Need help with my barrel horse!

I am in need of some advice with my barrel horse. He is very well trained, when practicing at home he rides in a simple snaffle and will do the pattern flawlessly. At shows, however, I have a hard time getting him under control. He has next to no “whoa” so I have a hard time rating him to turn and just about every turn is wide. Like half of the arena wide. Even during an exhibition when I am just trotting or maybe doing a slow lope he does not want to listen and slow down before the barrels. I’m sure it’s just nerves and excitedness from being at a show but does anyone know what I can do to help him? I’m used to riding horses that hunt the barrels so this is new for me. Thanks!

Are you using the snaffle for competitions as well as at home? He needs to practice in the bit used to compete. You need to be able to put his head where you want it, slow or adjust him during the run, so he stays on track. Not sure what kind of bit you prefer during competition, but he needs to be wearing that bit so he KNOWS this is work time.

Video of his runs could help to see that YOU are doing the correct things too. You might be moving without knowing it, not legging him over when needed, so part of the problem could be you. Sure the old-timer horses run without as much direction, but often their riders are tweaking things the entire run which you never see except with videos. The ability to slow horse in motion, dissect the run for errors, helps to improve the run AND the ride.

I think you may need to back up, perfect his steering in ALL settings, so he quits ignoring you. You need MANY perfect circles at the walk, before moving up to trot, with NO ignoring his rider. Sounds like he was worked and trained at home, did well, but never pushed to be obedient in other settings. Maybe renting time at other arenas to practice in could help with him staying focused. He may just need to go to many other small shows, get corrected there, throwing the class to get those “perfect turns” in a run. Constant improving to find his “best form” in a run, so he starts to be really consistant for each round.

Hauling to new places is still quite exciting. He is not settling for you at other places, so you have to put in the time to get a quiet, settled horse, before he can do good runs for you. Often the hardest part of training, getting him settled so he competes at his best for you, real time consuming.

A bit more information would be helpful.

How old is your horse?
How long has he been doing barrels?
Did you train him yourself or bought him trained?
How many shows have you hauled him to?

When you practice at home, do you do the pattern at speed?

Can you post an exact picture of the snaffle that you use on him? (Just to be clear on what you are using)

Do you use a different bit at a show or do you still use the same snaffle?

Is there a VIDEO you can show us?

Off the cuff without more information, I’d suggest you stop running the pattern. Mix it up, go different directions. I’d also (again without more information) you look to your own feelings/actions at home vs competitions. Are you nervous or tense during competitions? Your horse may be reflecting this. We don’t barrel race (or do any speed/action classes). However, one daughter did 3-Day eventing quite successfully. We found that her horse was “different” on the course --she would be tense and excited and so would he --in her case it made them wildly successful as she was still able to control him (and he still listened to her). When another rider (at a different venue) took him out “for fun,” he was lazy and slow --but the second she mounted to compete, he was on --we called him “The Rocket” because as the starter counted backwards, you could see him building and he’d launch out of the starting box into many, many successful cross country runs --after the course, he’d shut down and take a nap.

Half asleep before dressage:

Rocketing over fences:


I started my barrel gelding in a simple snaffle. As we progressed I moved up to a combo bit, snaffle with a dogbone. It has more whoa and the combo he seemed to respond to better.

. Maybe slow it down and re teach the “check”. So he knows to rate, get the hind end under him so he can slow and turn and not lose power! Fastest horse in the world wont do you any good in a barrel pattern if they cant rate and turn.

Good luck!!!

This exactly. Barrel racing is really popular where I live. The successful ones teach the horse the pattern and then, once the horse knows it, never run it except at races. At home they focus on conditioning and sometimes mix it up with other activities, like cow sorting. I recently met one that does Western dressage a few days a week to keep her horse guessing.

My late mare was the same about jumping. If I wanted to have a jumping session, she was hot, hot, hot and didn’t want to brake. If I did flatwork and threw in the occasional jump, she was fine.

Practice doesn’t make perfect…perfect practice makes perfect.

If he can’t do it slow, you shouldn’t be adding speed.

Sounds like he needs more foundation work under his belt before he is put on the barrels.

I had a jumper coach who insisted that after a series of jumps I stop and have my mare stand there for a spell. I don’t really know much about barrel racing but mixing things up might be a good strategy. Perhaps trot the pattern. Lope portions of it. Go around two barrels and then just stop and do some lateral work. Anything so you keep your horse guessing seems like it could be helpful.