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.

In a past article titled Peel Back the Layers and Get REAL, I wrote about being pro-active, about taking responsibility, about learning instead of blaming. An over abundance of tension and “go” does NOT have to be a negative byproduct of barrel racing that we just roll over and accept, but we DO have to learn exactly how this is possible.

If we don’t keep our horse’s ability to relax and move with quality in check, eventually all hope of barrel racing success will be lost. But this doesn’t have to happen, and this week’s Q&A shows you how – without drugs, without restricting our horse’s movement and without forcing or holding them into artificial positions and postures.

When we make good choices, we reveal our horse’s greatest athletic ability, and we add to our horse’s quality of life – and it doesn’t get better than that!

In the video below, Dot Com helped me answer Wendi’s question by sharing six effective but lesser known “secrets” for relaxation and quality movement.

If you’d like to learn more, my book Secrets to Barrel Racing Success devotes an entire chapter to overcoming the challenges speed presents, as well as a chapter describing what quality movement is, why it’s important, and how to create it.
Click here to get your hands and eyes on a copy + your FREE Speed Guide! 😉

If you think your saddle might be creating discomfort for your horse and causing him to use his body inefficiently, check out the links below:

Here at we’re NOT into keeping secrets – so in the comments below share how these or any other techniques for relaxing and dissolving impulsiveness in horses with too much “go” have helped you?

12 replies
  1. Anne-Marie
    Anne-Marie says:

    Heather, I do all of the above with my super sensitive high string mare. When she gets nervous all she will do
    Is side pass or leg yield. Her previous owner’s father used to get on and and make her side pass for hours because he thought it was cool. I’m afraid it has created a comfort zone for her when she gets nervous or scared. I’ve started creating a box out of four barrels, everytime she goes into the center it is time to rest. She’s up to standing for five minutes or more. (which is an amazing feat) I keep moving the box all over the arena and changing the size. She’s getting closer to realizing that whoa means she gets to relax and take a breather. She is like the horse you talked about and gets very racy at the canter. We have been using a chambon (English equipment) to get her to soften and to keep her from inverting. Her pervious owners did not pay attention to saddle fit so she still assumes every saddle will hurt. Her back is getting much stronger and tha seems to be helping. Do you have any other ideas to get her to relax and take a breather?

    • BarrelRacingTips
      BarrelRacingTips says:

      Hi Anne-Marie,
      It’s possible that because she’s done sooo much sidepassing, that she can check out mentally and sidepass on autopilot. Typically moving laterally gives horses that have too much “forward” something to think about and it decompresses them.
      The chambon and the barrel box may help to start but the goal will be for her to relax and carry herself with good posture without any aids, under any circumstances. The barrel box is a good, creative idea, as long as you keep changing the location and making it bigger and eventually taking it away so that she doesn’t depend on that to relax.
      I would look closely at each of the six secrets in the video above and go deeper with each of them, sometimes we’re doing all the right things, just not enough. Really get her softly flexing laterally, at the halt, walk, trot, and build from there, then do the same vertically. Ask for LOTS of full body bend and suppleness, small circles.
      Also, pay close attention to the WAY you’re doing it all… it’s a fine balance, horse’s need us to display firm leadership in order to relax (the more we move Dotcom’s feet the more secure he feels), but there’s also a calm, soft flow to how I go about it. I always have a plan but I choose good points to stop, let him absorb, lick his lips and relax.
      I know you’re concious of how you’re using your body, but that was the stickler for my husband, I was getting beautiful movement and relaxation from Dotcom and he wasn’t – it was because he was riding like a mannequin and I was doing in my body what I wanted Dotcom to do in his.
      Also, we’ll eventually take him out for a good long trot, although that will encourage his “go,” part of getting him to move properly will be extending his stride. Typical of rope horses, he moves mostly with his lower body, and doesn’t use his full range of motion (often due to poor fitting saddles).
      I know it’s frustrating to feel like you’ve done everything, but often there’s something just under our radar that we’ve missed, so keep up the great work and I’m sure you’ll find your horse’s secret to relaxed, quality movement! 🙂

      • Anne-Marie
        Anne-Marie says:

        Thank you so much for your reply! Between leaving you this comment and now the barn work is done. Today we got the relaxation without the box. She’s so athletic its ridiculous! She idefinitly checks out mentally. I’ve started riding her like I used to ride my big jumping horses, really focusing on some dressage movements to teach her how to use her whole body. Now we have been throwing your tips in also and that is helping tremendously also! Well I seem to be babbling, thanks again for your time!!

        • BarrelRacingTips
          BarrelRacingTips says:

          That’s great to hear!

          Keep in mind that all these things have a collective effect, you may have to do A LOT of it at first, and as time goes by, they become more relaxed and more balanced, and you’ll have to do less… but you may always need to have these “tools” in your toolbox to use anytime you feel that tension come up or you just might make special choices for this mare to help maintain her and keep her happy.

