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Barrel Horse Habitat - a paddock paradise for equines - Barrel Racing Advice

At the end of the day, if we could ask every barrel racer what they wanted, we’d find they would all respond with the same answer: A healthy horse and compliant competitor! If we dove even deeper into the question, we would find each barrel racer has gone to some extent to keep their horse healthy and competitive.

A wide range of things can be done to achieve this: turnout in the pasture, investing in high quality supplements, devoting time to therapy, etc. But I’ve discovered one fool proof technique that will meet nearly every barrel horse’s standard of care. I’ve found nothing can replace the benefits of this modality, and it’s tangible for any barrel racer – even those on a budget (and don’t nearly ALL of us fall into that category?).

The Rossi Herd on a rainy day – still on the go!

A Happier, Healthier Barrel Horse… and for low to no cost?

I’m talking about a “paddock paradise.” A place for your horse to thrive in a habitat designed for his needs.

Think back when you were a kid and caught a lizard or frog. You would create a little habitat for him to live in. A container, some foliage, gravel, a lid with water, and hopefully a cricket or two. You would make sure that the creature you caught felt like he was “at home” in his little shoe box, using mostly what you had on hand. And although lizards and horses aren’t exactly the same species, they both thrive in an environment that can simulate their natural habitat.

Traditionally, a lot of money is spent on fancy barns, padded stalls, and convenient hay feeders. But in reality our best intentions of a great barn are the opposite of what a horse innately needs. A horse by nature must have constant movement, and the constant ability to graze. Sometimes we over complicate the process by purchasing equipment that fixes swelling, increases circulation, improves hoof quality, enhances gut health, revokes buddy sourness, and cures cribbing.

When in fact, allowing a horse freedom of movement is giving him health to the nth degree.

The Smith horses – grazing, moving & being healthy!

This can be accomplished by building a fence inside the perimeter of a pre-existing fence – thus creating a track for horses to move within. Prey animals will instinctively makes trails and paths to food and water sources, they also instinctively want to keep moving. By setting up a track that is about 9 to 12 feet wide, all the way around the property you have to work with; it jives with their natural abilities and instincts and encourages them to keep each other on the go. Horses on a track system will move about 12 miles a day without any additional help from humans.

The fencing you add to create the track is cheap and temporary. Benefits of not making this inner fence permanent are that you can adjust its size and location dependent on the size of your property, your herd and the season. The only materials you will need are: your current perimeter fence (it should already be safe and functional if you are currently keeping livestock in it) and electric fence material (many folks have this on hand already).

A Compliant Competitor… is that even possible in a barrel horse?

The good news is that you don’t have to live on the plains of Montana to allow your horse to be happy and healthy. Whether you live on .4 acres or 40 acres the “paddock paradise” is feasible for horse owners.

The idea is to find a happy medium between literally turning them out on the back 40, and keeping them in a stall (or small pen) for 20 hours a day. Horses in stalls move less than a mile a day, and horses turned out on a larger acreage may only move up to a few miles a day. The optimum amount can vary – but feral horses will travel about 30 miles a day. We must simulate movement to secure a good foundation of health!

Most horses used for competition are found with a slew of issues, both physical and mental. Our equine athletes might colic or show signs of ulcer pain at a race, whiney uncontrollably for their buddies, or balk going through the alley way. All these things can be combated with a more stress-free habitat at home. The more movement they get the better, which equals more circulation through their bodies and more stimulation for their mind – it’s a win, win!

The steps to creating a compliant competitor couldn’t be easier. Just build a paddock paradise.

Here’s what I did, and the materials I used:


1. Perimeter fence (had $0)

2. Flags or markers (had $0)

3. Measuring tool (I used my legs – I’m a barrel racer after all)

4. T-Post pounder (had $0)

5. Gallagher Smart fence ($230) – I bought multiples, so add a fence for every 300 ft. Heather uses two strands of 1 1/2″ Safe-Fence Polytape from FarmTek.)

6. Ground rod and t-posts (had $0)

7. Fence charger ($100)


1. Walk out and measure the width of your track – 9 ft. to 15 ft. (wider is ideal the more horses you intend to keep on the track).

2. Make sure markers for the inner fence are parallel with the permanent perimeter fence.

3. Do this all the way around so you are making a square inside of a square.

4. Stamp some t-posts in the corners or around any crooked areas for added strength and stability.

5. String up your electric fence material in line with markers.

6. Attach your electric fence to your charger.

7. Leave room for a temporary gate to let your horses in the new track system.

This doesn’t mean you stop the current therapy regiment for your performance horse. It means: by revisiting the basics as essentials, it will enhance what you are already doing and elevate your current standard of care!

Pro Tips:

1. Make sure electric fence is highly visible, secure, and animals are already trained to respect it.

2. Research electric fencing options here for more versatile price range.

3. Add slow feeders, and water stations so horses have to move to eat and drink.

4. Add varied terrain. Pea gravel in corners/hang-out spots. Fill dirt for hills. River rock/larger stones, rail road ties/logs, and situate through trees.

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As a barrel racer it is important to value horse health and ability in the arena. Keeping your horses in a habitat that is a step above a “shoe box” is ideal.

Circulation can be further enhanced with other

modes of therapy, such as Back on Track bell boots.

The paddock paradise can significantly reduce problems with circulation, gut trouble, muscle atrophy, and even behavioral issues are likely to melt away – simply by working with what the horse needs innately, and what you might have in your storage shed! An additional benefit is that you can conserve grass in the center of the paddock paradise for specified turnout times OR keep over-consumption under control when greenery is abundant.

Click here to visit the Pro Members discussion forum to see aerial photos of our paddock paradise properties. You’re welcome to share a photo or description of your horse set-up and Heather and I will offer suggestions to help you design a barrel horse habitat!

If you already have a functioning paddock paradise, use the tags below – we’d love to see!

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