Help for a Barrel Horse that Fights at the First Barrel

Help for a Barrel Horse that Fights at the First Barrel

No matter what form it shows up in, when a horse exhibits resistance, there is a separation occurring.

Any kind of resistance (subtle or extreme) creates a delay, and any delay will equal slower times on the clock.

Whether it be a wringing tail, shaking or tossing head, pushing against pressure, or just tension through the body, as long as the resistance is allowed to continue, there will be a disconnect, a disagreement between horse and rider.

When resistance occurs, our idea and the horse’s idea, are NOT the same idea!

If we look beyond the outward symptoms, we’ll find real reasons for our horse’s resistance. Until we commit to understanding the reasons, and providing a solution, this will prove to be a BIG road block in the way of progress on the pattern.

Rather than try to cover up the symptoms, let’s consider just a few reasons WHY a horse might show resistance, in the form of fighting at the first barrel.

They tend to show up in one of three categories – physical, mental or emotional

1. Physical Problem – May not be obvious, but horse is physically uncomfortable
2. Lack of Education – Horse does not understand his responsibilities/what is expected
3. Lack of Leadership – Horse is not motivated to follow the rider’s suggestions
4. Lack of Communication – Horse is frustrated by rider’s lack of clear instructions
5. Too Much Repetition at Speed – Horse loses desire and/or becomes anxious

Only once we begin to consider and understand why our horse is resisting, can we develop a plan to troubleshoot the issue.

As you can imagine, there is no way to force or “make” the horse in the photo above stop resisting. We have to go about things in a way that causes a horse to want to work with us and for us, especially on the barrel pattern, and especially at SPEED!

The video below includes some interesting concepts and techniques (including a demonstration of a simple, yet valuable exercise) that can solve a wide variety of problems on the pattern.

In fact, it’s almost too simple!

But it’s surprising how many “advanced horses” struggle with doing simple things really well – which is often exactly where we must focus to take our barrel racing to a higher level.

Remember, a winning barrel horse is one that is comfortable and willing to what we ask.

Take it upon yourself to remove obstacles in your way (such as resistance), and you will be on the fast track to barrel racing success!

How does YOUR horse display resistance on the pattern?

What do you think is the cause?

Let me know in the comments below!

If you enjoyed this Q&A, check out even more helpful posts to dissolve resistance…

Get FIVE More First Barrel Exercises Now – for FREE!

28 replies
  1. Leslie Stevens
    Leslie Stevens says:

    We have a six year old barrel horse that my daughter use to race NBHA. She has now stepped out of racing, and I want to keep Abby and continue to barrel race her. She was not worked all last winter and I started her back in the spring. She knows that I am not as aggressive as my daughter and plays me for that. One constant with her is hitting the first barrel no matter how far out I go, I have tried to use the four corner exercise and takes every bit of my strength to keep her off the barrel. I was listening to your stop sign exercise and I am going to try that tonight. Is there anything else you can suggest?
    I love your barrel racing tips sight!!~
    Thank you,

  2. Diana Cory
    Diana Cory says:

    Have been barrel racing on and off for years. I had a horse I had to cheat alot. Got in a trade. But not any of my horses ready as yet. Know that I am racing, I sometimes do that bad thing, pull on my outside rein. Only on the third barrel. I try and try, not to, but sometimes out of habit I just do. Any suggestions. I get mad at myself and cost me barrel races.

  3. Julie
    Julie says:

    I have a super fast horse that is running bottom of 1d too if 2d that has a lot of resistance at the first barrel where I am fighting to push him forward. Today I realized when I go into my turn at the first barrel he switches his leads just in the back to where he is cross firing around the first barrel. Any ideas??

    • BarrelRacingTips
      BarrelRacingTips says:

      Hi Julie, if it were my horse, I’d schedule an appt. with a good equine performance Vet. to check for soreness. Outside of that, getting the hips real supple and responsive is important for developing good habits of using the hind end correctly, but if a horse is cross firing in a turn in a fast run, it’s a good possibility that he’s trying to avoid some discomfort somewhere.

  4. Gina
    Gina says:

    Hey I have a gelding who I have been barrel racing for about a year now, I have nearly perfected his 2nd and 3rd barrel I dont have to rate him he does that his self but I am having trouble on his 1st barrel, he wont rate on it and goes wide I have tried helping to rate him but it doesnt help. I think its because he cant yet handle going so fast to the first drum….Any training tips or advice?
    thanks 🙂

  5. Carley
    Carley says:

    My barrel gelding has perfect 2nd and 3rd barrels, but on the first barrel he goes in a little wider then I prefer and kinda drifts toward the ally on our way to the second barrel. I know that he doesn’t want to go out the ally because last year he was perfect on his first barrel. I also don’t want to rate him too much because he looses his speed and momentum.