          If she’s the caliber athlete Dotcom is, it’s totally worth it! The really cool thing, is that all this stuff transfers over even in to their “personal” life with other horses, and improves there confidence in ALL areas. When my husband is the kind of rider/leader/human that Dotcom really needs, he’s more secure even in the pen with the other horses, it’s so cool how what we do in one area affects others!

  2. Jacky Millard
    Jacky Millard says:

    Hi, I have watched your video and read your book. I have tried and tried to get my qh x tb to just relax. I can get him to relax in all of the situations that I have put him in that are out of his comfort zone or not in his normal routine, but as soon as he sees an arena he just gets hyper. This horse is not only a barrell horse but does Polocrosse and mustering as well as training young tb’s to go on the track, he also does clerking. As soon as he has had his run he totally relaxes and shuts down so that a 2 yr old could ride him but no matter how I try to relax him at a rodeo b4 his run it’s just not happening. I always thought it was anticipation as I have had him since he was 2 but now after reading your book etc I’m scared that he is fearful. I certainly don’t growl or treat him different than if he has a good run to a bad and I don’t have access to an arena unless I’m at a rodeo to show him that he can be calm while in this environment so whenever he sees an arena he knows what he’s going to do. He is such a gentle smart horse that only prances and dances but I see all the other horses just standing waiting for their turn on a loose rein.
    Any suggestions please.
    Regards jacky.

    • BarrelRacingTips
      BarrelRacingTips says:

      Hi Jacky,
      Thanks for your question! For starters, I would say to completely help this horse overcome this issue that you’ll have to find a way to get to an arena or event where you aren’t actually going to compete so that he can have some experiences in that environment that are more relaxing. Also, I love to do a lot of groundwork, it’s really helpful for establishing leadership. I move their feet in all directions and any time they get distracted I make a request that brings their attention back to me. When they realize I’m the one they can look to for security and direction, it really eases a lot of stress for them. Be willing to move your horses feet quite a bit, like fast, dynamic trotting circles with lots of change in direction (on the ground and under saddle) and keep it up for a while until he’s in more of a thinking frame of mind and focusing on you and looking for an opportunity to rest! 🙂 When he pays attention, licks his lips or shows any sign of relaxation let him rest for a moment while you both just “chill.” If he feels a need to prance around – HELP HIM by asking him to move his feet even more than he wants to, and in the direction and at the speed you choose. Doing this isn’t about tiring them out, it’s a way of using reverse psychology and getting through to them mentally THROUGH the feet! 🙂 Hope that helps!

  3. Susanne
    Susanne says:

    Wow.. It seems every week, you are working on the same thing as I am (only your a few days ahead) 🙂
    Thank you for all of your wonderful tips and help.

  4. Shannon Connors
    Shannon Connors says:

    I have a 6 year old mare that I had bought about a year ago and wanted to begin training her for barrels. However, her foundation was really non-existent. She was very nervous and excited and tried to take advantage of the rider. I had a few tools in my arsenal, but I had a previous horse who was hott too and I wanted to learn everything I could to train her differently to be a calm, confident horse. I wanted to do BEFORE I trained her to run barrels, because I knew if I didn’t get it under control it could be ugly, and I would have the best athletic potential from my horse.

    I recently went to a Clinton Anderson tour and learned many of the skills you described in your video- I have worked everyday with her to gain control and assert my leadership. My hyper, crazy mare is really starting to come around. She’s much more in-tune with my cues and body positioning. She’s really stopping on her horn end and even begin to backup without my even asking! Everyday I ride her she just amazes me by what she had learned and calm she is! I cannot wait to get her going on the barrels, but I want to be sure she’s got the best foundation under her before I begin asking her for more complex movements and speed.

    One other thing I learned from Clinton was to back her up on the ground and under saddle as much as you can- because that is the foundation of respect. So we quite literally back everywhere, and WOWS has it helped with her stops!! She is like a different horse, and it’s so exciting to know that I trained her and I am getting her through her anxiety and nervousness and I’m gaining her trust and respect! It’s such an amazing feeling when you bond with your horse and your fully trust one another and it’s not a constant struggle or battle to get them to listen to you!!

    Thanks for all your posts!!

  5. Laynie
    Laynie says:

    I have the opposite of a high strung horse. Mine is not lazy, and is very responsive and travels collected and correctly at all speeds. I did lots of reining type training with him in conjunction with his early barrel training. He is not a speed bred horse, but I think he has plenty of speed if he would just apply himself. His barrels are nice and fluid . . . BUT I cannot get him to run! He will run hard when chasing steers, and will run hard around the outside of the arena, but quite often he won’t give me very much in an actual run on the pattern. He runs a bit harder when I slap a quirt on my leg to get him excited to start a run, but I know there is much more in there! Do you have any suggestions, other than using an over and under? This is frustrating, as the other horses I’ve trained had lots of natural “go.”


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *