Every time you work with a horse or horse and rider, you want to increase the horse and rider’s knowledge of the six messages communicated between the horse and rider: emotional control, direction control, speed control, leads, body shape and the desired route.

This drill we’re talking about today will address a horse that wants to shorten and slow its stride during the pattern in the wrong place, or wants to duck in too close to the barrel. Or, the horse could be doing both.

If you find your horse shortening its stride, slowing down its feet or getting out of position during competition or practice, that’s when you will want to do this exercise. When you are riding into the bridle, you want him to speed his feet up as much as you tell him to, and you want him to stay on the route you set him.

Once you feel you’ve mastered this exercise, make sure you do it in a new environment, preferably one that mimics a barrel race atmosphere. That way you can see how they’ve held this education in their mind. If the horse holds true to what you’ve taught him, then that is great. If he doesn’t then you need to reinforce the education.

I recommend using a bit that the horse is educated to highly respond to properly. Don’t use a bit the horse does not highly respect for this drill.

Set your horse on the desired route and speed around the barrels. Anytime the horse slows down too much, or ducks in out of that line too much, that’s when you should do this exercise. It could be near a barrel or it could be by the gate. But use this anywhere the problem occurs. Get control of the horse and do the exercise.

The drill helps a horse move freely.
If your horse ducks in to the barrel, practice two-tracking away from the barrel until the horse moves freely again. Photo by Abigail Boatwright.

For a horse that slows down, you want to focus on getting the horse to move forward. You will achieve contact with the horse’s mouth using your reins and ride him into the bridle. Use your calves, and you might have to tap him on the rear while you are using your legs to teach him that when you kick using your calves, he should go forward into the bridle and listen. Start with the level of pressure with your reins and legs that your horse is accustomed to, and increase the pressure only if he does not understand. Once the horse understands what you’re asking, you should be able to ask with the initial level of pressure and he should respond. If your horse doesn’t respect that go-forward cue, I suggest working with him in a round pen on groundwork to establish an education on moving forward in response to your cues. You also want to avoid pushing the horse too hard into the bridle so that the horse pushes out of it. Asking for this contact and urging with your legs requires give and take.

The Two-Track

If your horse is slowing down and also ducking in, you’ll want to ask the horse to two-track away from the barrel. I also call this a forward side pass, because you are moving both forward and sideways. Sit in the middle of your horse, over his front two ribs. If you are headed to a right-hand turn, hold your left, or outside, hand wide to support the horse, and your inside hand should be up 3-5 inches above the mane, and across the neck to control direction, speed and body shape. Your elbow should stay close to your body during this maneuver—don’t move your elbow forward. Both reins should support the horse’s mouth. You’ll ask for a reverse arc away from the barrel with your hands and use your inside leg—in this case, your right leg—to propel your horse away from the barrel. Your hands and your feet should be in equal communication and timing with your horse’s movement.

Continue asking for a two-track movement away from the barrel, until you feel the horse free up and move forward. Then circle back and re-enter the route to working the barrel properly, and see if he holds that education. It may take a number of times practicing this move to form this correct habit for the horse, and each horse and rider is different.

Meet Ed Wright

A lifetime horseman, Ed Wright of Dublin, Texas, has trained professionally since 1978. For more than 20 years, Ed and his wife Martha have worked with a host of highly successful barrel racers, and his horses have earned successes in futurities, derbies and rodeo events. He teaches an average of 40 public clinics a year and 60 private clinics. The couple also authored Barrel Racing: Training the Wright Way.