  6. Rhett
    Rhett says:

    I have a 6yr gelding that loves to rear up on any barrel just depends on his stiffness. I don’t ride in the arena but maybe 3-4 times a month cause he likes to rear with me if I work him in arena he is a ex-racehorse. He’s is supper flexible for being 17h but when he decides he’s done he won’t listen at all and rears how do u stop a horse from rearing up out of barrels or just in general

    Thank you

    • Heather Smith
      Heather Smith says:

      I would bet that there is a physical, mental(educational), AND emotional component going on with this problem. It’s not necessarily a quick fix, but it’s a MUST fix because rearing can be so dangerous and if the issue isn’t handled carefully, it is only likely to get worse.
      This would be a good fit for my Power Hour coaching, details here.

  7. Jordan
    Jordan says:

    My 6 year old mare has a great 2nd and 3rd barrel but when it comes to the first barrel even at a trot or a lope she gets around the backside of the barrel next to the fence and starts to rear and not wanting to turn to go to the next barrel and I have no idea how to fix this problem

  8. Rebecca Gates
    Rebecca Gates says:

    i need help around my first barrel. i just bought a horse last summer and im just finally getting with him. but now we are having issues with the first barrel. we get past the barrel to the asking point with a larger pocket and he will only turn half way going very wide out towards the second while the entier turn he will toss his head a lot. he does great slow canter up to the barrel and then ill slow him down to walk around the barrel making him finish his turn before picking up speed and even does great when just trotting around the first. what els could i try. the bits i have use on him was a cowboy snaffle, martha josey bit and the S-hack. he seems to work the best in the jim warner hack.

    • Heather Smith
      Heather Smith says:

      Your best bet here Rebecca is to revisit some foundational elements and rule out a physical problem, for example teeth, etc. From that point is the horse absolutely soft, supple, responsive, AND responsible? Remember it’s their job to stay on track, and we only subtly guide. When more guidance is needed we need to have prepared them to yield and respond to that in an instant… if that’s not happening we have to peel back the layers and ask WHY? Remember it all comes down to the Mental (educational) Emotional, and Physical aspects! 😉

  9. Dan Santabarbara
    Dan Santabarbara says:

    My daughters horse shakes her head when asking her to make the turn around the barrel. We have tried different have had her teeth checked but it still continues any

  10. Dan Santabarbara
    Dan Santabarbara says:

    My daughters horse shakes her head when asking her to make the turn around the barrel. We have tried different bits have had her teeth checked but it still continues any suggestions?

    • Heather Smith
      Heather Smith says:

      Hi Dan, have you had a Vet. appointment or seen an equine body worker to check for and address physical problems elsewhere in the body? Also think about how well the horse has been educated to respond lightly with complete suppleness throughout the entire body. It’s always good to watch reining horse training DVDs to get reinspired on this. We want a supple mind and body and it’s just a matter of finding out exactly where the weak links are.

  11. Morgan Kay
    Morgan Kay says:

    I have an 8 year old appendix barrel horse & he’s hanging up at the first barrel, slow work around the barrel is fine but as soon as I push him he shuts down going around the barrel, even checking him up he still will do it. I’ve changed bits, done lots of slow work, worked on my hands, my positioning, everything, Our second and third barrel is amazing so if you had anything that could help I would appreciate it so much..

  12. dacy crockett
    dacy crockett says:

    I have a barrel mare that always throws her head and rears up around the fisrt barrel. Ive tried a few differnt things to try and stop the rearing but nothing is helping.

  13. Katie Huus
    Katie Huus says:

    I have a finished 1D barrelbhorse my daughter has been riding for two years now and had no problems until this last summmer he started rearing at the back side of the first barrel we had him vet checked several times we have had him injected chiropractic work done supplements given and on medication. When slow work is done with him he goes around it and does wonderful but if she asks him for speed around the first he rears and she usually has to turn in a circle before going to the second barrel she even tried going to the left first and then he did it again on the second barrel my daughter is so frustrated we gave him time off and no practicing between competitions and he still does it.

  14. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    I have a horse that used to have a bulge in its jaw where the bit was left and he fought a lot when I tried to turn in the first barrel, I suppose it was because that bulge hurts. We solved that issue, we did a surgery and now he has about 2 months of not training in the barrels. Some advice to re-train him? Since he has in his mind always fight in the first barrel and since he does not have that annoyance I would like to correct it. Thank you!

  15. Chavela
    Chavela says:

    I have a mare I started on barrels last year, she was doing good. A few months back she started fighting me around the first barrel. I tried taking it slow for a week and once until she was doing good again. When I asked for more speed on the pattern she started acting up around the first barrel again and now rears up every time we are leaving the first barrel. Any tips on how I can keep her consistent throughout the pattern and stop her bad habit?

  16. Kimberly Duncan
    Kimberly Duncan says:

    My horse fights me after turning the first barrel like he wants to go back to the gate and i have to pull hard to the right to even get him around the barrel and it usually ends up messing up our whole run but he only does it in indoor arenas, when we run outside he’s fine.

  17. Ema Davidson
    Ema Davidson says:

    I am having this alleyway problem where my gelding will start to rear up over and over again and it is a danger to him, me, and everyone around me. Do you have any ideas to fix it?



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