Carlos Renato’s training program focuses on respecting the individual horse’s needs.

Article and photos by Bridget Kirkwood

When Carlos Renato was a young boy growing up in Brazil, horses were his passion. Without one of his own, he had to adapt to the horses other people allowed him to work with. He also had to ride them the way they wanted him to. That experience set the tone for Renato’s barrel training program, where every horse is treated as an individual and with respect.

“I try to keep it as simple as I can for the horses, but doing that benefits me too,” Renato said. “I don’t try to have my own style—I try to respect the horse the way he is. For example, a lot of people want the horse to carry his head in a certain way. For me, if he carries his head high in the air, I don’t care. If it’s too low, then we’ll try to meet in the middle. They have to be broke in the face and be respectful of my hands, but they have to be comfortable too.”

Carlos Renato's program involves having the horse follow its nose and not rely on the outside rein.
The horse is soft in the face and bending without the reins being pulled. The horse is following its nose and not relying on the outside rein to keep its shoulder up. Its ribcage is bent around the circle and the horse is driving with its hind end in good position to turn around a barrel. Photo by Bridget Kirkwood.

Just as Renato respects each horse’s physical attributes and deficiencies, he respects their mental ones as well. He allows his horses to be imperfect and lets them do one “bad” thing that they enjoy doing.

“Some horses when they’re nervous like to shake their head, play with the bit or paw the ground for their comfort,” Renato said. “I think it is important to allow them to do one of those things. You pick—he can do the thing with his mouth or he can paw—but he can only do one. If you don’t let him do either, then you’ll stress him out because he hasn’t got a way to express that he’s nervous. If I don’t let the horse do one ‘bad’ thing, then he’s going to be unhappy. He’s going to be uncomfortable. He’s going to hate me, and he’s going to hate his job.” Renato uses release of pressure to let the horse know when it has performed the correct response.

“The release is the only thing the horse truly understands. The release thanks the horse for what he did for me,” Renato said. “When you release pressure, the horse will lick his lips or take a deep breath. When you are riding, take notice of the horse’s ears because if you are pulling or kicking too much, the horse will tell you.”

Getting to Know You

Daily chores such as feeding and cleaning stalls gives Renato time to bond with the horse and to assess his program.

“It’s a time when I can think. Usually that’s when I realize if a horse is sore, or it’s when I finally realize the reason the horse isn’t happy,” Renato said. “I also pay attention to how much manure is in the stall and the color of it, which lets me know how healthy my horses are.”

Feeding enables Renato to see if the horse is leaving food behind or needs more feed. He also monitors water intake.

While Renato agrees that having barn help is nice, he prefers to keep the number of horses he has in training low, and ideally of better quality, so he can care for the horses himself.

“I like to win and I like to do good, but I love this sport and I don’t do it for the money,” Renato said. “I don’t keep more than 10 horses, because I don’t think I could do a good job or do it all myself if I had more.”

Daily grooming is another way Renato learns about the horse and shows the horse that he likes it. The way the horse reacts to the pressure of the brush enables him to evaluate if the horse is becoming sore or if it is responding to treatment for soreness.

Starting Young

Horses in Renato’s program are started in February of their 2-year-old year and ridden for two to three months. They then enjoy a two-month break before returning to work for another 30 days. For the remainder of their 2-year-old year, the horses are on a month-on, month-off work cycle.

“They’ve got to have the horse life when they are young and they have to develop physically,” Renato said. “When they are in work, they stay up in the stalls with slinkies and blankets on. When they’re not working, they are out in the pasture being a horse.”

Sticking with the theory that simplicity works best, Renato doesn’t do many drills but he does work three barrels in a straight line.

“When they are 2, I do more straight line work and don’t focus on the turn so much until their joints are stronger,” Renato said. “It also helps you get more control of their body. It teaches them to listen to your legs.”

Circle work transfers directly to barrel work in Carlos Renato's program.
The circle work transfers directly to barrel work. The horse’s body is in the same position as he turns the barrel and reaches with the hind end. Photo by Bridget Kirkwood.

