Encourage your horse’s forward motion with this relaxed warm-up drill from Suade Furr.

I do this drill with a certain horse that I ride. He’s more of a strong, free-running horse, and he does like to turn. He gets sticky in the rib cage and the shoulders, and I just want to loosen that up, get him to move forward and follow my hand.

In this drill, I go in a little wider around the barrels, and at certain points I pull him to me, squeeze him up underneath me and we’ll do a small circle, then I’ll drive out of it, all while connecting to the circle around the barrel.

I’m trying to get him to loosen up, so I’m squeezing him with my leg toward the back cinch. I’m wanting him to drive up, almost swinging his hip out, so I can get him to move his front end forward, trying to keep his hind end following in the same steps.

Encourage your horse’s forward motion with this relaxed warm-up drill from Suade Furr.
You’ll do this drill around the barrels in the order you run them, but you’ll stick to a walk and a trot as you focus on loosening your horse up, encouraging him to move forward and follow your hands. Photo by Abigail Boatwright

I don’t necessarily want to cram a tight circle around the barrel. I want him to be free and moving forward. But when I ask, I want to get a response. So this drill is something I can do to help him be more quick and responsive while staying loose and soft.

How This Drill Helps

This drill really makes a horse set itself up for the barrel by following your hand. That’s ideal for the horse I do it on, because he’s sticky in his shoulders and ribcage, and he has more of a stiffer style. It’s hard to hold him in a frame — he can’t really do that. You have to rely on him reacting to your cues, because he needs some help.

When you’re making the turn, think of it almost as a rollback, but keeping continued forward motion. You want the horse to follow your hand, loosen up in the rib cage and get its front end moving.

Some horses, when you pull on the reins, they come up on the front end, lift their heads and stop their feet. This drill will help in these situations, because when you pull with your hand, you’re also going to use your legs to drive the horse forward, asking them to break at the poll and come around your leg, driving them out into the revolving circle going around the barrel.

It’s good for a stiffer horse, because when you pull, you’re breaking the rib cage resistance and asking them to step forward.

It’s also good for a horse that is free-running, because you’re encouraging them to follow your hand more around in the turn.

It helps take a horse’s mind off the barrel and get focused more on you, because you’re circling a bit farther away from the barrel, but you’re still aiming for the same objective.

Setting It Up

I prefer a tie down and the Kerry Kelley Ticket bit when I ride this drill. It’s the three-piece bumpy mouthpiece and is my go-to when I do drills like this one.

I do this drill once or twice a week at home. If there are barrels set up in the warm-up area at a barrel race, I’ll do that too. It’s a really good, relaxing exercise to get your horse to follow your hand and move forward. It’s not a speed drill; it’s getting your horse comfortable moving forward, and relaxed, because a horse can’t reach with their front end if they’re not relaxed.

Encourage your horse’s forward motion with this relaxed warm-up drill from Suade Furr.
Continue turning smaller circles around each barrel before heading home. Suade Furr recommends only doing this drill about twice in a riding session. Photo by Abigail Boatwright

This is a bit of a difficult drill. Most of the time I just do it at a trot — even a walk. It’s very beneficial at a walk or a trot. Sometimes you can do it at the lope if you’ve done it on a horse for a while, but this is a more challenging drill.

The Drill

Starting at a walk or trot, I’ll point my horse toward the first barrel. I’ll approach it the same way I would if I was making a run. I’ll look at my same points of the turn, but I’m going to take them a little wider, about a 10-foot circle.

At the point where I would ask for a turn, which is usually when I get my horse’s hip or my leg, depending on the horse, to the barrel, I’ll bump with my hands and use my legs to drive him forward into the turn of a small circle between my bigger circle path and the barrel. After returning to the starting point of that turn, I’ll drive him on to the next spot in the bigger turn.

You can bump him and ask him to follow your hand into three or four smaller circles as you make your way around the barrel. After reaching the point where you would come out of your turn for a normal barrel turn, I point my horse to the next barrel. I’ll repeat this drill around each barrel.

Something I focus on for this drill is where I am looking with my eyes. I am always reminding myself not to look down when I’m going around the barrel.

Make sure to stay square in the saddle. You don’t want to drop your eyes down at the barrel. You want to look out in front of your horse to the spot where you want to drive them forward. When you drop your eyes down to the barrel, you’ll drop your shoulders and put your weight on the inside. You’re wanting the horse to move up and around you on the inside, while you’re sitting square, not looking down at the barrel.

You’re more or less working on your body position and cueing your horse in a slow, calm, controlled, relaxed manner. This drill will sharpen your horse up, while making it relax and follow your hand.

Final Note

I usually only go through the pattern around each barrel twice, making three or four small turns as you make your way around each barrel. You don’t really want to overdo it. Reward them by going around the barrel without smaller circles after they’ve relaxed and done the drill for you. When faced with a problem or issue, it’s common to reach out for help — Danyelle Campbell suggested this drill, and it has helped with my horses.

This article was originally published in the January 2023 issue of Barrel Horse News.