Straighten up your horse’s lines between barrels with this drill from trainer Sharin Hall.
By Sharin Hall with Abigail Boatwright
ONE OF THE MAJOR PROBLEMS WE EXPERIENCE WITH BARREL RACING IS ANTICIPATION OF THE TURN. Our horses learn by repetition, so once they learn the pattern, they want to do it on their own. If we don’t have impeccable timing as a rider, they start doing it on their own and can start to do it too soon.
The “two-wall drill” is my go-to drill. I’m going across the pen and working on keeping my horse going on a straight line, not wanting to anticipate. It helps correct anticipation and turning too soon at the second barrel.
It also helps your horse whether you’ll be competing in a small, enclosed arena or a rodeo where the barrel is 15 feet off the fence. It teaches the horse to do a nice, perfectly round circle right up to the wall. Most horses can be phobic about the wall, so it’s a good way to get them to run up in the hole and get behind the barrel, instead of trying to turn too soon.
I do this drill with all my horses, whether it’s a prospect to be a futurity horse or a finished open rodeo horse that comes in on consignment. I always go to this particular drill.
Setting It Up
I have my own line of bits, saddles and saddle pads, so I use everything of my gear. But a bit, to me, fits the hands and the horse. So I use whatever I feel the horse likes the best and fits my hands to accomplish what I want to do.
I don’t do this drill when I am warming up at a race. This is a drill I do at home. I do my training at home, and when I load up and go to an event, I put my jockey hat on. We’re there to compete. I think you need to do your homework before you get there.
That being said, if I do have a horse that’s got an issue and this drill addresses that, then I will find somewhere at the event to do it.
I start this drill by loping circles and going across the pen as I would be going from the first to the second barrel. I do not use barrels during this exercise.
I want my horse to stay between my hands and between my legs as I drive forward across the pen. When I’m going straight and getting closer to the wall and feel its hip start to disengage and move out, and the shoulder begin to drop one direction or the other, that’s where I would use my outside leg to keep the hip underneath the horse, and my inside rein to ask the shoulder to stay elevated and continue going forward. I will then be starting the circle at the wall, so I want to make sure that while my horse is moving from the straight line and transitioning into a circle that I keep a consistent light lift on the inside rein to encourage the shoulder to stay up. I use my outside heel to keep the horse’s hip underneath itself while I’m encouraging forward motion.
When I am approaching the wall and about 20 feet from the wall—depending on where my horse tends to anticipate from the wall or the barrel—and I reach that rate point for a turn, I will sit deep in my saddle, roll my hips underneath myself and slightly lift my inside rein as a cue to slow the horse’s feet down, still tracking forward in a straight line. I’ll go two or three more straight steps, and then make the turn—very forward, very smooth.
When I get to the wall, I don’t let my horse get flat, which happens a lot of times when you’re in a run—horses tend to lose their shape and body position. They tend to get strung out or drop their rib cage, instead of staying in that round position they need to follow their nose and come around the barrel.
I will guide my horse in several circles at the wall, as if I was turning a barrel, and when I’m ready to exit the circle, I’ll use my outside rein to engage the hip under the horse to push off, and then I’ll pick a spot in the middle of my arena and practice the straight line going across the pen, making sure my horse is very straight. This helps the horse learn to push out of the turn with both hind legs, adding power to your exit.
I will guide my horse with two hands across the pen, and then do more circles on the other side of the arena against the wall. Make sure to do this drill both directions.
I make sure to work on this drill until the horse makes a perfect circle, its body stays in between my hands and it does everything correctly. Once they do one part or all of the drill correctly, I will quit and go do something else. That is the horse’s reward when they do something right.
This is a bit of an advanced drill. The inside rein controls the body’s rib cage forward to their mouth. The outside rein controls the body’s ribcage to the hindquarters. To know the purpose and when to use your inside and your outside rein will help maneuver your horse’s body position. You should be able to put your horse’s hip in or out and move its shoulder in either direction. This helps us riders to be more aware of where our horse is underneath us.
Meet the Expert
Sharin Hall is a champion futurity barrel horse trainer, competitor and breeder located in Pilot Point, Texas. Her mare Hello Stella (pictured in this article) set the earnings record as EquiStat All-Time Highest-Earning Futurity Horse in 2021 with more than $445,000 won that year. Hall has won titles at the Breeders Challenge, Pink Buckle, Pac West Futurity, Greg Olson Memorial, Diamonds and Dirt Slot Race, The Patriot Futurity, Better Barrel Races World Finals Futurity and many other major competitions. She’s also won at Women’s Professional Rodeo Association pro rodeos. Hall has designed a line of tack and equipment suitable for barrel racers, available at her website sharinhall.com.