Working At Home

Renato’s horses are ridden six days a week, with the work being done at home or at a friend’s arena. Young horses are worked on barrels five times a week while they are learning the pattern. Older horses may only work the pattern twice a week. Renato usually doesn’t start going to exhibitions until June of the 3-year-old year.

Renato catches and saddles his own horses and then rides them from the barn to arena. This takes about five minutes at a walk. Depending on the weather and the horse, he may lope around the pasture as well.

The warm-up sets the tone for the work. Horses that have a long stride and want to run remain collected during the warm-up. Renato concentrates on their foot placement and makes sure they are listening to him. Horses with a short stride do long trotting to encourage them to reach farther with each step. The horse should be soft in the ribs, free with its shoulders and be broke in the face, but Renato doesn’t demand that they break at the poll.

Shoulder Control

Shoulder control is the foundation of Renato’s program. By concentrating on controlling the shoulders, the hind end naturally gets up underneath the horse. It also keeps his program simple and is easier for many people to understand.

“If the horse is light in the shoulders and you have control of the shoulders, then you have a 100 percent chance of having a better turn,” Renato said.

Most of Renato’s shoulder control work is done riding forward on a small circle. Doing rollbacks off a fence is viewed as a last-resort option for a horse that is “pig-headed.”

“I think rollbacks are aggressive, because the horse has to really work for it,” Renato said.

On the circle, the horse must follow the inside rein. The horse should follow its nose, remain balanced and stay bent around the rider’s inside leg.

“When I do slow work, I need to do the same thing I do when I run—when I turn the barrel, I drop the outside rein and they follow the inside rein,” Renato said. “That way they’ll know what to do when they are making a run. You want them to get comfortable so they can do it by themselves, because every time you have to pull on the horse or have to help the horse, you lose time. The shoulder has to follow the nose, which means that it will be kept upright. Use your inside leg to hold the shoulder up. I use my thigh to keep the shoulder up, but if you can’t do it with your thigh, then use your calf.”

Renato starts working on a 10-foot circle at a walk. He then asks for the trot and gradually moves up to the lope.

Carlos Renato setting a horse up for the first barrel.
At the start of your run, set the horse up to have a good first barrel by riding with two hands toward the third barrel. Photo by Bridget Kirkwood.

“To check that you’re not cheating, drop the outside rein and see if the horse stays on the circle. If he drops his shoulder, then use your inside leg to lift the shoulder up,” Renato said. “I want the horse to be relaxed and to be able to do it by himself. If he’s doing it correctly then I leave him alone, because if he’s doing it correctly and you keep pulling on the rein or kicking, then he’ll get confused.”

When both reins are picked up, the horse should rate or stop. How hard the horse rates or stops will increase with how hard Renato picked up the reins and sat down. When riding a horse that wants to stop, Renato is careful to not let it stop too hard, as this causes unnecessary wear and tear on the hocks and stifles.

“I like the horse to have a good stop, but he doesn’t have to stop hard because that’s not required in barrel racing,” Renato said. “But when I sit down in the saddle, they need to have the sense of slowing down.”

Going Around the Barrel

Give the horse the best chance at having a perfect turn by driving it forward with two hands. When the horse is one stride away from the barrel, take your hands back toward the saddle, drop the outside rein and go to the horn. The horse should follow the inside rein around the barrel. The outside rein is only used to keep the horse moving forward to its spot.

Renato taking off for the first barrel.
Sit deep in the saddle so the horse doesn’t throw you forward or make you lose balance when it takes off. Photo by Bridget Kirkwood.

“Once I drop my hands, the horse knows to slow down, but if you go to the saddle horn too soon then the horse will turn too soon and you will have to pick the horse back up and tell it to keep going. The horse has to be going forward the whole time. If the horse is not moving forward, then he will be short on the barrel,” Renato said. “Don’t use the outside rein to tell the horse to move away from the barrel, use it to drive the horse forward.”

On a gritty horse that sets hard to turn, Renato moves his hands farther up the horse’s neck between the barrels. On a free runner, his hands are positioned closer to the saddle horn. Lower hands give the free runner comfort and confidence that you are there to guide it, while higher hands encourage a ratey horse to keep moving forward.

