Entry Strategy For Barrel Racing

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A Barrel racing entry strategy is an important thing to have down pat, especially if you are someone who is considering taking barrel racing very seriously. One of the most crucial aspects of setting up a great run is to develop an entry strategy or strategy for entering the first barrel.

According to AQHA.com: “What’s the fastest path around the cloverleaf barrel pattern? The secret is two things: Consistent entrance and exit points. They’re different for every horse, says multiple AQHA World Championship Show finalist and Professional Horsewoman Missy Wallace of Poolville, Texas. But if you keep them in mind, you’ll set your barrel horse up for faster times. Your only adjustments to the equation will be your horse’s distance to the barrels, which varies with your horse’s size, experience, and athleticism.”- 2018 article “Perfect Your Barrel Racing Path

Why is the entry strategy for the first barrel in barrel racing so important?

The first barrel sets up the rest of your run. Start off well and start off strong with a solid strategy for how you plan to enter your first barrel. Entry strategy can be developed over time as you familiarize yourself with your horse and your run. How you enter your first barrel may change frequently due to arena conditions and even how your horse feels during that particular run.

Training insight: One thing that I have heard clients say over and over through the years is that they will understand the general concept of an exercise or maneuver but not the technicalities or how to problem-solve within the exercise or maneuver. This is where knowing your pattern, practice, and slight adjustments over time can really make a big difference in not only your entry strategy but also your problem-solving strategy during your run, and of which your entry is going to set the stage for the rest of your run. Developing an entry strategy can take time and patience as it involves multiple aspects.

You would think that entering your pattern would be fairly straightforward, right?

It’s not always the case, especially if you are planning on becoming a competitive or professional barrel racer.

If you think about just the entry portion of your run, how many pieces could you break this one maneuver into?

Here is what I came up with:

  • Entering the alleyway
  • Mental preparation and your horses initial preparation
  • Visualize your pattern, your focal point, and how you are going to enter your first barrel, your point of rate, and your axis points.  You can even take your axis points to the next level by learning the biomechanics of axis points HERE.

The other thing I have found incredibly helpful is when you are at home, break your ENTIRE pattern down and practice it piece by piece. This can also help with anticipation and ducking in barrel racing horses.


How do you plan your run off your first barrel?

If your first barrel sets the stage for your entire barrel racing run, then considering your entry strategy carefully will be impactful, but, how do we do this? Let’s walk you through one of the ways to accomplish having a great entry strategy. There are going to be many ways within the industry to proceed with your entry strategy.

Makala’s entry strategy for barrel racing:

I spoke with our head trainer in the barrel racing division here at Rafter 3 Horse Development and this is what she had to say about building a bombproof entry strategy in your barrel racing horse. 

Makala said that one of the most important things to keep in mind is that you need to make sure that your horse is on the correct lead and that they are truly paying attention to you. The alleyway and set up of your entry strategy can be a time where your horse is focusing on everything else going on around them instead of you. Make sure you have their attention and they are preparing for their run. You also want to be mindful and work on furthering your development of feel because you don’t want your horse to have all of their body weight on that inside front leg or have them falling down on their front end, especially when approaching that first barrel or during your exit. 

Exercises to improve entering the first barrel and your entry strategy

There are so many exercises to incorporate when thinking about your entry strategy that can actually impact and aid in the entirety of your run.

Here is a short list of some phenomenal exercises to include and practice:


Practice standing and having your horse wait PATIENTLY in the alleyway and at each barrel.

The number one BEST WAY to ensure you have a great entry strategy is to ensure you are in total and complete control of your horse. You aren’t having to fight with them or constantly remind them to have their manners in place and worrying about what they are doing. Please be aware that this may take a lot of time and practice, but it will pay off in the long run. Practice standing your horse at a barrel and see what happens. Are they antsy? Moving their feet around? Looking all over? OR are they standing still, collected, and focused, awaiting your signal?


-Backing (backing circles, squares, around cones and barrels, in between poles.)

Backing is a great exercise because it is going to build your horses topline and hindquarters. Backing will also help is straightness going forward if you can believe it or not! The stronger your horse is, especially in their hind end, the more powerful, straight, and purpose-driven your runs are going to be.



According to Horse Illustrated’s article “The rollback is a distinctive reining maneuver designed to showcase the performance horse’s athletic ability and willingness to be guided. A fast approach, showy sliding stop, snappy 180-degree turn on the haunches and an explosive takeoff are all important elements to a good rollback, but to achieve these moves you’ll need to master your timing and cues.” This essentially means that for your barrel racing horse, its going to add speed, maneuverability, increase agility, and increase your horses attention span and respect level for you as a rider and handler.


-Side passing and shoulder ins

Side passing your barrel racing horse is an maneuver that is going to help your horse become more responsive to pressure and leg/ rein aid. A first-class barrel racing horse is one that has explosive power and only needs light contact and pressure from the rider to do their job and do it well. Side passing and shoulder ins are both exercises that are going to aid in control building and getting your horse to move their body around and create the arc/ bend within your run that is necessary for the horse to maneuver around the barrel and take off straight and accurately.



I think I always harp on transitions with all of my clients, but, there is good reason for this! Transitions are one of the key pieces in my mind that accentuate listening, responsiveness, and softness in our horses. All of which are essential for curating a “worth their weight in GOLD” classification of barrel racing horse. Transitions are also going to aid in your entry strategy in your barrel racing runs by providing extra control over your horse.

You can practice transitions from all gaits and even get creative with it.


-Generally moving your horses body around and working on maneuverability


Here are some great resources on YouTube for barrel racing drills, training, and getting around a barrel, check them out!

Danyelle Campbell- How to power out of a turn

Charmayne James for Barrel Horse News- Drills

Exercises for barrel racers (Rider fitness)

The TOP 10 Beginner barrel racer mistakes by Fallen Taylor

Related Questions:

What are the best barrel racing saddles?

While this is definitely subject to everyone’s personal taste and likes/ dislikes, our personal favorite here at Rafter 3 currently is: Billy Cook

What is the fastest barrel racing time?

16.63 seconds is the fastest barrel racing time.

Hailey Kinsel and Sister (her horse) ran the fastest time to date at the Dodge City Rodeo. Beyond that, they set ANOTHER record that day for WPRA at 16.63 seconds.

Do you need to have both an entry strategy and an exit strategy in barrel racing?

Yes, you want to have a well thought out and strategized plan for both your entry strategy and your exit strategy.


A final thought on entering the first barrel and entry strategy

Thank you for tuning in today with us and we hope that this article has been helpful in learning your entry strategy and how to approach your first barrel in your barrel racing pattern. There will always be hard work, trial and error, and a learning process involved in riding and competing with horses, but at Rafter 3 Horse Development we aim to bring you helpful training information pertaining to barrel racing horse training.

Make sure you follow along for all of our new article releases! We will see you next Tuesday! Feel free to contact us if you have any questions!


Bible Verse of the day:

John 3:16

For God So Loved The World That He Gave His Only Son So That Whomever Should Believe In Him Should Not Perish But Have Eternal Life. 


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