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.

Dog Peeing

Have a close look at the photo at left. What would you do if this dog was in your living room? Would you urge him on, inviting him to pee even more, or again in another spot? Would you just ignore him and pretend like it’s not happening? Heck, NO!

The truth is, many barrel racers let this same kind of thing happen when working their horse on the barrels. Their horse makes obvious mistakes and they just keep on going to the next barrel, OR they lack awareness to notice more subtle positioning problems, and they go uncorrected.

If your horse gets off track or out of position on the pattern, the best way to fix it, is to make a correction the instant the mistake happens.

This requires developing confidence in your ability to feel what body positioning is correct vs. incorrect, and the skills and timing to address positioning issues in the moment.

(*I’ll note that when tipping a barrel in a competitive run, it’s typically considered good arena etiquette to keep going and finish your run in order to be respectful of everyone’s time and to preserve the ground for the remaining barrel racers.)

Each time an undesirable behavior goes uncorrected, it becomes more deeply ingrained AND more difficult to fix. You wouldn’t let a dog pee on your floor without correcting him, so don’t let your horse make mistakes on the barrel pattern without correcting him either.

Again this week, I’m linking to a previous Q&A on the subject of responding to leg pressure.

Let me know what you think of this week’s video in the comments below and feel free to share any additional tips for keeping ’em standing! 👇

22 replies
  1. Carletta
    Carletta says:

    I found this video informative to me in the sense that I need to correct ASAP and how to pay attention to my body language as well. Thank you very much

  2. Anne-Marie
    Anne-Marie says:

    I love this video! It is going to prove very helpful when I teach one of my lesson students later. She is just getting started and I’m doing my absolute best to get them started right without alot of bad habits!

    Thank you!

  3. Hillary
    Hillary says:

    I’m going to try to teach this to my niece. Her body position is all out of wack-even on my horse that is very calm and relaxed. I know where my body positioning is wrong though. I do need to either not let my niece ride my horse or she’s going to have to pay attention and correct ASAP. I’ve already changed my bits and can see a major change. Leg pressure,my horse, is just learning. Independence is something I will like to know more about. Neither my niece or my horse are very independent. I am but I have to get a little better focused.

    • BarrelRacingTips
      BarrelRacingTips says:

      Sounds like you’re on the right track Hillary.

      Focus is something we build with practice, just like a muscle.

      Independence is something horse and rider must have – especially an independent seat for the rider and responsibility for maintaining gait, direction and shape for the horse.

  4. Angela Shierling
    Angela Shierling says:

    I have a major problem with my barrel horse (Digger). He is a retired 7 year old thoroughbred racehorse, but he acts like a 30 year old QH…that is until we head into the arena. Getting him in the gate is easy as can be. His only problem is he tries to run the pattern without turning the barrels tight enough and has a tendency the shoulder, but only in some races. He wont take a bit its either to weak and he pushes through it. Or “to strong” and he throws his head and jerks his head up with even the slightest movement. So we run in a hackamore. Which is great until we try to stop. So i was wanting your sujestions on the best way to prevent his full out running to the barrel then shouldering and not stopping as he exits the arena.

    • BarrelRacingTips
      BarrelRacingTips says:

      Hi Angela,
      Thanks for your question. Although there are rare cases when a horse just doesn’t like a bit in their mouth, I think most cases of horses who have bit issues are due to their education. We have to teach them to soften to the pressure we apply, and a horse that is truly well educated is likely to work fairly well in any type of bit. Finding that special bit for a barrel horse is more for that last little refinement, not to prevent or fix problems. You definitely want to take fast action to prevent some of your horses habits from getting further established. Once they learn to toss their head or run through bit pressure, and do so repetitively, they tend to get better and better at it! Also, keep in mind that it’s expected for a horse to lose some responsiveness at speed, which is why we have to so carefully develop their response to bit pressure and have it perfected at slower speeds first. There are hackamores out there that do have quite a bite, so to get the whoa you need for now, you might look into a different type of hackamore. Beyond that though, I would suggest working with a professional to help get Digger further educated (he may still have some habits from the track) and I’ll post some links below to past articles that might be helpful. Thanks again for your question!
      Education, Timing & Feel the Wright Way
      Selecting a Bit for the Hard to Please Barrel Horse
      Speed Kills – How to Resolve Issues that Only Occur at Speed
      How to Fix a Wide Turn on the Barrels
      Hope that helps, we have a plan to cover the specific subject of “shouldering” in a future Q&A!

