How to Fix a Wide Turn on the Barrel Pattern

Out with the Goals, In with the New

Ever feel like you might as well put a sign on your horse’s rear end that reads “Caution: This Equine Vehicle Makes Wide Turns!?” 

A wide turn means covering extra real estate on the pattern, which results in drastically slower times.

Addressing this issue starts with coming to terms with a simple fact…

The Horse is Not Responding Appropriately to What Has Been Asked

The solution comes in determining WHY?

Caution Wide Turns

Two common causes of wide turns are:

#1 – Our horse is not taking responsibility for traveling in the direction we point them indefinitely. Keep in mind that the horse is really not at fault. It’s our responsibility as riders, to ensure our horse understands their responsibilities!

Click here to refer to a previous Q&A for a review of an exercise called “Point to Point” which helps accomplish this.

#2 – The horse does not have high level responsiveness to our hands and a solid foundational understanding of leg cues, making correcting their position on the pattern difficult.  The truth is that speed changes everything, requiring more from horses in the barrel racing discipline than any other.

In the video below I describe these two points in detail and demonstrate what the level of responsiveness we’re after looks like.  Below the video are some helpful how-to’s for developing this kind of responsiveness. 

Be forewarned however, you’ll likely need a new sign – one that reads “Caution: Sharp Turns Ahead!”  

Follow the steps below to establish feather-light responsiveness to leg cues.

  • Properly prepare your horse by teaching them to yield sideways on the ground first using gradually increasing steady or rhythmic pressure. Ask them to yield their front end and hind quarters as well, doing so will make these movements much easier under saddle. The concepts described below will be helpful whether teaching your horse to yield to pressure from the ground or on their back.
  • Always start out with very light pressure. Your horse will never respond lighter than the degree of the pressure you first apply.
  • Be patient when first teaching a horse to respond to leg pressure, they’ll likely try several guesses at the correct answer before getting it right. Being too picky in the beginning will only discourage your horse, reward the slightest try. Capture any forward movement by positioning your horse in front of a wall or fence, where moving forward is not an option.
  • Gradually increase the pressure you apply until you get the correct response. Instead of kicking harder, gradually bring up rhythmic life in your body and leg – think “fanning” instead of kicking.
  • If your horse is not responding at all, STOP what you are doing and think of another way to get some kind of result (a light tap with a rein for example). If you keep asking in the same way, with no response (kick, kick, kick, etc.), you are actually teaching your horse to be dull and insensitive – don’t go there!  When you start over, remember, to always start with very light pressure.
  • Be sure when you get the response you want in the teaching phase to RELEASE instantly. This is a critical part of gaining responsiveness to leg cues AND a critical part of horsemanship in general. The release is the reward your horse seeks out, it’s you saying “YES, that’s right!” The quicker you are able to deliver the reward (release), the quicker he will learn and the better horse trainer you will be!
  • Start by asking your horse to respond to leg cues at a standstill. When that is well established, move up to a walk, and then trot, lope and so on. Experiment with moving their body parts around while traveling on a straight line or circle.
  • If your horse already has a good understanding of leg cues, and is slow to respond, increase the rate (speed) at which you increase pressure.  With advanced horses especially, don’t be afraid to raise the degree of firmness to get results.  Most riders are initially too firm and then aren’t firm enough when necessary.
  • When it’s time to advance – let’s say your horse responds OK to leg cues, but you want a quicker, snappier responsiveness – at this point, apply a light degree of pressure, and increase it until you get the responsiveness you desire, THEN GO BACK to the lighter amount of pressure you started with, instead of a complete release. Because you’re beyond the teaching phase this offers more refinement and communicates that you “want that level of response from this level of pressure.”

10 replies
  1. Hillary Riley
    Hillary Riley says:

    I’ve got some work to do here. My horses have only been training on barrels since last summer. Most of the time without the speed. One has to much response-she turns around on herself when going around the barrel at speed. Somehow we’ve not hit a barrel yet. The other mare is just not resposive to much of anything. She needs to do these excercises for sure.

  2. mindy
    mindy says:

    Hey im really enjoying the free tips! There great and really helpful! I have an unique issue that Id love help with ! Im missing my right arm..I love barrel racing and love doing it! just lookn for someone to watch my runs and see what i could be doin differently! hope your willing to take a look ! =o)

    • BarrelRacingTips
      BarrelRacingTips says:

      Hi Mindy! Thanks for your comment, great to hear from you! I think if you go about developing certain areas within yourself and your horse, that only having one arm doesn’t have to slow you down in the least. I’ve actually seen a barrel racer at the NFR neck rein her horse around the whole pattern with one hand. So I imagine that’s what you do? In slow work you might work on really suppling up your horse’s body and asking for a lot of bend, reason being is that I imagine neck reining around the barrels in runs over time would stiffen a horse up a bit. You’ll also want to train your horse to be pretty independent on the pattern (something that is good for all horses – see our free guide with Kay Blandford) so that you can really rely on him to do his job, and make yours a little easier! Also, you might work on exercises for yourself that help to strengthen your hips and core which will help improve your stability in the saddle, (this is a good idea for all riders – I love the Success in the Saddle exercise DVD series), because you probably have developed ways of using your body to balance to compensate for the absent limb. We may offer a video critiquing service in the future, so please sign up for our winning tips and if we do, you’ll be the first to know! You might post a link to your run on in the forum to get some feedback? Good luck and here’s a little video I like to share that I think any barrel racer would find inspirational…

  3. Miriam
    Miriam says:

    Horse racing is not all glitz and gloamr. A lot of horses get injured and die from just from training and during and actual race itself. Although top horses are treated royally, many are discarded like trash if they don’t start producing for their owners. Of course many horse owners treat their aninmals with great respect and don’t punish them for their failures . But for many horses, not winning a race is practically a death sentence. I now prefer pure human versus human sports myself. Mixed martial arts, boxing, football tennis, golf, etc.

  4. Lyndsey Pearson
    Lyndsey Pearson says:

    I have some work to do here- I’m just starting my horse on huis barrel training. Thanks for all these tips I’m sure these will really help!

    • BarrelRacingTips
      BarrelRacingTips says:

      You bet! When you refine their response to your cues and can position your horse anywhere at any time, you are definitely well on your way to barrel racing success (or success with anything for that matter)!

  5. Cassandra
    Cassandra says:

    Thank you SO Much for this!! It really, really helps. I have found, through your video, a few gaps in our training, that presented themselves when speed was added. I have a race in a few weeks and am very excited to see the progress we make after working on a few of these things! Thank you so, so much!!!

  6. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    My gelding is older has alot of speed. Only been used for reining but enjoys barrels. He has the last turn down I’ve been using cones on each point of where hi body should be while approaching and defending away from the barrel. He does great. He spins and does everything you showed in the video. At a slow trot does amazing and he gets what I’m telling him. I just need to work on MYSELF and get my legs going. Also I check him by lifting his shoulder and pushing him out. Do you think that confuses him? Makes a better turn but he doesn’t let me apply it with speed.. Should I keep going at a trot till he has it down or slow it down even more?


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