When moving your hands up and down the neck, remember to keep your butt in the saddle.

“If you’re up out of the saddle and leaning forward in the turn, then you might be able to get by the barrel, but once the horse is in the middle of the turn, it won’t be able to come back as quick as it could, because all of your weight is up on its shoulder,” Renato said.

Renato prefers to teach his horses to work off of leg pressure rather than kicking hard.

“Imagine if you had someone on your back kicking at your lungs—you couldn’t breath. Use your thighs and sit as quietly as you can. Even on a push-style horse, sit as quiet as you can,” Renato said. “If you want to go faster, work on your hands and keeping your butt in the saddle and work on your position going into the barrel, because that’s how you go faster—not from kicking and whipping more.” To do this, he recommends staying at the trot when working the pattern—especially for children or when riding older horses. Trotting allows both the horse and rider to have time to think and breath and prevents the horse from cheating.

“If the horse isn’t getting around the barrel like he is supposed to, you can tell that at a trot,” Renato said. “If he won’t do it at a trot, then he won’t do it at a lope or when he is running, so you need to work at getting it perfect at a trot.”


Renato recommends trying different bits until you find one your horse is comfortable working in. When putting on or taking off the bridle, take care that the horse doesn’t feel rushed. Allow the horse to grab the bit and take it into its mouth on its own. When taking the bridle off, let the horse drop the bit and roll it off the tongue. Take care that the bit doesn’t hit the teeth.

“If you run the horse a lot, it will start to pull on the bit no matter what bit you have in the mouth,” Renato said. “I don’t run my older horses at the house—they trot and lope, and if they get excited and want to run, then I go to a jackpot. I do that even with my futurity horses. If a horse is hot, then I use two different bits. I say, ‘this is the bit we work at home in, so relax,’ and ‘this is the bit that we run in, so you can get excited.’”

Renato's program allows the horse to work the barrel on its own.
Top photos: The rider’s hands have been dropped and the horse is working the barrel on its own. The horse is using its hind end going into the turn, and the rider is sitting deep in the saddle to turn. (B) The horse continues to move forward while on the backside of the barrel. In another stride, it will complete the turn and reach forward toward the next barrel.
Center photos: Renato sits square in the saddle and waits for the horse to finish the turn. The inside rein is inactive but is still giving direction to the horse. The outside rein is loose—remember that every time the rein is pulled, time is lost. Photos by Bridget Kirkwood.

Finish on a High Note

Renato says horses need to associate the arena with positive vibes. To help horses develop this association, Renato unsaddles his horses in the arena and gives them time to relax.

“If I’m on a colt and we’re cruising through the pattern and they’ve done a good job, I’ll get off in the middle of the arena, pet the horse, take the saddle off, take the boots off and let the horse roll and run around for a little bit. Then I’ll catch him, put everything back on and take him back to the barn,” Renato said.

Taking the saddle off is a big release for the horse. While it adds time and work to Renato’s day, he believes the psychological benefits are worth the extra effort.

Carlos Renato finishes by allowing the horse to spend some time in the arena without any gear on.
Unsaddling the horse and allowing it to have a few minutes of free time after working the barrels correctly is the ultimate release for the horse. Photo by Bridget Kirkwood.

Making Runs at the House

Runs at the house are important in building confidence in Renato’s futurity horses. This enables the horses to become solid and understand expectations before they are hauled. Before going to an exhibition, Renato likes to take them to a friend’s arena so he isn’t rushed to get the horse in and out of the arena within the allotted 60 seconds.

“Once I have their confidence, then I will take them to an exhibition,” Renato said. “If they’re running hard for a 3-year-old and I feel like they’re ready to go somewhere else, the first three or four times I haul I will not ask for that same speed we’ve been running at the house. That’s because I want them to be confident before they run hard.”

Each futurity horse will do four to five exhibitions to allow the horse to become comfortable with various set ups. The first few exhibitions are slow, and if the horse is working well, it may be asked for more speed. The final exhibition is usually at the trot.

This article was originally published in the August 2019 issue of Barrel Horse News.


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