Running barrels: Speed and control

Training sessions begin with a warm-up on the barrels. Burger says, “I go around barrels to work on the sidepass. I may go to the left and pick out the second barrel, circle it, go on around and then go around the third barrel. As I go around the barrel, I may start trotting to the right and then pick out the right barrel and go around it. We go through these kind of exercises until I get some response from the horse in learning to pick up the shoulder and upper body. I do that along with the poles at the same time.”

After warming up the horse, Burger works on the poles. She trots her horse down the right side of the pole pattern, using the same basics she will on the barrels. “I pick the horse’s inside or left shoulder up, maybe giving them a little bump if they need it, so they have a pocket or some room to make the turn. When we get around that turn, we want to come off of the first pole tight. Then, as soon as we get by that first turn, I pick up the opposite rein and move the horse's shoulder up and over to the right so when we get to the next pole I can just switch hands, pick him up, and move that shoulder off to the left.”

Burger stresses the importance of picking up the rein on the inside shoulder immediately after each pole. “You need to make them leave room so that you set yourself up for the next shot,” she explains. “You have to make sure you’ve got your pocket coming into a turn because you need to have room for the horse to drop his shoulder for a smooth turn. When you do that, you can come off of that pole or barrel tight so you can set yourself up for the next pole or barrel in the same manner.”

Marcia King is an award-winning writer specializing in equine, pet, and veterinary topics.

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