How to Use Body Language to “Go and Whoa”

How to Use Body Language to

I once came across a definition of impulsion recently that described it as the equal balance of “go and whoa.”

So if we have more “go,” or more “whoa,” we not only lose impulsion, but chances are we won’t win the barrel race either!

In a world where tiny fractions of a second can be life changing, maintaining this balance becomes a very delicate matter. Our horses must be able to deliver every ounce of speed they can muster between barrels, and then rate down for the turns like a jet engine in reverse.

Make going by barrels a thing of the past.
Make going by barrels a thing of the past.

It’s not uncommon for horses to get too much run on their mind and lose their “whoa,” OR start anticipating the turn so much that they can no longer be driven up into the turn. When we’ve reached to either of these extremes, it’s well past time to take action to correct the problem.

But a barrel racer must specifically understand HOW, which is what this week’s Q&A video is all about.

If a rider’s hands don’t educate a horse appropriately, in time a horse will become more and more dull to their pulling. If a rider uses their body to constantly urge a lazy horse to keep moving, soon their urges lose their meaning as well.
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Seven Tips to Solve Gate Problems for Good

Seven Tips to Solve Gate Problems for Good

To introduce this week’s Q&A video, I’ll start with a metaphor… let’s say you experience headaches often, that were actually caused by a serious (but unknown to you) health condition. If you were able to completely resolve the symptoms by taking pain relievers, you might think “problem solved!”

That is, until some time down the road, when the headaches continue, or become more frequent, and you start having stomach problems from the pain relievers, or the actual underlying condition causing the headaches gets worse and starts to wreck havoc on the rest of your body and your health.

The same goes for gate issues they are a symptom of a deeper problem.

Those deeper problems can be difficult to recognize. Just because we can get our horse in the gate, doesn’t mean the underlying issue they resisted is resolved, or that the symptom (your horse being unwilling to go in the gate) may not occur again, get worse, or that the underlying problem will eventually cause issues in other areas as well.

What is Your Horse Thinking at the Gate?
What is Your Horse Thinking at the Gate?

I feel as though there are three main causes of gate problems.

The first is physical. When a horse becomes unwilling to go in the gate, there’s a good possibility he’s hurting some where. If you had a close up video or photographs of the positions your horse’s body has to contort in as they round the pattern, it would really open your eyes to just how much physical stress they go through.

The second is an emotional issue. This is a more common occurrence in horses that by nature are more insecure and nervous. They are the HOT, sensitive horses that if we don’t do our part to meet their needs, will struggle to hold up under the mental pressure involved in such an intense, high speed event. I think of these horses as having a bad case of “stage fright.” They most likely want to please, but their reaction in the alley is akin to a human having an anxiety attack.

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Speed Kills – How to Resolve Issues that Only Occur at Speed

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Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #27 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
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When it comes to training barrel horses, it seems like everything can change when we add the pressure and challenges of competition. If you’ve been barrel racing long enough, you’ve probably had experiences where it seemed like everything felt perfect – until your horse found a few more gears. Or that you could make an awesome run at home, only to have it all fall apart in competition.

While some horses have more ability to efficiently maneuver their bodies at speed than others, our job as riders is to help balance out their natural tendencies. We want to polish up what’s good and better develop the weak areas. But what about when we feel like we’ve done EVERYTHING, and things STILL come apart at speed or in competition?

With one of my horses in particular, I felt like I had left no stone unturned when it came to developing a foundation that would carry through to our performance on the pattern. But for years, we would miss the mark. It was insanely frustrating!

In this article I’d like to share WHY I think things tend to fall apart at speed, as well as how my horses and I have overcome the challenges that speed presents. As with many issues that come up on the pattern, they are often only symptoms of deeper issues. I feel as though understanding the “why” gives us insight into “how” to successfully troubleshoot. I’ll also be sharing a few exercises that have been valuable to me for ensuring there are no disconnects between my horse’s slow work and speed work, that I think will be helpful for you as well.

One of the first reasons our runs go downhill at speed is because we, OR our horses, resort to old habits that are not efficient or no longer serve us!

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Six Secrets for Relaxed, Quality Movement

Six Secrets for Relaxed, Quality Movement

Just like humans, horses are born with naturally occurring tendencies, characteristics and personality traits.

Some tend to be more high strung, some tend to be laid back, some are more naturally confident, some are more fearful.

What many riders don’t realize though, is that there is a TON we can do to help our horses achieve balance. When we do this, we’re likely to experience the benefits both in the barrel racing arena and in our horse’s over all physical and mental well-being.

Because I love horses so much, I feel a great personal responsibility to instill in them the education and emotional fitness necessary to successfully handle the challenges that come along with life as performance horses.

Quality movement helps reveal your horse's greatest potential!
Quality movement helps reveal your horse’s greatest potential!

Most barrel racers will deal with some tension or an over abundance of “go” in a horse at one point or another. It’s often a byproduct of the speed that’s required in our sport. Speed releases adrenaline, it creates anticipation, and unlike other slower paced equine sports, speed adds even more pressure to the competition environment.

Some horses who are confident and have been carefully developed, may genuinely experience excitement in anticipation of running, but often, what WE would like to perceive as “excitement” is actually worry, impulsiveness, anxiety, tension and fear.

