Jessie Domann has the same core training philosophies, whether she’s training a horse to cut cows or turn barrels—drive from the hindquarters in a straight line, snap the shoulders across and power out straight toward the next point.

Jessie Domann’s training program is one of a kind. As a successful non-pro cutter and professional barrel horse trainer, she carries over many of the same principles from each discipline as she trains and competes. Her program is centered on straightness in the horse’s body, drive from the hindquarters and the shoulders moving freely.

Contrary to many folks’ longstanding belief in how to train a barrel horse, you won’t hear Domann using words like lift, bend or shape before a turn.

“Vicki Adams, she owned Fire Water Flit, I used to ride with her quite a bit, and she always told me our job is to teach shoulder control,” Domann said. “We train them stiffer so we can move the shoulders. She said the barrels are round, so they’ll always move around it. It’s not our job to teach them round. The barrel will pull them around, because they want to get round when they go around an object.”

Rate a Cow, Rate a Barrel

Riding a cutter across to a cow and riding into a barrel turn really aren’t all that different when it boils down to the basics, Domann says.

“In cutting I ride a lot with my body, sitting on my behind. When I ride across a cow, I ride to the stop, sit down on my pockets and release [my cues]. When I go into the turn for a barrel, I sit down on my pockets, come into the turn, I drop my weight, and that’s rate. You rate a cow, you rate a barrel,” Domann said. “When you get to the stop on a cow, the next thing you do is you open the door, you ask the ribs to soften, and then you ask the horse to get through there. A lot of that transfers into my barrel horses.”

Having basic body control of the horse helps everything fall into place as Domann ups the intensity and difficulty during training of a barrel horse or a cutter.

“A big thing to me in my program is making sure I have shoulder control, ribs are open, shoulders are free. I don’t want them locking the shoulder or dropping the shoulder,” Domann said. “I don’t want my cow horses getting away from me—I want them staying against the cow. I don’t want my barrel horses moving out—I want them staying solid, straight up into the turn. A lot of it is shoulder control on the backside of the turn. I want to feel those shoulders come through fluid, clean and snappy. And that’s what I want to feel on my cow horses, too.”

—> Read more: Cow Work for Barrel Horses with Cheyenne Wimberley

Move the Shoulders

When Domann talks about shoulder control and freeing the shoulders, she means the horse can travel straight into a turn without being held, lifted or shaped, and then snap the shoulders across on the backside of a turn to leave squarely. That being said, it’s the rider’s job to ride the horse far enough into the turn to allow the shoulders to move across.

“I just envision getting your saddle there—not your horse, not the head, not the flank, but your saddle in general, because if you get your saddle to each of those points, the shoulders are clear,” Domann said. “On the first barrel, to me, there’s two points of that turn. I want to ride my saddle to each point, get my saddle clear and drive to the next point. Then they’re loaded at each of those points. The second barrel has three points, and the third barrel has two points to the turn. If the hind end hits those positions, they can drive out of that turn.”

girl riding horse straight
Jessie Domann rides squares on her barrel horses during dry work to reinforce driving the hip to a point and snapping the shoulders across. Photo by Abigail Boatwright

Domann expects her barrel horses to run true across the pen, hit their points around the barrel and finish the turn without needing to be pulled on. She says a lot of issues like bowing off the turn or dropping in early come from lack of shoulder control.

“Straight is fast. I work squares and points. At each point, I want to move the front end, move the shoulders across. If you can control the shoulders, you can shut the clock off,” Domann said. “With speed, a lot of times if they don’t move the front end it’s because they’re not moving the shoulders and they’re hanging to the outside of the turn. From doing cutting, I want to just put my hand down and have them follow. It’s the same thing in barrels—I just open the door, and they come right through there.”

To accomplish this feel, she doesn’t ride in circles during daily riding.

“When I ride my squares, I just keep picking that next spot. When I get my saddle there, I want to feel that horse reach across with his shoulders and drive to the next spot,” Domann said. “They’re not getting sick of the barrel but they’re doing every move they would do on the barrel. I’m teaching shoulder control and I’m working on me getting my saddle to each position and then asking the horse to do the maneuver. I want him to hinge like a door at each of those spots where my saddle gets to that position.”

—> Watch: Angie Meadors’ Straight-Line Drill

This precise body control on a horse that can run straight and balanced is Domann’s key to excelling in each discipline, whether the horse is hitting its spots around a barrel or getting up to a cow.

“It’s all about getting in position. We want to get to the head of the cow to keep that cow back, and it’s no different getting to my spot beside that barrel,” Domann said. “A lot of it transfers. You need to be confident in where you’re going and trust the horse that when you get to that spot, they’re going to come around. I think when they’re broke and can move their shoulders, that’s the biggest part of trusting them to come back to you.”


Blanche Schaefer is an avid barrel racer and managing editor of Barrel Horse News. Email comments or questions to [email protected]

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