By Savannah Magoteaux
Barrels. They’re simply 55 gallon drums, but the cylindrical casks are a staple in the lives of barrel racers. From patterning colts to fixing an open horse’s problems, much of a barrel horse’s time is spent circling the barrels. However, constant drilling and pressure around the barrel pattern carries the possibility of souring a horse on the pattern, or boring them with repetition.
Still, there are so many aspects of barrel racing that need to be worked on – especially on a young horse. That’s why futurity trainer Janna Beam introduces and works all her horses on an imaginary barrel drill. It’s brilliant in its simplicity – no barrels are required.
“Horses get tired of the same thing over and over again, and working on the barrels gets boring, so I just try to get away from them a little,” Beam says.
Specifically, she uses the drill to work on the fundamentals of the barrel pattern, including the horse moving away from leg pressure, keeping the horse’s hip up under himself, and moving his shoulder over. Each horse in her training program learns the imaginary barrel drill, beginning at a walk.
“You just imagine there is a barrel pattern there. It doesn’t matter whether you are in the arena or pasture, all you need is your imagination,” she explains. “What I do is picture that barrel’s location, and ride into it like I would in a run or working slow. I do the same things I would schooling around a pattern – I’ll stop them, make them back up, and push their hip to the inside if it’s not where I want it. Then I’ll make sure the shoulder is picked up, and drive them forward and make them shape up through the rib cage.”
Beam will continue to turn the ìfirst barrelî until she’s comfortable with her horse’s position, and then will imagine leaving it.
“When I’m going around the barrel, I’ll go to my horn, and then line up to go to my second barrel,” she says. “When I leave, I’ll cross him over leaving to help him finish the turn, just like I would leaving a real barrel.”
The process is repeated around the second and third barrels. Once the pattern is completed, Beam will typically counter-arc the horse back across himself, and then start the barrel pattern over again.
“At that point, I have basically gone through the whole barrel pattern without any barrels,” she says. “I’ve worked on my horse staying soft and keeping him bridled up. I’ve worked on his shoulder, his hips, being collected, and being relaxed – which is important. What I haven’t done is burn him out going around and around the barrels.”
Once the horse is comfortable at a walk, Beam will increase the speed to a trot, and then to a lope – but she cautions to never exceed a lope on the drill. “Baby steps are important. You’ don’t want to rush it. Remember, you can’t build Rome in a day,” she says.
As the speed of the drill increases, the components stay the same. “At a lope, I’m going to keep my horse shaped up without forcing it too much, and so I have him go very nice and soft around the first barrel,” Beam says. “Then, I’ll break him to a trot, cross him back over, pick up his left lead, and go to the second barrel. “You’re pretty much doing circles, but you’re reiterating the importance of your horse’s hip position, driving forward, staying soft, and keeping his leads,” she adds. “You’re working on a lot of things – including control of your horse.”
When doing this drill, there are a few things to remember:
• Never do the drill faster than a lope.
• Always try to keep your horse relaxed when doing the drill.
• Really encourage your horse to move off leg pressure and cross over himself when leaving the turn.
• Always over-exaggerate maneuvers during slow work, because as speed is added things can fall apart or get sloppy.
Beam’s imaginary barrel drill can have great implications, even if the rider doesn’t realize it. “You can do so many things without a barrel. You don’t always have to go around one. This can work on your horsemanship, on your horse, and the communication between you and your horse, and it doesn’t feel like a drill. This is what I do just to work on me and my horse together without a lot of pressure,” Beam says.
Meet Janna Beam
Originally from Hallsville, Texas, Janna Beam now resides in Mt. Pleasant, Texas, with her husband Jody Brown. “Jody has helped me a lot. I probably wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for him. He’s very positive and is always looking for a better or easier way to do something and he pays attention to details. He’s also a great horseman,” she says.
A career highlight came in 2012, when she won the American Quarter Horse Association Senior Barrel Racing Championship on Perks Advantage. Unfortunately, ìWillie’sî competitive career ended shortly after winning the world title, and Beam decided to transition to training futurity horses. Now with over $300,000 in EquiStat earnings, she’s enjoying success in aged events, recently qualifying two horses (First Shining Cajun and Guys Dash Of Colour) to the Ft. Smith Futurity finals.
“I had always had outside horses but never with the pressure that comes with futurity horses,” she says. “Thankfully people trusted me enough to give me a chance. I have learned a lot since I started and I’m still learning.”
Learn more from Janna at TrainingBarrelHorses.com.
Janna Beam is one of the featured trainers at TrainingBarrelHorses.com. See her demonstrate the Imaginary Barrel Drill and other training techniques now. Use discount code JANNA for 25% off any subscription plan through 2015.