Training for Quick, Correct Barrel Racing Turns

Courtesy of American Quarter Horse Association

Top barrel racer Stevi Hillman breaks down how she rides her horses around the barrel, avoiding hurry but focusing on quickness.

As I work around the barrel, I teach my horse where to place his feet so that he is both quick and correct. Correct equals quick. You don’t want to rush a horse on the backside of the barrel, and it’s easy to do without realizing it. A correct barrel racing turn ends up being faster and creates the snappy turn many people see in my horses.

They’re quick, but they don’t hurry. When I see horses that just seem to be scrambling to get around the barrel, it’s usually because they are trying to hurry. Hurry and quickness are not the same. Quickness comes from the horse being confident about where to put his feet and becoming efficient in his movements around the barrel.

When training, I don’t just come out and turn around the barrel over and over. Correct body position is important, so I make sure my horse is straight coming into the barrel, not leaning with his shoulder, but rather turning through the ribs and driving with the hip.

As we approach the barrel, I show my horse where to begin the turn. I sit my weight down in the saddle, and ask him to rate his speed and prepare for the turn. Then I engage his hip. I’m still seated on his hind end, but I’m pushing forward, allowing my horse’s shoulders to grab and move forward into the turn, leading with the inside shoulder closest to the barrel and forming a pocket. Keep in mind, this is all one fluid movement. As we leave the barrel, I pick up the outside shoulder. As I’m picking up the shoulder, I’m squeezing with my outside leg so my horse straightens as he crosses over with the other foot as he leaves the barrel. My job is to be sitting square and balanced in the saddle, so my weight doesn’t cause my horse to lean into the barrel, hurry or get out of position.