Knocking Over Barrels

Champion barrel racer Marlene McRae advises how to control barrel turns.


Q. I always have trouble knocking over barrels. What am I doing wrong?

A. Most of the time this is a result of not using your inside leg (the leg closest to the barrel) to control your horse. Many riders will rubber band their feet in and then lift their leg at the barrel. All this does is allow the horse to drop his shoulder and hit barrels.

Barrel racing

The proper approach is to have control of your horse’s head, neck and shoulder prior to the turn. This is accomplished by applying inside rein pressure while actively using your inside leg (spur) to lift your horses shoulder while rounding his body.

Another reason for hitting barrels is that your pocket may be too large. I like to use three to five feet on my approach into the turn (distance between my horse’s shoulder and body from the barrel). This distance is determined by the size of your horse. Larger horses need more room going in.

Before the turn, I gather my horse with both hands on the reins. If you use one hand, you are more likely to encourage your horse to throw his hip out, drop his shoulder and hit a barrel. Slowing down too early for the turn will also result in hitting barrels because it takes your horse’s momentum away. I like to gather the reins and prepare for the turn 5 to 10 feet before the turn, depending on the size of my horse. The larger your horse, the more time you need to prepare for the turn.

Make sure you have schooled your horse about yielding from leg pressure as to flex from the rib cage when going around a barrel. You need to be able to control every part of your horse before you can expect him to run a barrel pattern with ease.


  1. She’s right.when I was younger I would lift my leg up and not hit the barrel, but my horse would mess up.Now I teach my horses to respond to my shouting at them to Whoa which doesnt mean stop it just means slow down and think but this turn.I use my leg an awful lot and i could probaly do the whole course without my hands helping.

  2. I am not a barrel racer, but I am in the United States Mounted Games Association and we do games like turning two bins and picking up a bottle off the bin while turning. This article is exactly how i get my green pony around a bin! But i do have some trouble remembering to keep my leg on the whole turn.

  3. if you wanna win you should gust run around each barrel like ten times then run them your horse well do so much better i am a champion barre racer for 4-h and i am only 12 so ya it realy helps your horse

  4. so pretty much iDK but if u just not ‘run’ around them all the time at home u should like lope them or trot them first. ( im just learning& im 11)

  5. My horse he tips his nose into the end pole and knocks it over before turning how can i get him to not tip his nose toward the pole.

  6. Lexi this what you need to do if you are training a horse on barrels..Or this is how I trained mine..I started out my horse for like a month on just walking the pattern about 30 or 40 times everyday or every other day but make sure you start at the edge of the gate and then walk straight with both hands on reins and walk straight like you are going straight to the third barrel until you get closer to the middle then curve your horse and turn it head towards that first barrel(My horse went to the left first). Use your inside leg a little and it will start to turn towards that first barrel you may have to pull a little on the reins the first few times you do this but it will start to get the hang of it eventually. Then as you head towards the first barrel you need to move your horses body about 2 horse widths to the right side in this case. And you do this by using the outside (right) leg and you may have to pull on the riens a little bit with this too but evetually it will know what to do. Keep walking towards the barrel. Then when your horses hip is lined up with the barrel use your inside(left) leg again and pull on the reins to which ever direction you are needing to turn(this case left) around the barrel and then when your horses hip lines straight with the barrel straighten your horse back up and start heading for the second barrel. You need to go straight for that barrel until you get two horse lengths away from it then use that ouside leg to have your horse move its body over(have it move towards your feet at all times!! That is called usinf leg pressure!! Barrel racing is ALL in your LEGS you use your hands to keep your horse in line!)You do all of this the exact same way EVERY time or your horse will be lost. You just repeat this for all three barrels and when you come out of that first barrel just line up straight towards the starting gate so you dont lose time. If you want to know what to do when you start going at a trot just let me know. Glad to help 🙂

  7. If you are having trouble knocking over barrels, post a video of you NATURALLY knocking over the barrels. In other words, don’t purposely knock over them, just ask someone to video you until you hit one. After you post the video come to my sight or go to my barrel runs and say that it is posted. I’ll watch it and see if I can help through video if you like.
    My name is Lan and my horses that I have on barrel videos are Black Mare and Breezy.

  8. Hi,horse channel this is kilee i trot my horse to turn. i use my inside leg to kick the horse my horse around the barrel it is wonderful!I don`t have a real barrel i just use a rider in the middle and go around the horse like the horse is a barrle. it`s so much fun i`ll improve over this SUMMER.thanks


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