top of page
  • run2winbarrelracing

Trouble shooting Tactics for Barrel Racing Horses

What is annoying to you… as a barrel racer in regards to your horse?

Tipping barrels? Alley drama? Pawing a hole to China when tied up? Not responding when you go full throttle? Warming up like a spaz?

We have all seen a horse that has these tendencies, and we have all pretended it wasn’t our horse! Believe me that you are in safe company when it comes to complaints about barrel horses.

At my first high school rodeo I remember my barely green gelding (hunting/pack horse) completely lost his marbles when a student sung the National Anthem over the microphone.

The echo reverberated off the arena walls, into his ear canal to his tiny little pea brain, and down to his feet which turned him into a dancing fool. I just couldn’t wrap my head around what his problem was!

At home he could lope around with his eyes shut, and could carry a pack saddle in the forest through a herd of deer. At this particular rodeo I don’t even remember if we made it in the arena or through the pattern. It probably ended with the announcer saying something like “Well it’s a no-time but good try by the sophomore, __(insert mispronounced name here)__!”

My point is that we’ve all been devastated or disappointed at some time during our barrel racing career. We’ve all cried, cursed, and been a little rough on our horses as we acted out our frustration. We can end up emotional and do more damage after a bad run when we don’t have strong fundamentals to fall back on. But what if I told you I could teach you to be excited about your mistakes?

LITERALLY excited? Hear me out…

I get it. Foundation training loses its thrill when you become bored of the same tasks over and over again. Circle after circle after circle. But barrel racing gets old (and expensive) when you keep knocking down the same darn barrel and don’t have a surefire way to correct the problem that keeps causing it. Circle after circle after circle. What’s a girl (or guy) to do?

Rapport can look like attentive ears, calm eyes and

relaxed nostrils even moments after a winning run.

Rapport can look like attentive ears, calm eyes and relaxed nostrils even moments after a winning run.

Hint… you don’t have to circle.

Enter: The Formula of Foundation.

During my official training at The Harvard of Horsemanship I learned about four key elements that would basically eliminate any horsemanship problem. These pearls of wisdom rocked my world but kept the barrels standing.

At the end of the day, all we really want is to barrel race and to WIN. So we need to have some ammunition to keep us firing down the path of success. We need to have a solid foundation instilled in our horses.

The formula goes like this: Rapport, Respect, Impulsion, and Flexion.

Usually, it goes backward for most people. We immediately want flexion around the barrels, impulsion between them, respect at the gate, and rapport by the trailer.

Rapport is something everyone wants (no matter how crusty of a cowboy you are). It’s defined by come as: relation; connection, especially harmonious or sympathetic relation.

Respect can be symbolized by the tools used. If your horse has a partnership with you and understands his job you might not need many

Respect can be symbolized by the tools used. If your horse has a

partnership with you and understands his job you might not need many.

We all want to feel like our horses like us like we like (LOVE) them. It’s no different than choosing to attend your husband’s work party over a girls night out or picking out a fun toy for your kid because you know they will go crazy over it. Rapport is an aspect all relationships need.

Respect is something often misunderstood. I hate the phrase, “He was a person that demanded respect when he walked into a room!” You can’t demand understanding and fellowship, that’s contradictory.

Respect is earned by mutually understanding the differences two individuals have in a relationship. Respect has qualities like safety, trust, communication and fun woven into its meaning. Mutual respect is necessary for a relationship to thrive.

Impulsion can be powerful. But if you don’t have a

trusting horse, it could be a disaster instead.

Impulsion is something that is mostly misused. It is a great trait, meaning: the inciting influence of some feeling or motive, driving onward or pushing. A negative example would be having an urge to make an “impulse buy” (cough cough… tack set at the NFR).

A good example could be having a horse with forward impulsion if you are a barrel racer. Impulsion in a relationship can be a very powerful thing in a good or bad way.

Impulsion can be powerful. But if you don’t have a trusting horse, it could be a disaster instead.

Flexion is something that makes movement easier. What do ballet dancers, robots and horses have in common? Limbs that need to bend and move. What would make ballerinas, robot arms and horses dysfunctional? Lack of flexion.

This characteristic usually starts to develop once the previous three foundational aspects have been consistently operating well. Flexion is ideal to have in a relationship, not only in the body, but especially in mind and heart!

So where this gets tricky is distinguishing our “wants” from our “needs.”

Flexion can be obtained naturally, through a communicative foundation.

A need is something you have to have. A want is something you would like to have.

Tasks, goals, and relationships all consist of wants and needs. Winning is a want. Having a foundation on our horse with fundamental knowledge is a need.

Below is a checklist for you. Use it to see if you have all the ingredients at home first. Then, when you have a problem during a competitive run, look at the checklist again – what are you missing and what do you need to concentrate on adding more of?

Flexion can be obtained naturally, through a communicative foundation.

For example: We want rapport to feel the bond and connection with our horses. Why we need rapport is to form a foundation to educate from.

We Want


to have a relationship with our horses.

for them to like us back equally.

to be and feel connected to them.

Why We Need


a foundation to build on and education from.

‘get to’ and ‘got to’ situations can arise.

understanding prey animals is paramount.


our horses to listen and be obedient.

to survive the ride.

respect from our fellow competitors.


for mutual understanding and trust.

proper leadership ratio, human:51/ horse:49.

benefits in needing fewer tools and having more control.


speed, quickness and control.

consistency in competition.

progression into upper divisions.


responsiveness without being out of control.

balanced emotions with light cues.

responsiveness without over-reactivity.




easy maneuverability.

less ‘on the muscle’ more ‘in the dirt.’


soundness, and a balanced body.

correct movement patterns in their body.

quick and quiet positioning, rating, and turning.

easy cooperation, less fussing with training aids.

Let’s use an example:

*Speed racer Sally is ready to run. She and her horse head through the gate in a wild kind of manner, no straightness or control. Her horse tries to get into position but shoulders in to the barrel as Sally over-turns him. The last two barrels are wide and sloppy.

Sally is nuts over her ‘no-time’ and begins to see-saw the bit aggressively back and forth in her horse’s mouth. After a rough schooling session in the warm up pen Sally stomps to the trailer and cries.

What’s the problem here?

To start with, Sally (bless her heart) is missing rapport! Rapport is what everything relies on. If we don’t have it – if our horse is afraid of us or motivated more by avoidance than desire, we have nothing.

One more:

*Burnin’ Ben is raring to win. He charges into the arena with his horse in a beautifully arched gallop to first. As he wraps it, smoke rises from the ground. The second barrel is surrounded by a deep rut in the dirt, his horse stumbles but turns it.

He turns the third, but clips it on the way off the back since his horse anticipated the ground being rough like around the 2nd. They run home, and Ben pats and praises his horse for trying so hard.

What’s the problem here?

Ben needed a little more flexion in his horse. He had a little bobble on the 2nd barrel and needed his horse to retain flexion around the turn despite the ground being shifty. If we don’t have flexion we don’t have the ability to tweak at full speed.

YOUR mistakes don’t have to be heartbreaks. They can be breakthroughs!

As long as you are willing to observe, remember and compare aspects of your Foundation Formula, you won’t be disappointed.

Remember, LUCK is only present when preparation meets opportunity – foundation can be FUN!

Think back to a time when YOU struggled with a missing element in the foundation formula – which one was it? Let’s here it in the comments!

16 views0 comments
bottom of page