If you are currently barrel racing or getting started, you will know that this competition is no easy task.

Making sure you practice and condition your horse correctly will be essential in gaining speed and accuracy.

From the outside, barrel racing can seem easy to bystanders when, in reality, it is a highly technical sport.

In this article, I will walk you through some of the best exercises to improve speed; accuracy, turns around the barrel, your entry and exit, and much more.

We are going to walk you through some key aspects and exercises with the help of our new barrel racing book series.


“A barrel horse is a truly different kind of horse. A champion does not just happen. They are carefully curated over time and with diligent thought, training, conditioning, nutrition, bodywork, and strategy. The most successful barrel racing trainers have a solid program and schedule for each horse. They stick to their regimens religiously and are successful because of it.”-Horsemanship 101: Barrel Racing Series By: Augustus M Walton


Conditioning for the barrel horse

Conditioning your barrel horse is one of the critical aspects of having high-power and successful runs.

You want your horse to be capable of providing explosive runs and quick, accurate turns.

The best way to accomplish this is with proper conditioning and exercises.

Barrel horses need different activity and conditioning than a typical performance horse.

They combine pattern work with racing, and you need to approach your training in a manner that will cater to both of these aspects. 


“With a training program, there is no one size fits all approach. Every day needs to be planned and have a purpose. The easiest way to start implementing purpose-driven days is by starting early and making a list. Write down everything you plan on doing that day, realistically. Then you need to follow through with getting it done.”-Horsemanship 101: Barrel Racing Series By: Augustus M. Walton


After you have a carefully laid out plan in place, the next aspect is sticking to this plan and following through each, and every day you plan on working your horse.

You want to get in and get what you need to do accomplished without wasting time.

Many people have issues with their horses not knowing when it’s time to work and when it’s time to not.

One of the most significant ways to combat this is creating a routine that teaches your horse when it’s “go” time.

This will benefit your training and conditioning time because it will set both you and your horse up for success and a working attitude. 


“The horse’s biomechanical skill set really breaks down to gate analysis and a horse’s objective performance ability. This is going to vary by horse. There are no exact set standards, but if you train your horse in a way that works with their body, you will see excellent results compared to just simply winging it. Train each horse as an individual and tailor your program day by day or even week by week to what that specific horse needs. 

When we are speaking of a horse’s neuromuscular coordination in layman’s terms, that just means we are talking about their central nervous system’s ability to adapt to new skills and exercises. Having coordination is imperative in barrel racing because getting around a barrel properly takes careful foot placement at high speed. 

Setting up a basic training program should involve a 3 to 4-step process of different training and conditioning activities.”-Horsemanship 101: Barrel Racing Series By: Augustus M. Walton


Simplistically, these steps are:

  1. Warm-up + Trotting/ lunge line work.
  2. Strength training.
  3. Speed and stamina training.
  4. Cool-down period.


With these steps in place, you can create a successful program that will benefit you and your horse.

You both are competitive athletes, and that should always be kept in mind. 


Conditioning for the rider

While training our sport horses is one of the critical aspects to obtaining your goals, your own conditioning and fitness are equally as important.

This does not mean that you have to become a bodybuilder, but working on your own balance and strength is going to amplify your runs, especially in regard to turning around your barrels.

Whether we are aware of it or not, as riders, our balance and abilities in the saddle will directly impact our horses and their center of gravity and drive.

This is called rider biomechanics, which breaks down the way our bodies interact with our horses and affects their movement patterns and weight bearing.

The horse, as they move, shifts their center of gravity towards their hind end as they move forward with propulsion.

This shift in weight helps the horse drive off of its rear end and create the propulsion needed to get around the barrels and take off in a straight line toward your next barrel or home. 


Exercises for speed and accuracy

“Barrel racing differs from a lot of different disciplines in the sense that most people are training their own horses at home instead of sending them full-time to a trainer. If you don’t have a proper foundation, your horse will not know how to listen or move off of your leg. Your horse will not know how to properly stop, have collection, back-up, or use its body. If your horse cannot create a bend in its body and lift its rib cage, you will not be able to get around a barrel very well. Part of having a solid foundation is also the beginning of creating a proper “rate” in your barrel horse. Rate is the ability of a horse to slow down and prepare through its body to turn properly and then be able to exit that turn around the barrel with extreme power and speed.”-Horsemanship 101: Barrel Racing Series By: Augustus M. Walton


The basics of speed and accuracy would be having a solid foundation and performing foundation-building exercises every time you ride.

