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Q: I’m teaching my horse the barrel pattern, but I can’t keep him in a lope. How do I fix this?
To improve performance at the lope, go back to the walk and trot and be sure you’re positioning the barrel properly. Go around the barrel two or three times. At the walk and trot, your horse should be able to comfortably keep his balance on his back end. With the barrel positioned properly and a slight arc in his body, he can easily go around that turn multiple times. The extra circles need to be perfectly round and an equal distance from the barrel (about 3 feet for the walk and trot).
If turning too soon is the problem, trot up and stop with the barrel beside your leg, kick the horse’s hip back under him, and then walk a couple of perfect circles around the barrel. Next time, trot up, stop, walk a perfect circle, trot a couple of perfect circles, and then go to the next barrel.
Remember that if you’re not sitting deep as you go into the turn, you’re putting your horse on his front end to start the turn, which kills his forward momentum. If you sit down on your pockets as your horse approaches the barrel and goes around it, then you’re helping him balance on his back end. He won’t lose his inside hind leg, which is the driving leg that powers him up and around the turn.
Dena Kirkpatrick is an American Quarter Horse Association and Barrel Futurities of America champion barrel racer. She was listed as one of the top 10 futurity trainers for 10 years in a row.
This article originally appeared in the January 2014 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!