By Danika Kent

During the middle of a run, there’s no time to look back—you’re not going that way. When things don’t go as planned, however, Jane Melby says it takes a creative mind to keep moving forward, leaving your mistakes and your horse’s missteps in the dust. The three-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo go round winner sets up this month’s drill to develop forward momentum, an often overlooked factor in compensating for mistakes and winning barrel races.

Go on with it!

To set up this month’s drill, create a diamond-shaped pattern by setting a fourth barrel opposite of the third barrel on your typical cloverleaf barrel pattern. Melby acknowledges the location of this fourth barrel will alter your approach to the first barrel when you begin the drill, but this unconventional approach can be used in your favor. dotmdiagram

“I feel you have to have a creative mind, so if you approach a barrel in the wrong spot, you can fix it,” Melby said. “When you’re competing, everything doesn’t always happen as planned, so you have to react to the situation to take the least amount of steps possible. In working this pattern and staying on four barrels, you have to be creative, because it happens quickly.”

Starting between your typical first and recently added fourth barrel, head to the first barrel and continue through the pattern as you normally would. When you finish your third barrel, however, what was previously your second barrel has now become your first barrel, and you are set up to work a second barrel pattern.

“You’re going straight out of the third before you curve back to the first again,” Melby said. “It’s important you make sure your horse goes straight and leaves his third before you make your pocket to go back to what is now the first. You don’t want to overdo it on a horse that’s really smart; you don’t want them to think about coming to the second barrel coming home from the third.”

The first repetition of this drill is completed when you’ve worked both patterns, back to back, and Melby encourages two or three repetitions at a cruising speed.

“It’s not designed to take a horse slow, and if you cruise through it two or three times, your mind has to be sharp and creative to stay on task,” Melby said. “I’m a ‘three time in a row’ kind of person. Anyone can get lucky once. If you can get it right three times, you know you’ve got it, whether it’s the horse or for the rider. It mentally fatigues you, not in a negative way, but it makes you think quickly. It helps sharpen you. You’ll think, ‘Wow, that was really hard, I had to think about that.'”

Get over it!

Visualization is one concept to take from this drill and apply to the competition run that isn’t going as smoothly as you’d planned.

“If you’re feeling all the mistakes, you can’t win. You have to think about going forward and leave that stuff behind. At that point, it’s time to compete,” Melby said. “This drill really teaches you how to react. I’m not trying to confuse a horse; I want it to respond to me. At first, the horses won’t stay on pattern, but once they figure out how to stay on it, it’s amazing how much sharper they get. The sharper I can make my horses at home, the sharper they’ll be when I haul them somewhere. You don’t always get what you want, but you have to know how to react to gain back those steps you messed up. You do all of this so whatever their reaction is, you can go with it.”

Fast Horsemanship

Melby shared five keys to forward motion and fast times.

  1. Think ‘go forward:’ feel the stride, move forward through that turn, and be quick with your body on the backside to get out of it.
  2. Take straight lines to the backside of the barrels. Straight lines are faster than arcs.
  3. When rating your horse for a turn, you want him to reach with his front end and move forward in the turn, versus slowing the hind end down and having it squatted underneath him to the point where he loses momentum.
  4. Keep your knuckles up and elbows away from your sides to be quicker in the turns. When your elbows are clamped it tightens your ribs, which tightens the horse’s ribs. You want your horses supple to do their job.
  5. Never quit going forward. Use your saddle horn to pull yourself up, and push your rein hand toward the horse’s ears to go forward. If you catch yourself getting rocked back in the saddle or pulling on your bridle reins, you’re losing that forward motion.

dotm 2 janemelbygo3Jane Melby and RC Back In Black won three rounds at the 2011 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Photo by Kenneth Springer.

Meet Jane Melby 

National Finals Rodeo qualifier, International Professional Rodeo Association and National Barrel Horse Association world champion Jane Melby resides in Burneyville, Oklahoma, with her husband Ryan, daughter Cayla and son Colton. Jane won three rounds of the 2011 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo on RC Back in Black (“Beauty”). For more information about Team Melbys’ training and clinic availability, visit

Danika Kent is an avid barrel racer and former managing editor of Barrel Horse News. Email comments on this article to [email protected].



Email comments or questions to [email protected]

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