Pattern webRyan Lovendahl uses the Big Three Barrels exercise to work on all elements of the barrel pattern away from the cloverleaf. Photo by Danika KentFrom the futurity pen to the rodeo arena, horses from Ryan Lovendahl’s program have excelled under riders of all ages and skill levels, from the high school ranks to the National Finals Rodeo.

The secret to their success? Lovendahl takes a different approach, literally and figuratively. Whether they’re coming from a side alley or a short score, running on shifty silt or cement-like ground, Lovendahl is confident that his horses will do their part to set up for a balanced turn.

“A lot of people have focused on the style of a horse’s turn, but I think one of the most important things is the approach,” he explains. “One of the reasons these rodeo horses have done so well is they’ve been broke to end up at one spot at the barrel and they’re going to turn it no matter what direction they’ve come from.”

Dry work
It is no accident that much of the legwork for Lovendahl’s precise approach is done away from the pattern. Too many trips through the pattern paired with too few prerequisites creates more confusion and time spent problem solving.

“When a horse starts anticipating, you find yourself working on the things he is trying to do,” Lovendahl says. “If you’ve taught him to listen to what you’re asking him to do, he’s going to stay a lot more balanced. Later in his career, when you get on bad ground or in a situation he’s not used to, the fact that he is broke enough to let you help him instead of aggressively trying to do things on his own is what will keep him sound.”

Lovendahl devotes due diligence, therefore, to making sure the horse is broke enough to the inside rein that he’s not leaning on his hand, and broke enough to the outside rein that he doesn’t have to pull on the horse’s face. A mutual understanding of hand position is also important, as it has direct bearing on the horse’s stride.

DOTM02 webLovendahl moves his hands from a forward position as he approaches a barrel back to his hip to finish the turn. Photo by Danika Kent“When I approach a barrel and go up into my pocket, I want to be able to run my inside rein up the horse’s neck and have that horse to continue on a straight path without getting out of position. If my hands are up and toward that horse’s ears, he’s going to be running as hard as he can go. As soon as I start coming back toward my body with my hands, he’s going to start crawling down into the ground and getting ready, and then on that back side, he’s going to be in position to make a balanced turn.

“I’m not one to grab an outside rein in order to get the horse up into a barrel,” he adds. “It may be a quick, easy fix, but I personally have never seen it last or work very well at rodeos or when the ground is not optimal. If you’re going to get into a pulling match, nine times out of 10, either the horse or the ground is going to win.”

The Big Three
With the fundamentals in place, Lovendahl introduces his rendition of this inline barrel exercise that he refers to as “The Big Three Barrels.” While he uses this exercise primarily to fine-tune the approach, he says it can improve every aspect of the pattern – like rating, the turn itself and transitions between barrels. Although he typically sticks with all right or all left turns as he works through each set, he will mix in a few changes in direction to teach a horse to cross over for the second barrel.

“I’m just teaching the horse to leave one barrel and go on to the next, staying relaxed and soft and supple. If he starts getting ratey and anticipating the turn, I’ll pick up my inside rein a little harder and use some inside leg to move him off of that barrel. I won’t even turn it, I’ll just go on down to the next barrel. When a horse gets on its front end, he’s not standing up straight enough to clean up the back side of that turn. I want him to stay relaxed and smooth and crisp without getting ahead of himself, and this pattern allows me to do that.”

DOTM03 webIf a horse gets too ratey, Lovendahl picks him up with extra emphasis from his inside hand and leg to move him off of the barrel and go on to the next one in line. Photo by Danika KentThe key is for the horse to stay up and moving forward with the trainer’s hand until asked to do otherwise. Once a horse is transitioning from barrel to barrel smoothly, Lovendahl switches his focus to the back side of the turn.

“I’ll let him start stepping around the back side by shortening my inside hand up. If he’s a little late on the back side, I’ll add outside rein and then outside leg so that as we progress on this drill, as soon as that horse feels me shortening my hand toward my hip, he’s going to shorten up his stride, rock back on his hip and get his front end accessible to me, so that as soon as I’m clear of the barrel, I can ask him and he’s going to be able to step across and head off to the next barrel.

“When you take the horse to the pattern, all of those tools should be there,” Lovendahl summarizes. “The horse shouldn’t care if those barrels are set up in a straight line or if they’re set up in a normal barrel pattern. You should be able to cruise that horse across the pasture and as he sees the barrel coming, whatever your hands do, he should just get ready with you. He’ll run up there as hard as he can go because he has the confidence that he knows what you’re going to ask him to do, and he’s going to go until you ask him to quit.”


DOTM04B webBlazin Jetolena and Ryan Lovendahl. BHN file photo
One of the greatest appeals of the futurity world is the fresh set of promising horseflesh that gifted trainers are charged with molding into barrel racing greatness each year. Every day for twelve months – and in many cases, a period of time leading up to the horse’s futurity year – horse and human bond over emotional and physical triumphs and trials. They share in each other’s shining moments, some which may never be paralled. The downside, however, is that when the curtains close on the futurity year, these horses most often return to their owners or otherwise move on to the next chapter of their lives. Their trainers consider themselves lucky to so much as follow their success from a distance.

Such was the case with Ryan Lovendahl and Blazin Jetolena. The pair won an impressive seven of 11 futurities in 2003, the futurity year of the stallion by Lenas Sugar Daddy out of Blazin Jennie Jet, by Jet of Honor. With earnings of $73,890 according to Equi-Stat, “Jet” was the No. 1 money-earning barrel horse in the nation that year. But all good things come to an end. Or do they?

Jet went on to continue his competitive career and settled into his role standing at stud at Blazin Quarter Horses. Lovendahl would go on to ride many of his offspring and carry on the winning tradition. In 2009, Lovendahl kept the legacy ablaze when he jockeyed Jet to the Sweepstakes championship at the Fizz Bomb Classic and his daughter, Sheza Blazin Move, then owned by Tag and Natalie Rice, to top honors in the second go of the event’s futurity class. “Movin” has since added two National Finals Rodeo qualifications to her resume under Chisty Loflin. Other notable offspring include Catch The Rain, Jackie Jatzlau’s Diamonds and Dirt Barrel Horse Classic Derby winner, the futurity and derby standout Jet O Red, ridden by Nicole Love, and numerous other pro rodeo, aged- and divisional-event money earners.

In April 2013, Lovendahl was reunited with one of the most significant horses of his career when Jeff and Andrea Busby of Busby Quarter Horses in Brock, Texas acquired Jet from his breeders, Randy Rist and Sue Rist of Blazin Barrel Horses in Tucson, Ariz., to implement him into their own breeding program.

“When you have a horse of his caliber and is that awesome to be around, when the day comes that you have to give him back to his owners and let him do his breeding career, those are tough days,” Lovendahl concedes. “When I got off him, it was to give him to Melanie Southard to let her try to make the NFR, which she ended up doing. I never imagined I would have him back in my life, especially to this magnitude. I was pretty lucky to have him come into my life ever. Now, to get to have him pretty much permanently is pretty cool. The Busbys have not only given me the opportunity to ride multiple high-quality horses, but now have added him to the program and brought him to the ranch, and that is very special.”

Blazin Jetolena’s foals are eligible for Future Fortunes, VGBRA Stallion Incentive Program, PESI Stallion Fund and the Hawki Breeders Incentive. For more information on Blazin Jetolena, visit 

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