Aim your horse at the fence at a 45-degree angle, and ask for a stop.

Quicken your horse’s turns with this fence drill from trainer Danyelle Campbell.

I like to incorporate this drill on the fence for a couple reasons. I think it helps get a horse more broke, for starters. It helps teach a horse to get quicker on its turns without actually schooling around the barrel. So we’re taking the pressure off the barrel turn, but still teaching the horse to get on its hind end, move its feet quickly, and drive away from the turn on the fence.

This drill is ideal for a horse that throws its shoulders to the outside of a turn or has a hard time turning the barrel. I prefer this one over normal rollbacks—down-the-fence rollbacks like you’d do with a working cow horse. I think that type of turn is unrealistic for barrel racers. We don’t ever do a complete 180-degree rollback.

This is a great exercise to teach coordination and how to mix aggressiveness and physicality with slowing down and being smooth—it takes both to win a barrel race.

I think every horse should know how to do this. It requires basic horsemanship skills from you and incorporates skills your horse needs to know for barrel racing. Most horses, surprisingly, can’t execute this properly at the start, but they’ll quickly pick it up and learn.

Danyelle Campbell lifting her inside rein to turn her horse
Lift your inside rein and ask your horse to complete a turn on the fence, driving out of the turn.

This is a drill for every horse, starting from when they’re 2 years old, and it’s fine to do on a finished 15-year-old horse. If you’re experiencing problems with your horse not driving away from a turn, it will help.

The Setup

The barrel should be about 25 feet away from the fence so that the fence doesn’t interfere with loping your circle.

My favorite tack for a slow working drill like this is some form of an O-ring snaffle, or perhaps a draw gag bit, with split reins. I always do this work with split reins because I want to work my hands independently.

I’ll do this drill at a barrel race if I feel like the horse needs work. Even if there’s not a barrel available, I will lope the circle by a fence without a barrel.

This is the kind of exercise you don’t want to overdo. You want to keep your horse sharp while doing it. Your horse will tell you when they understand and have had enough. I’d only do this one for about three minutes or so as part of your warm-up.

The Drill

I do this drill walking, trotting and slow loping—never faster than that. I like to do it at a walk because I do everything first at a walk. Even at a walk, you can teach your horse so much about body position and framing, and you can get the most out of it at a lope, because that’s where your horse can really get on its hind end and drive out of the turn, pick up the correct lead and lope around the barrel, but it’s not a speed event for me. I never put pressure on the horse for speed.

Danyelle Campbell guiding horse into a circle off of the fence
Guide your horse into a large, evenly-sized circle around the barrel.

At a lope, you want to be on the correct lead. If your fence is on your left, you should be on your right lead, and vice versa.

Aim your horse at the fence at a 45-degree angle. Once you are close, sit down and ask for the stop with your body and reins.

At the same time, lift your inside rein up to lift the inside shoulder. If the fence is on your left, you want to lift your left rein. As your horse completes the turn toward the fence, drive forward out of the turn. Your horse will then pick up the left lead.

Guide your horse into a left-lead circle around the barrel—a big, even, slow circle around the barrel.

Using the fence takes some of the physical pressure off turning the barrel and helps you stand the horse’s shoulders up and hold them throughout the turn. Driving the horse out of the fence and into a circle, not just a straight line, makes the horse immediately calm down and get fluid.

This is not a high-pressure exercise. It’s not a working cow horse rollback. The only point at which I ask the horse to drive by using my voice and body to accelerate is after the turn off the fence as they’re getting ready to exit and drive away from it.

Danyelle Campbell circling around the barrel
Circle around the barrel at a steady pace and back to the fence for a turn the other direction.

The circles around the barrel are meant to be calm, cool and collected with a nice smoothness to them. They also need to be on the correct lead.

Keep In Mind

Make sure you approach the fence at a 45-degree angle. Don’t approach parallel to the fence—straight alongside it, or perpendicular—making a “T” with the fence and your horse pointed straight at it. At a 45-degree angle, you are letting the fence help turn your horse rather than making the fence an obstacle.

Drive your horse all the way to the fence. Don’t turn five feet from the fence; you want the horse’s head to reach the fence before you turn.

When you’re turning into the fence, make sure you are not cueing with your outside rein. Don’t neck rein. You want the horse to work off the inside rein, which encourages it to break at the ribs and pick the shoulder up and over.

Don’t overdo this drill, and don’t let your horse anticipate. If you’re doing a circle around the barrel and your horse starts trying to stop, do another circle around the barrel. The key to everything is relaxation. You want a relaxed horse, not a tense horse.

Watch the video demo titled “Staying Quick and Correct Through the Turns” here.


This article was originally published in the November 2019 issue of BHN.