Using poles, Brady Weaver teaches barrel prospect footwork finesse before he ever asks the horse to turn a barrel.
Before trainer Brady Weaver shows a prospective barrel horse the pattern, he first teaches it to move its feet in a circular motion without pulling on the horse’s face or thumping on its sides. To do so, he uses oversize poles in an “X” shape.
Weaver, a professional cow horse trainer and former racehorse jockey, starts roughly a half-dozen barrel prospects annually at his facility in Enterprise, Utah. Whether a future barrel or cow horse, he focuses on the basics all performance horses need, forward motion and the ability to move its feet with precision.
“Most of these barrel horses are big and don’t have all their motor skills like a young cow horse. The pole drill is a way to have logs on the ground that helps teach forward motion, without you having to pull on them; moving their feet gets them thinking,” Weaver said. “You ride them forward with both legs and use the log to turn them without pulling too much on their face. They stay between your legs as they learn to drive up, but it doesn’t numb their face or body.”
The lanky barrel horses are larger and often ganglier than the smaller, quick-footed cow horses Weaver starts. He first makes sure the horse can move with balance before starting to work on its footfall in a turn.
Straight and Strong
Before he teaches fancy footwork, Weaver gets out of the arena and moving the horse in a straight line where it can learn how to carry itself without much assistance from the rider. “Barrel horses have to be able to guide. A lot of barrel horses I get [to work with] are out of balance. Riders hang on their faces, and after awhile, the horse will lean in or push away. It’s not balanced anymore. If you can take that horse out and teach it to travel like an old cowboy’s horse where the legs are underneath them, they’re traveling straight and relaxed, a lot of those problems go away.”
When Weaver can ride the horse at a walk, trot and lope on a loose rein and the horse moves straight, he’s ready to move on to turns.
“When I have one ready to stay at the trot—not wanting to break to a lope—I’ll start guiding around a tree,” he said. “And for me, it is guiding not shortening them up to turn the tree. I want a totally loose rein. These horses need to be in a relaxed mental state to train on them.”
After successfully maneuvering the horse around outdoor obstacles, and the horse responding by carrying its body in a balanced manner, Weaver starts his pole practice.
In, Out and Around
Start simple, Weaver says. At a trot, begin to track around the poles that are set in the square-like pattern. After getting a good cadence with the trot, he then pulls the horse in to one of the
“When I start a young horse, I ride it in more straight lines than circles. Most inexperienced horses kind of lug out or find the inside rein and fall into it,” Weaver said. “When I do start to circle in the X drill, I use the log to help the horse figure out how to turn. Most don’t want to step over a log, so if I pick a rein up, it will load up on the hind end to get circled. I use these obstacles to my advantage.”
Weaver doesn’t let the horse stop and turn, but instead kicks his feet to encourage forward motion. The first few in-and-out tracks can be clumsy, but soon, the horse starts to move its feet faster and in better time with the turn.
“Slowly teach the horse to place her feet when you guide her around. In a week or so of this pole drill, most horses lope around without me having to mug [pull] them around in the section,” Weaver said. “It is repetition and being patient. I want to create a horse that is going to last. I’m not saying I do it different than other trainers. But a foundation that lets a horse last is what makes the horse easy and respectful.” When the horse drops a shoulder, Weaver picks his hand up. As the horse turns, he sits back in the saddle to encourage the horse’s collected movement. Eventually, he can lope the horse around the logs then turn into any section and have the horse collect to make the turn.
“This drill is helpful on big, lanky barrel horses. They need to understand where their feet are and the simpler you can make it the better,” Weaver explained. “The logs are something anyone can set up and get the same effect.”
Meet the Expert
Utah horseman Brady Weaver has excelled in many areas of the horse industry. From riding Quarter Horse racehorses to learning the secrets of riding cow horses from legendary California trainers, he’s taken every opportunity to learn about the horse. In 2015, Weaver won the National Reined Cow Horse Association’s Stallion Stakes Open and Intermediate Open championships aboard SJR Reygun. Weaver uses his knowledge to start about a half-dozen barrel prospects annually, including the 2-year-old pictured, a daughter of JB Proud N Famous. Visit Brady Weaver Performance Horses on Facebook for more information.
This article was originally published in the March 2019 issue of Barrel Horse News.