  5. Necie
    Necie says:

    Hi I have a problem with my five year old mare she has a great foundation and has one many races and prizes in all divisions she is extremely fast and she acts and does everything perfect it seems until her actual open run I can even run her fast in an exibition and she will not hit them but when it’s go time she completely bowls the second and third she started it this winter and I can not seem to get her out of the habit I have tried going back to slow work I have tried every exercise I have even done reverse pattern and she seems to know that i am working her and when it is actually time to run it seems like she wants to turn the barrel before be get past it please help she is a great horse and I know she can do great I just don’t know how to get her out of this funk

    • BarrelRacingTips
      BarrelRacingTips says:

      Hi Necie,
      It sounds like you need to actually correct her in the middle of making a mistake. Doing all the slow work properly will REALLY help, but if it’s become a well established habit that she just automatically resorts to at speed, she needs to be shown at speed that crashing the barrels is not what you’re looking for. Every run that you make and this happens – she is just learning to do it even more and better. Again it’s critical that you make sure it’s not your riding that is causing her to do this or poor positioning, etc. You may not be able to really correct her in a run, but you can first try doing so in an exhibition, really try to simulate a competition run, and even if you compete and this happens, you can correct her quickly, but do so without taking a lot of time and without messing up the ground for the people after you. Hope this gives you some ideas! 🙂

  6. Heather
    Heather says:

    Thanks for all your articles and videos, they are ALL helpful. Whenever I have an issue I always find an article/video that turns the light bulb on. After seeing this video (and others) and having inconsistant runs, I realized that I’ve been letting my horse make little mistakes here and there because I didn’t want to stress her out. She’s taking advantage of me! Even walking in front of me while leading, or grabbing hay out of my hands when I’m feeding…no more! I’m glad you helped me come to the conclusion that I don’t need to always use the pattern to fix the pattern, just get her to do things correctly away from the pattern (on and off her back).

  7. Monica
    Monica says:

    So this is a problem I have already been finding ways to help but I haven’t really found a definite way in which I can move my body or do in warm up/drill work that really solves the issue.
    My horse Hickory has always used his hind end and turns the barrels correctly since I first picked him up and put him on A pattern, it came very natural to him. But he is 5 and now that he has been out on the pattern for a year he will sometimes choose to drop his shoulder down and almost not Ingage his hind end at all. I’ve check for hock soreness( he doesn’t have any) and what not and I use a bit that’s a lot like the Martha Josey million dollar bit. He just seems to do this when he’s in a fowl mood or doesn’t want to work the pattern. He has never turned like this before and he doesn’t do it all the time but when he does do it I really don’t like it because it’s incorrect and feels almost dangerous. I have tried making sure I’m upright in the saddle with my hips slightly back, even have had other girls hope on so I can see how he responds to their body and it’s almost seems like no matter what you do in the saddle it’s doesn’t matter. Any suggestions?

    • BarrelRacingTips
      BarrelRacingTips says:

      Hi Monica,
      You might make sure that he’s staying on track and not requiring you to use too much rein. Sometimes when we have to PULL a horse through/around a turn, it disengages their hind and. Make sure you’re staying seated deeply in the saddle and really “pumping your seat” to encourage him to engage his hind legs. Also be sure your focusing up and forward and not leaning or “riding only the front end.)

  8. Roberta
    Roberta says:

    Thank you so much for this article and video. I’ve been experiencing the pain from a tipped barrel for too long. The more I study the more I realize I have a positioning and body language problem I couldn’t fix yet but I will. Thank you so much for helping!

  9. Shannon
    Shannon says:

    My horse seems to shut her self down way before we even get to the barrel and then shoulders the barrel. She has been ran and ran and ran by her past owner and i have gone to a slow walk and trot for months trying to retrain her. She seems to really get it at a slow pace but when we pick up our pace it all falls apart.. She shuts her self down way before the barrel and she wants to make the turn her self (I kick and kick to keep her going forward).. I cant push her past the barrel as i know just that alone would help great! What are some tips to help with this problem! I have tried everything


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