The 13-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier Lisa Lockhart discusses the basic fundamentals necessary for a beginner rider to start barrel racing.

“I believe the better horseman you are, the easier it is to accomplish your job, and the better broke your horse is, the easier it is to accomplish his job.” -Lisa Lockhart

1. Hands

Lisa Lockhart demonstrating hand position
Make sure your hands stay on either side of your horse’s neck and don’t cross over. Imagine that they are in a 1-square-foot box to avoid getting your hands too high, too low or too far out to the sides. BHN file photo.

“Try to keep your hands in close proximity on either side of your horse’s neck. Of course right-hand turns use your right hand, left-hand turns use your left hand. Everybody rides a little differently with their hands, so if you can keep things in a 1-foot square area, you’ll be pretty safe. Some people bring their hand out to the side a little more, some people use a little more inside rein, and I think either of those situations can work.”

2. Control of Your Horse’s Body Parts

“Your horse needs to be responsive to not only your hands with his face but in his ribcage and his hind end, which includes being able to move off your feet. If you’re too close to a barrel [or too far], you can move him both directions away from or closer to, whichever is necessary, with your feet.”

3. Riding With Your Legs

Lisa Lockhart turning the first barrel on Louie
Lisa’s famed rodeo gelding “Louie” is properly bent around her inside leg with his hind end engaged, in prime position to finish the turn and launch toward the second barrel. Photo by Kenneth Springer

“It’s crucial to have that horse able to stay in a bent position around your legs. Not every horse has a wrappy style, and there are horses who are more stiff, so if your horse is a stiffer horse and on the backside [of the barrel] you need to bring him around, you can stiffen him up with your outside foot to bring him around quickly, or [use the outside foot] on a rounder horse wanting to step off the backside. Your feet are very crucial whether you want to move your horse away or in. I ride with my feet a lot, and I think that helps me because there’s a lot more to it than just your hands.”

4. Stopping

“A person needs to know that in order to get a horse engaged with his hind end up underneath him, give that horse an opportunity when you sit down deep to stop [before you pull on the reins] and keep the hind end engaged.

5. Know Your Leads

“You need to know your leads [at the lope] and to have your horse to know his leads, the easier transition it is for the horse to switch his leads going from a right-hand turn to a left-hand turn.”

lisa lockhart turning the second barrel on an oakie with cash
Practicing correct equitation every single time you ride will help it become muscle memory so that you are easily able to stay in the proper position during high-speed runs. Photo by Kenneth Springer

6. Practice Good Equitation

“Your body can help you a lot by sitting square in the saddle, feet directly beneath you, staying quiet and centered with your horse and not leaning too far one direction or the other. Just keeping things real quiet and centered, knowing your horse and having better horsemanship—the only way to get that is to spend more hours in the saddle.”

Find more help from Lisa Lockhart and other professional barrel racers at


Blanche Schaefer is an avid barrel racer and managing editor of Barrel Horse News. Email comments or questions to [email protected]

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