Barrel Horse Drills; Shouldering and Anticipation 

If you have been barrel racing for any length of time, chances are you have run into issues with your horse anticipating the turn too early or shouldering the barrel. It’s a common problem with a million different solutions to try. I will just go over one drill that I’ve had some good luck with and hopefully it will help you too. 

There are lots of reasons why your horse could be shouldering the barrel and it’s important to identify the cause before you start trying different solutions. 

If it started happening out of the blue and it’s completely out of character for your horse, you may want to rule out pain as the cause.

If it’s something that developed slowly and continues to get worse, I would suggest watching your videos and seeing if something you are doing with your body position and hands is contributing to the problem. 

I think it’s important to ask someone with a good eye and an honest opinion to watch you as well so you don’t gloss over anything. It’s easy to blame the horse, but sometimes the solution lies in practicing better riding habits and timing for ourselves.

The last thing I consider with a horse that shoulders or over anticipates the turn is that they are simply cheating the turn and wanting to drop in there before you ask.  

This can happen pretty easily with a horse that really wants to work and has a lot of natural rate. Some horses are more naturally anticipatory than others. In my experience, horses that are bred for cutting or other cowhorse events tend to be pretty smart and they can get a few stepts ahead of you on the pattern before you know it. 

This is the scenario I wanted to talk about today.  

If the cause is your horse anticipating the turn too soon, then the solution is to take away that anticipation completely. Chances are, if your horse is already to this point then they know the pattern and you need to start changing things up. 

The whole objective of doing this drill is to get the horse to wait on you and to maintain forward motion. 

For this drill you just need one barrel as well as the bit and reins that you normally make a run in. That is important because you want your horse to feel you communicating with them the same way that you would in a run. 

Set up your barrel in a big open space with good footing. Start out at a trot and look at your spot that you would normally drive your horse to before they start their turn. I always aim for about five to six feet beside the barrel and focus on getting my horse’s hip to the barrel before I start the turn. 

You are going to aim first for that spot but then continue trotting a straight line past it. Your horse will probably try to turn the barrel the first several times you trot them up to that position. It’s important not to do anything drastic in that moment, just correct them and continue trotting your straight line past the barrel to start your first “leaf” in this four leaf clover. 

You are going to turn your “leaves” the opposite way that you are setting your horse up to turn the barrel when you go past it. In the drawing I have you setting them up to turn the barrel to the right, so you will trot straight past the barrel on your right and make a smooth, balanced turn to your left. 

Once you cross your tracks you should be set up to trot another straight line past the barrel on your right. This basically ends up being one continuous smooth pattern and it really has no beginning or end. So a good note to quit on would be when your horse trots a really honest straight line past the barrel without trying to turn it. 

If you are riding a truly anticipatory horse, then this drill is not something to do over and over, because they will figure out this pattern just like any other. The point is to keep them guessing and waiting on your signal to turn. 

When I’m working on this at home I will ask them to turn the barrel every once in a while then continue on with the drill. Another thing I focus on is lengthing their stride when I’m trotting away from the barrel and shortening their stride when I’m approaching that spot beside the barrel. I’ll go from a posting trot leaving the barrel and around my “leaves” to a sitting trot when I’m a stride or two out from my spot beside the barrel. 

Lengthing and shortening their stride reinforces when you want them to rate and that you want them to rate straight, not leaning into the barrel. 

Once they are doing this well at the trot I do a modified version of this at the lope and then at full speed. I don’t think you can ever fix a problem that happens at full speed if you don’t eventually address it at full speed, but I do like to do some things like this to get my horses listening to me better and more prepared. 

Let me know how you like doing this drill and what results you get! 

Keep in touch with me on facebook at JE Performance Horses LLC

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