To keep your barrel horse fit, you need to not only exercise his body, but his mind as well. You want your horse to be healthy and sane, and really enjoy what he is doing, so you enjoy it as well. Most seasoned barrel horses do not need to see the barrels in between events , so all these exercises will not include the barrels.

The biggest thing I do for all my barrel horses is trail rides. It keeps them mental fit because they are outside of the arena, and physically fit because of the different terrain you can take them on. If you take your horse out of the ring at least 3 times a week, you both will benefit from it. Even if it is just a jog down the driveway, at least he is seeing something new. If you have nice open trails that are smooth, you can do some long trotting to get your horses muscles working, muscles they will need for barrel racing.

In the arena, you can do many things without using and type of obstacles. The exercises below are great ones for barrel horses.

Spirals
This is probably the most important exercise to use through every phase of a horse’s training and career. It’s good to use on a horse just starting out, for a high-strung horse that needs to calm down, and for an old horse to keep him supple and limber. You can do this at a trot or a lope in either direction.

Pick up a nice big circle, at least half the size of the arena, and put him into a lope in the correct lead. Do not start spiraling in till your horse is relaxed and on the correct lead. Make smaller and smaller circles. Then, when you get to where your horse has to slow down, wait till he relaxes and gives you his nose. Then release him and walk back to your starting point and repeat in the opposite direction, making sure to pick up your correct lead.

This exercise helps a horse with his leads, reinforces his body suppleness, and helps him work off his hocks, the movements he will need when he runs barrels. The exercise also helps condition a horse. It’s also a good way to warm-up.

Fence Arc
It is good to teach a horse how to carry an arc while traveling in a straight line. Start by moving to a fence, have your horses nose tilted to the inside of the arena, and keep his body parallel to the fence. Walk first to adjust your horse to this movement, then into a trot. After your horse is familiar with it you can proceed to a lope. When you get to the end of the fence, let his nose back and slow down to a walk. Turn around and go back down the fence with the opposite side tilted. This helps balance a horse and strengthen him for the arc he needs to turn a barrel. It will also make him light when you ask for his nose.

Figure Eights
Figure Eights are a great exercise for barrel horses. If your horse is stiff, you can use the figure-eight exercise to help supple him. It will also help with his balance.
Start in the middle of the arena. Move your horse out straight ahead, and turn to the right. Ride your horse balanced and even. Move in a circle till you reach your start point, and then ride straight ahead and circle to the left this time. You can do this till your horse feels balanced, and also it is a good warm up.

Rating/Collection
The most important thing. Most problems, specially with the first barrel, come from horses that rate poorly. You should be able to rate your horse at any speed in any exercise. Meaning if you have your horse into a lengthened trot, you should be able to get him down to a collected trot. Practice this by getting your horse into that long trot, and when he feels steady, sit down in your saddle, and collect him, but keep his forward motion. A rate is not a stop. It is an adjustment of stride. A horse needs to collect himself in order to get around the barrel.

Backing
This exercise will teach your horse to get his weight off his forehand, so he uses his hindquarters more efficiently. Back your horse slowly at first, make sure he backs straight. Use your legs to bump him back straight if he veers off the path. It is ok to use a fence to help. Sit straight in your saddle and keep you head up looking straight ahead.

Rollbacks
Some trainers prefer not to teach rollbacks. But they are great for strengthening and teaching a horse to really use his hind end. He needs this to propel himself around the barrel and to push off to the next one.

Begin walking parallel to the fence. Stop and back your horse till he has his weight on his hind end, usually about 3 or 4 steps back. Move you weight very slightly to the outside of the direction you are turning so your horse is able to pick up his front end to turn. Place your outside leg on him and use a direct rein, (indirect rein if needed, only to position, not to pull him around) and ask him to turn, with his nose on the fence.. So, if you are walking with your left side on the fence, you will be turning left, weight shifted to the right, right leg on. As soon as he has completed the turn, make a circle. Ride a around the ring a little, and choose a new spot to do a roll back in the other direction. A rollback is not always running to a corner or selected area of the ring and turning. Do not overdo this exercise. Two or three are good enough for one practice, and maybe every other session.

Reverse Rollback
Start parallel to a fence. Using the fence as an aid if necessary, turn your horses front-end around while keeping his hind end stays still.

Sit straight in your saddle. What you are doing is basically a reversed rollback. You want to start facing one direction, and end up facing the other. But this time, you are moving your horses front end to the inside of the ring, instead of on the fence.

Serpentines
Great exercise! What you are doing is balancing the horse and you. If done at a lope, this well help your horse with lead changes. You basically weave through the arena.
Start at the end of the ring in a corner. Move your horse out straight to the opposite fence on the short side of the ring. As you near the fence, bend your horse slightly, so he keeps forward movement, and do a half circle so you are now heading back the other direction. Do this the whole length of the arena. This can be ridden in a good trot or a lope.

Also doing reining patterns, or any thing you can think of should work! There are several books available with arena exercises in them if you are stumped on what to do next. You want exercises that help your horse to stay balanced, learn collecting and lengthening stride, and ones that will aid him in using his front and hind end.

Here are some exercises you can do using obstacles.

Pole Bending
This event is great for helping a horse with lead changes. It also helps with his mind because he really needs to listen to the riders signals.

Poles are 6ft high and 2 inches in diameter. They are set 21’ft apart and 21ft from the Start/Finish line. You can buy rubber bases for the poles, but they can be expensive. There are a few easy ways to make pole bending bases. Try using patio umbrella stands. They are filled with sand, and are usually adjustable for size. Christmas tree stands work well too. You can usally pick either up at a yard sale for a few dollars.

The pattern consists of 11 turns, your horse goes through the poles twice. You first run past the poles to the end one, turn it and continue weaving through the poles till you get to the end, then weave back. After you have turned the last pole, you run straight home.

Cones
You can set cones up in so many different patterns and take your horse through them. Set them up in different parts of the arena, and put a pattern in your head, then take your horse through it at different speeds. It will help your horse listen to what you are asking of him, instead of just running around what is in front of him.

Jumps
Set up some low jumps, nothing high, to help your horse pick up his feet. Jumping can be fun too! Just watch out for that saddle horn! Be careful and make sure the ground is level where the jump is.

Be creative! Think up new patterns to try. Set the barrels up differently and have your horse go around them different ways each time you go through. Horses like to be stimulated with new things, it helps them to think and to listen to what you are asking next. Have fun with your horse, you both deserve it.

Contributed By: Billie McNamara