Build Speed for a Faster Barrel Racing Time


Q: What are some exercises I can do to help build my horse’s speed for a faster time in barrel racing?

A: Having a well-conditioned athlete is the first step to getting your horse to run to his maximum ability.  I like to work my horse every day for the first eight weeks of training, and then decrease the training to four days a week.  The distance I train and the pace I go are the secrets to a well-conditioned horse that has the ability to run faster during a barrel racing competition. 

Condition your horse in long, straight lines whenever possible, as circles are physically hard on a horse.   Here is my conditioning program broken down into each step:

  • Trot one mile
  • Lope one mile on one lead
  • Lope one more mile on the opposite lead
  • The fourth mile: Long trot the first half mile then slow trot the last half mile.

NOTE: Do not walk in between paces.

This totals four miles, which I feel is the optimum distance for building a well-conditioned equine athlete in barrel racing or any event. I want to keep the heart rate up and work it, then bring the heart rate slowly back down. Every third day, I sprint my horse after the third mile in a straight line for about 400 yards. 

You will be impressed how your horse’s muscle tone will change with this type of conditioning program.  Before long, you will find that your horse feels like running and will be quicker around the turns and faster in the straightaways.

Marlene McRae


  1. im sorry i dont agree with this it is a lot and most people will push there horses into this very quickly. and that could cause the horse a lot of issues. so not pushing the horse into four miles is a good thing. but long troting is a good thing and that builds the best muscle tone and gets them into really good shape. thats what i do with my barrel horse every other day and his time has gotten way better from when i started him on barrels. and ive seen a difference in muscle tone also with just the long troting cecause i had him on one of these programs like your talking about and it wasnt working. but all horses are different also.

  2. I don’t think this was explained very clearly or well. First off you should defiantly NOT work your horse 7 days a week! Your horse should always have a break day once a week for it’s physical and emotional well being. Also you should vary what you do with your horse, not just the same conditioning everyday, for example Mondays do suppling exersizes like leg-yeilds, circles and sidepassing, tuesday go for a trail ride include galloping, wednesday give the horse off and just hand walk or lunge at the walk, thursday do some low jumping including bounces, rollbacks and oxers.
    Also the exersize program should be customized for your horse. if you’re horse has just been in it’s feild eating grass and going out for light weekend hacks, then oviosly it won’t be in the shape to trot and canter for 4 miles with no walk breaks! Also if your horse is in better shape you would need a more intense training program. I also do not agree with not doing cicles, your horse has to able to do well rounded cicles in order to do barrels! How will you horse learn to bend around your leg around a barrel if you never teach it?

  3. Ummm the question was asked and a response was given by a world champ. But apparently some folks feel qualified contridicting a person who has probably made more money in a year than most people make in a lifetime. Hmmmm resume’s would make a concrete statement.

  4. if you all would sit down and read Marlene’s book, Barrel Racing 101, you would be amazed at how much sense her conditioning program makes. this answer describes her every day warm up. it lets the horse relax and think about things, and when you complete four miles without picking on your horse, you will see the change in him. now he’s ready to go to work. he’s ready to flex and counter arc and you will notice a huge difference on how snappy he is at the smallest cues… do Marlene’s warm up for a month and see the changes in your horse before you criticize a world champion.

  5. When I purchased my barrel horse at 9 years old I was told never take her on the trail. That was the worst advice ever. She has been on the trails for 7 years now and rarely sees the inside of an areana. Since working her on the trails she has gone from rearing and hostile to a trusted horse I take my 3 year old twins on. Oh and she also has times three seconds faster than most in our area. She was burnt out. It’s up to the reader to have common sense when using the writers advice. Don’t take a horse thats fat and out of shape and run the heck out of them. Can we stop caterin g to the stupid and use our heads.

  6. Honestly my horse Amberlee is not the fittest horse after the winter but what I do is make her lope really slow up a steep hill at least five times, and that builds up her endurence. Then later in the season after she is at her best, I put the pole and barrel pattern on the same hill. And have her practice doing the pattern on the hill. So when she gets on the flat arena it is no problem to her and she doesn’t break a sweat! She shaved off 6 seconds doing this on both patterns. Now she is running 23 seconds on poles and 16 seconds or less in barrels.

  7. I like this advise. It got me kick-started for the day. Yes, take it in with a grain of salt because you ultimately should be listening to your horse. They say in this article you need to condition. That is first and foremost. Can your horse even hold you..?

  8. Hello,my barrel horse seems to be getting lazy. He is a 1D but here lately all I can get out of him is 16 sometime’s like today a 17 EUCK!!! Any advice? I am getting very upset and I don’t know what I can do to improve him. He has a beautiful barrel pattern but is slow. Please help!!! Thank you.


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