Whatever labels we assign to their behavior, it’s important that our horses remain connected and responsive to us, and that we do our best to keep their association with the barrels as positive as possible.
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Six Tips for a Tight Third Barrel

In today’s Q&A video, we’ve described six reasons why horses blow off the third barrel (the reasons also apply to ANY other barrel), AND what to do (which may surprise you), once you’ve pinpoited the problem. When troubleshooting, keep in mind that it’s likely there are a combination of things occurring, so a resolution may require addressing the problem from several different angles.

Tea and Crumpets... on the Barrel Pattern!?
Tea and Crumpets… on the Barrel Pattern!?

I certainly feel the frustration anyone has with this issue, because I used to struggle with my horse coming wide off the first barrel. Maybe you’ve felt your horse leave a barrel wide and then make a time consuming swoop instead of a laser-like straight line, and in that moment didn’t feel like whatever you did to correct the error was very effective! The solution to MY first barrel issue was featured in a past Q&A that you might also find helpful, titled Two Contradictory Tips to be Straight and Fast Between Barrels.

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When Things Go South with NFR Barrel Racer, Molly Powell

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Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #17 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
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In 1995, Molly Powell decided to leave behind the cold weather, hard ground and few & far between barrel races in her home state of Montana and head south to Texas. She immersed herself, not only in studies at Vernon College but also in an environment that would be more conducive to her career as a professional barrel racer. As a 10-time NFR qualifier, you could say that the transition proved to be a good one.

10x NFR Barrel Racer, Molly Powell
10X NFR Barrel Racer, Molly Powell

Sometimes, however, things “go south” with our barrel horses and when they do, it’s NOT a good thing. When this happens, we distance ourselves from achieving barrel racing success at any level. Many barrel racers sense when something doesn’t feel quite right. Perhaps their horse is out of position, they may feel stiff, or lean to the inside. A horse might be extremely hot or nervous, or unresponsive to what the rider is asking. Riders may recognize these road blocks, an even have a clear idea of what they do want, but the challenge often comes in knowing exactly how to get it.

As humans, most of us are direct-line thinkers. We are wired to just keep trying until we reach our desired result. Barrel racers especially, are a determined crowd – we’re taught to practice perfect, to persist and persevere, to never give up! This way of operating creates a potential problem, however, when it comes to training barrel horses. If things are “going south,” and if we keeping doing more of the same, our horses – who are very sensitive to patterns and learn easily through repetition, become much more likely to repeat those undesirable ways of being.

At a recent clinic in Lander, Wyoming, Molly demonstrated that when we find ourselves in one of these ruts, we must find a way out – and quick! It doesn’t always matter if you don’t know exactly what to do, or where to go, as long as you do something – anything different, to break the cycle. You could refer to this policy as “rut prevention.”

During the clinic, one mare was too nervous and anxious to use her body properly and focus on the task at hand, which was performing Molly’s smaller circle exercise at a forward, even, but relaxed pace. Read more

Peel Back the Layers and Get REAL

Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #14 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
For the latest episodes subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Play.


In all areas of my life, “peeling back the layers” is something that has changed it for the better, so it seemed like a subject more than worthy of sharing.  Like the contents of my book, “Secrets to Barrel Racing Success,” this web site provides technical information, but is unique in that it goes even deeper to uncover “the REAL secrets,” the things that matter, but aren’t always addressed through mainstream educational resources for barrel racers.

Resist temptation to bang your head.
Resist temptation to bang your head.

I’ve experienced it myself, and know many other barrel racers have as well… We set out to sharpen up our barrel horse, troubleshoot an issue on the pattern, get that elusive last ½ second…  We flounder around, some light bulbs go off, we get excited, then hit a wall, redirect again, repeat….

Eventually we go back to the drawing board, and proclaim (either out loud or to ourselves), “I AM doing THIS and THIS, I have done ALL THIS, and my horse STILL isn’t ( fill in the blank )!!!” It’s like we try hard, we study up, we put the time in, we feel like we’re doing EVERYTHING.  Things improve a bit, we get our hopes up, but eventually realize that it’s STILL not enough!  Ugh.  Some of us, shaking our head, confess, “I just don’t think HE (the horse) has IT,” (the speed, athleticism, mind, etc.). We think “If only HE would just do this ____________!” or say “Well, ya know, he’s just so front endy, sore, not fast enough, or too sensitive…” it goes on and on.

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Keep ‘em Standing – Four Tips for Reforming a Barrel Crasher

Keep ‘em Standing – Four Tips for Reforming a Barrel Crasher

“It’s like he’s magnetized to the barrels!”

“He just plows right over them ON PURPOSE!”

“OOOUUUUCH, my *&^$%R% kneeeeeee!!!!”

*Sniff, sniff* “We were, *sniff* SOOO close!”

If you’ve ever shed a tear over a tipped barrel, you’re not alone. Maybe you’ve missed out on winning a huge check, or a trophy saddle. Maybe you’ve traveled the long ride home with nothing but paint from a barrel on your jeans, and a badly bruised shin and/or ego.

The bottom line is – tipped barrels are PAINFUL, in more ways than one!

Whether your horse is a chronic barrel crasher or you just want to prevent tipped barrels, this week’s Q&A is for every barrel racer.

Tipped barrels can occur from time to time, even to the best barrel racers. For horse and rider teams who are otherwise consistent, it’s sometimes a fluke thing and nothing much to worry about. In these instances, it’s important to take note of what caused the tipped barrel, replay a perfect run in your mind, and move on. If your horse tips the same barrel twice in a row, however, it’s time to focus up.

The video below describes FOUR detailed tips for reforming a “barrel crasher.”

At the same time, the points will also prove extremely valuable for preventing tipped barrels from ever becoming a problem.

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