may work for them, this is not how I approach things when training the barrel pattern. You wouldn’t want your horse to come into a barrel wide, nor would you want his nose overly tipped to the inside. Why would you train like that if that is not what you want your finished product to look like?


In my opinion, when training the barrel pattern, you need to ride like you want to run. Teach your horse to move exactly where you would want him to when making an actual run. Ask him to approach each barrel exactly how you would want to at speed. Teach him to position his body in a way that will be most efficient during a run.


There is no better way to confuse a horse than teaching him one thing and then asking another when it’s go time. Teach the perfect pattern right from the start and you will be much better off as you progress.

Ride Consistently

I want you to imagine for a moment what things would be like if, during grade school, you had only attended school twice a week. Let’s say you only went on Mondays and Thursdays. How effective do you think this model would be? Do you think you would retain much given the space between each learning session? Probably not. Furthermore, every Thursday would feel like you were coming back from a weekend (i.e. it would feel like two Mondays!).


You need to take this same perspective with your horse. Sure, if you have a seasoned horse that knows the ropes, you can likely get away with breaks in between riding (however, he will likely not be as fit as he could or should be). But it is a very different story when you are riding something that is in training and/or is younger. They need that constant work. If they don’t get that, every time you work with them is going to feel like a Monday.


Now, I am not saying that every time you ride you should be training the barrel pattern. On the contrary, you should not be training the barrel pattern every time you ride. That is a quick way to end up with a sour horse. It really depends on the horse as to how frequently you can work the pattern. Listen to the horse and he will tell you.


On the days where you are not training the barrel pattern you should be working the skills that are needed on the pattern. Work on your stops, collection, bending at the rib cage, side passing, moving the shoulders, moving the hindquarters, etc. The horse should have all of those things mastered if you expect any kind of success on the pattern.

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Additionally, it is always a good idea to get out of the arena. Go for a walk down the road. Sort some cows. This will keep your horse not only fit but also liking his job.

Stick to the Game Plan

There are many different ways to train a barrel horse. You could go to ten different barrel trainers and get ten different ways to approach the process. Everyone has their way of doing things and that is more than fine.


That being said, if you have been training the barrel pattern in a certain way do not all of a sudden change how you are doing things. That will do nothing but confuse your horse. Just because things aren’t working does not necessarily mean that you are doing the wrong thing. A horse needs time to get a hang of things just like a human does when learning new things.


My best advice is to stick to your game plan. Consistency backed up by a solid approach will pay off in the long run.

Reward Good Work

Nothing feels better than finally getting something right on your horse that you had been working. After several attempts gone wrong things finally come together. When this happens it can be tempting to continue working on it.


For example, you may have been working on getting your horse to finish second with a snap. Finally, one day during practice, your horse nails it. It felt so good and you were so happy. You gave your horse a pat on the neck, turned around third and then headed back to do the pattern again.


While going through the pattern again may not be the worst thing in the world, it might be a better idea to quit your horse at that point and call it a day. Quit on a good note. Or, at the very least, stop him and let him relax so he knows he did a good job.


When training the barrel pattern it is very important that we clearly communicate to our horses when they do something right. If we don’t, they may get frustrated because they feel like they are never doing anything right. No matter what they do you are asking for more and more.


Give your horse the acknowledgement he deserves. Not only will this keep him saner, but it will also allow him to catch on quicker to what he’s doing right.

Finish Line Thoughts

Training the barrel pattern is not a complicated process. That being said, you need to know what you are doing in order to be successful. Ensure you adhere to the above success tips and you will be well on your way to creating the barrel horse of your dreams.


And remember, it’s always a #gooddaytoride.


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