3 Parts of the Barrel Racing Run

3 Basic Components of the barrel racing run.



There are three essential components of a barrel race – the approach, the rate and the turn.  It’s a classic “cloverleaf” pattern – how tough can it be to remember?  You might be surprised.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen competitors go off-course in a barrel race – they get into the arena and their heads explode (well, ok, not really… but they might as well have…) And don’t mistake what I’m saying – this isn’t about competitors that are foolish – this is about stress in the arena, and how it builds up in a contestant’s mind.

I’ve also seen competitors completely forget their strategy in running the barrels – and there is indeed a strategy for each one.  Keeping a clear mind and a clear focus on what you’re doing in the arena is easier said than done sometimes, but it’s critical if you expect to succeed.  And for each component of your barrel racing run, you need to remember your strategy, implement it and make any adjustments you might need as the run unfolds.

Your approach is just that – your approach to the first barrel – it sets you up for rounding that first barrel and includes whatever techniques you’re going to use to keep yourself and your horse balanced going into that first turn.

As you start through the gate and head toward the first barrel, you should be relaxed in the saddle and focused on the first turn of the pattern.  Start applying light pressure on the outside rein about 5 to 7 feet from the barrel, while at the same time applying pressure with your inside leg.  This will help your horse flex around the barrel without dropping his shoulder and crowding the barrel.


The rate is a shortening of stride, or a slowing of speed as you go into the turn.  You want your horse to be collected and balanced as you round the turn – not charging out of control and blowing past the barrels.

The important thing to remember here is that when you collect your horse in preparation for the turn, you don’t want to be tugging and jerking him around – that’s only going to result in loss of time and balance, not to mention confusion on his part – i.e. – do you want him to run around the barrels or not?  A light touch on the reins and settling deeper in the saddle will give him the clue that you want him to tuck his butt underneath him and get ready to pivot.

If your horse has a tendency to overrun the barrel, or doesn’t collect himself when you cue him – this is a good exercise to practice: when you get even with the barrel itself, stop him completely, and make him back up five or six steps.  This will make him tuck his butt underneath him, and make him shorten that stride as he approaches the barrel.  Then you can cue him to continue around the barrel.  He’ll get the hint that when you cue him to rate the barrel, he needs to listen, or he’ll be brought to a full stop.

And the turn is just what it sounds like – your turn around each barrel.  You want to be looking toward your next barrel as you come out of each turn, or looking toward the finish line.

Turn your horse’s head with a light touch of the reins on the outside of his neck – the side away from the barrel – so you’re turning his head toward the barrel.  At the same time, apply leg pressure on the inside to move him around the barrel, and keep him from dropping his inside shoulder as he rounds the barrel.  This will also help him flex as he makes the turn.