In this drill, a fourth barrel morphs your typical cloverleaf into a four-leaf clover in which all barrels are turned the same direction. The repetitive, predictable nature of this drill benefits horses that are not mentally committing to the turn or physically engaging their bodies, which is often the case with horses that run by barrels. It allows a horse to focus on turning a barrel and building the corresponding muscle memory, while simultaneously solidifying a consistent rate point for the rider, and establishing an in-sync, confident rhythm between the two.
Kraft drew inspiration for this drill from Ed Wright, Jessi Mead, and Kraft’s mother, Barb.
“I didn’t have confidence running to the first barrel. I would check three strides out of the alley, so my mom and I decided to make a line that I would run to, to develop consistency in my rate spot.” That line is drawn on the X where the tracks coming into a barrel cross with the tracks leaving a barrel, approximately your horse’s length from the barrel. “As a general rule of thumb, that’s where the horse needs to rate, or change their stride,” Kraft explained. She shared Mead’s suggestion to mark that line with flour, lime, baby powder, or spray paint as a definite visual aid.
Putting her own spin on Ed Wright’s four-barrel drill further solidified that precise spot in her own mind, which, in turn, made her horses more confident in their approach to the barrel.
“The horse doesn’t have to second-guess what’s going on upstairs with the rider. They like a confident person on them, even if you have to fake it ‘til you make it. It builds confidence with the rider and horse to know they can go hard all the way to that precise rate spot,” she explained.
Set it up
That extra boost of confidence to mentally commit to the rate point allows horse and rider to physically engage in the four-barrel drill. With the barrels set up in a square, approach the right or left barrel in the far corner as you would your first barrel on a traditional cloverleaf pattern. If you take your first barrel to the right, progress through the drill in a counter-clockwise fashion; if the left barrel is your starting point, move through the barrels in a clockwise direction. Once you’ve worked through all four barrels, you can either stop at the rate point of the next barrel or continue through the pattern as needed. Kraft suggests practicing this drill to the left one day to build that muscle memory and feel, and go the other direction another day. She recommends always going back to the cloverleaf pattern before a race.
Break it down
Conscious, specific horsemanship is key to making the most of this exercise.
“Making a straight line to the rate point is very important. At that point, when you pick the horse up and sit down, you’re looking for a softness from his nose to his tail – at the poll, shoulder, ribcage, and inside hip,” Kraft illustrated. “The rider needs to be aware of the horse’s hip in the turn. Keep the gait on the lines between the barrels consistent, and rate to a shorter stride that is definite and apparent in the turns.”
As you frame your horse for the turn, it is equally important to be aware of your own riding position.
“Engage your own body in an athletic stance,” Kraft encouraged. “It’s important not to get rocked backward or forward in the turn. Keep your spine straight, but soft, on top of that horse, and stay in the middle. Tuck your hips, get the power from your legs, and drive with your hips just as the horse does. You can get a lot more done with your legs than the reins. If everything’s right going into it, you should be able to check and then ride that turn with the inside hand positioned halfway between their ears and your saddle horn. The less you pull and depend on those reins, the more you’re staying out of their way, and the better your turn is going to be. This will all come together working this drill.”
Build it up
As you work on the barrels off of the cloverleaf pattern, the communication between the horse and rider becomes more defined.
“You feel their hind end driving and their front end reaching. Like a train, every wheel is engaged, and every foot lands in a perfect circle around the barrel. This drill gets them hunting the barrels, but they’re not anticipating because they’re in tune with you. You notice their ears change and their gaits get stronger. It grounds them,” she affirmed.
Meet Tisa Kraft
North Dakota native Tisa Kraft currently resides in Stephenville, Texas, with her son Blu, where she trains horses and teaches ballet lessons. Notable horses like Karson Bradley’s National Junior High Finals Rodeo Barrel Racing Champion mount, Brave Striker, and Kristin William’s college rodeo horse, Zorro Cat, as well as several other 1D contenders, have put Kraft on the map across the country. She is currently competing at the professional level on a daughter of A Streak of Fling.
Kraft’s driving training philosophies are based on a humble open-mindedness. “I believe that if you work at anything whole-heartedly and think outside the box, anything is possible. I don’t train typical barrel-bred horses; I take what falls into my lap. Any horse can be given the chance to run barrels,” she contends.
Danika Kent is managing editor of Barrel Horse News. E-mail comments on this article to [email protected]