No matter the age or skill level of your horse, you need to constantly bring it back to the basics and solidify them each ride.

Every advanced maneuver you ever wish to perform with your horse stems from your foundation.

Many times, people will believe their foundation is solid, when in reality, it may not be as stable as initially thought to be. 


Some things you can do to improve speed and accuracy within your basic foundations are:


Exercises to improve your turns

In barrel racing, one of the essential aspects of your run is the ability to “rate.”

Rate is the process that the horse goes through in order to prepare for and turn around a barrel and exit with power and straightness. 


“Rating is the process of slowing down before a barrel to prepare for a turn. Your goal should be for your horse to shorten his stride and rock back on his hind end.”- Horsemanship101: Barrel Racing series By: Augustus M. Walton 


Working on your rate will be a component of the pattern you should be practicing daily.

It is crucial to break your patterns down into pieces, practice these pieces individually, and then put them all back together and work on the transitionary points within the pattern.

Doing this will enable you to hyper-focus on one area that needs attention at a time and give you a better chance of fixing the problem points thoroughly and one step at a time.


“Begin by warming your horse up properly, doing a bit of lateral work, and getting their muscles and joints warmed up. Practice taking the shoulder away and bringing it back, and asking them to move laterally on a straight line while maintaining forward momentum. After you feel that your horse is listening, warmed up, and ready to work, you can begin by facing toward the barrel.”-Horsemanship 101: Barrel Racing Series By: Augustus M. Walton


Creating and maintaining bend and being capable of preparing for angles is extremely helpful for barrel racers.

This makes the opportunity to turn around the barrel a possibility.

If you can’t set yourself up, you will fail around your barrel.

This is also the beginning of the process of teaching rate to your horse.

You want to teach your horse to prepare for the turn so that it can happen smoothly and effectively.

A good barrel horse will be able to rate well on its own with practically no help over time and with lots of practice. 


“There are a few different issues that can happen when approaching a barrel. Your horse may drop their shoulders or start a turn too soon and come into the pocket area by the barrel. “-Horsemanship 101: Barrel Racing Series By: Augustus M. Walton


Working on your entry strategy

“If you are new to barrel racing, you may not know it, but the race actually starts in the alley. The alleyway becomes a critical factor in creating a consistent, correct, and quick run. A lot of riders experience issues in the alleyway, and this will directly impact their run and ruin their chances of winning before they even have the opportunity to get around the first barrel.

The First thing you need to do to ensure success in the alleyway is to think about what your plan is and how you are going to accomplish it. Look at the pattern and visualize in your head how you want to run every single piece of it. Pick the pattern apart, and think about every single turn and every single straight away. Where exactly does your horse need to be, and what do you need to do as a rider to accomplish all of these tasks? It is also essential to think about how your horse reacts in the alleyway and adjust how you set him up based on that aspect as well.”- Horsemanship 101: Barrel Horse Training Handbook By: Augustus M. Walton


If the race starts in the alleyway, then so should your entrance strategy.

Many times, one of the most common issues that present themselves in the alleyway is a horse that is antsy and too excited to properly set up for a winning run.

A great way to work towards solving this problem is to actually take your horse out and practice just standing and listening in the alleyway.

You may be able to do this at your home barn if you have an alleyway, or you may be able to haul to a local fair or show grounds on open nights.

Getting past alleyway issues can help you be able to set yourself and your horse up for a clean and proper run. 


Working on your exit strategy

Your entry and exit strategy are just about equal in importance, as is every single piece broken down within your pattern. To put together a lovely, strong, correct, and fast pattern, you have to break it down. When focusing on a strong exit strategy after coming around the last barrel and heading for home, one of the most important things you can keep in mind and practice would be an arrow-straight line. Have a focal point, or spot somewhere that you direct your vision to act as a guide for straightness. You and your horse are going to end up going wherever you look due to our bodies naturally following our heads, and our hands naturally lead where our heads go, and our hands are connected to our horse, which is guiding much of what you do (communication wise) with your horse. 



In this article, we focused on breaking down the parts of your pattern to focus on accuracy and efficiently addressing problems localized in each part of the pattern. We wrote this article based on our book series Horsemanship 101: Barrel racing By: Augustus M. Walton, available to listen to or read on Amazon.com. 


There are multiple books available in this series; they can be found here in the links below:

Horsemanship 101 Barrel racing training guide

Horsemanship 101: Barrel Racing Tips, Tricks, and How to Succeed

Horsemanship 101: Barrel Racing & Barrel Horse Training


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