My Horse is Scared of Barrels

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Trotting Barrels

Q: My horse and I are trying barrels, but he seems to be a little afraid of them. I’ve been slowly bringing him up to them and letting him sniff them, as well as walking the pattern. I tried loping, but he slows down right when we go around the barrels. Can you offer any advice?

A: When your horse seems afraid of something, it is very important for you to shift your mental focus away from that object. Most of the time, if you simply focus your mind on the path you want your horse to take, he will go there. Your horse is reading your mind as you ride him, so try not to think at all about him acting afraid. You should look and focus on the path around the barrels, which will help your horse know what you expect of him.

Trot the pattern, circling each barrel two or three times each for a few days. When you feel that your horse is getting the hang of it, then just trot the pattern normally, circling each barrel only once. He should be able to trot nicely through the pattern before you move to a lope. Be sure to keep the barrel behind your leg as you circle the barrels. A common mistake is that the rider tries to make the horse put his nose on the barrel or look at it with both eyes, which causes the horse to try to turn too early. Turning too early is very uncomfortable for a horse, so he will break stride, shoulder the barrel, or pull off on the back side of the turn.

Liked this article? Here are others on barrel racing:
Barrel Racing Troubleshooter
Seven Habits of Highly Effective Barrel Racers

Dena Kirkpatrick holds multiple world championship titles in barrel racing and has authored numerous articles on barrel racing techniques.


This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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