By Dolli Lautaret with Jolee Lautaret
It’s a safe bet that most barrel racers work their horses in circles as part of their exercise and tuning regimes. However, incorporating a log obstacle into the circle can teach added coordination and balance.
My earliest years of riding were spent in Germany training under an incredible German riding master who taught me dressage; I competed in jumping, cross country and dressage back then. The dressage techniques I learned then are still the foundation for all the training I do, although it’s clearly modified to accommodate the disciplines in which I now compete, namely barrel racing and roping.
My circle over the log drill uses all the same tools used in regular circles but adds a little twist to make it a bit more difficult. The goal is to teach my horse to pay attention to her feet as she steps over the log. Because doing this drill correctly requires collection and lateral motion, it also promotes better coordination, builds strength and improves flexibility.
In any exercise I do, I want to build a solid framework with my body position. Proper body position requires weight in the stirrups to help give you power, a strong seat (i.e. no posting at the trot), quiet, steady hands that are at least as wide as my body and light contact with the horse’s mouth to drive her into the bridle to help achieve collection.
As I would in any circle, I sit the trot. Forward first is one of my mantras so it’s important to keep your horse moving at the same speed through the circle; many horses will try to slow down through a circle so keeping steady speed is key.
Any circle must also include lateral motion where the horse is moving forward but around, as well. This movement is key to both making fast turns and minimizing hit barrels. I make sure that my horse is always reaching and pulling with her front end while driving off the hindquarters. The key to achieving both of these objectives is a strong core and using the hips to shove the hind end around while keeping a solid position with the front end by minimizing the moves you make with your hands.
For this drill, I simply make my horse step over a log (in our case, we use a railroad tie) as they make their circle. Of course, most horses will try to jump the log, particularly in the beginning, so it’s important to tighten your fingers as needed to prevent a jump. It may take time to get there, but your horse should get to where she is simply stepping over the log. As you hold position, your horse will eventually begin to level out, making evenly spaced steps over the log, and really getting a solid workout. Picking their feet up to step over the log stretches every muscle in the leg in a way that is hard to otherwise get and helps build the important muscles along their backs.
The horse must pay attention to her feet and sometimes they will hit the log with their toes or even step right on it. Not only do they have to pay attention to where they are placing their feet, they must also learn to adjust their stride to make the step over the log. This is a great way to practice an approach to a barrel turn without the pressure of the barrel. This exercise requires the horse to use every muscle so it’s great for conditioning, too.
As you get better at the drill, you may bring the circle in smaller, which requires bringing the horse right around as they step over the log. You will begin to take only a couple of steps in between each trip over the log.
We use this drill a lot to help our students improve barrel turns in competition. It forces the rider to push every step to keep the horse in a tight circle with steady speed, making it great practice for making barrel runs because you should also be riding every step of the turn. It’s important to stay relaxed in this drill, not allowing your shoulders to tense up, because you want your horse to stay supple and loose. Also, once you’ve established your position, you shouldn’t have to change your hands; you should be able to change the size of your circle simply by how hard you are twisting your hips and core around the circle. You should have contact on both the inside and outside rein, keeping your horse level without over-rotating to the inside, which restricts the horse’s movement.
Once you have mastered this drill at a trot, you can try it at a lope, at first in a larger circle then again bringing it down to a much smaller circle. You will have to ride harder with each step up in difficulty so be prepared to get tired!
This drill is terrific for young horses that are learning coordination as well as open horses that need a little reminder to work hard in the turn and keep their feet moving. Overall, it keeps both of you in shape and ready to quicken up your turns and shave time off the clock.
Sidebar | Meet Dolli Lautaret
Dolli Lautaret is a veteran horsewoman and Gold Card carrying member of the Women’s Pro Rodeo Association (WPRA). She has trained horses for more than 40 years beginning in Wiesbaden, Germany as a teen. She is the 2007 WPRA World Champion Heeler and has 22 circuit finals rodeo qualifications in both the Turquoise and California Circuits. Lautaret lives in Kingman, Ariz., with her husband, Darrell, and travels the rodeo circuit with her daughter, Jolee Jordan. To learn more, like Team Lautaret on Facebook.
Jolee Lautaret is a three-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier and six-time Ram National Circuit Finals qualifier who provides commentary for ProRodeo Live/SiriusXM80. Lautaret is a highly decorated all-around cowgirl known for her commitment to the rodeo industry as a talented journalist, and former WPRA board member.