There are many advantages to training your horse to do barrel racing, even if you do not plan to compete in professional barrel racing events. Barrel racing can teach balance, collection and being able to pivot at speed. These are qualities needed by dressage horses, jumping horses and even regular hacks. Plus, a short barrel racing session can make a welcome change in your horse's training routine.
Another advantage of barrel racing is that you don't need a lot of space in order to practice. Any corral or reasonably level part of a pasture will do. The footing needs to have some give in it, especially when you begin working at the gallop, or the horse may become injured.
Barrel racing is usually performed with fifty-five gallon empty barrels to circle around. However, if you happen to not have three huge barrels sitting around, you can improvise. Some people tie a few traffic cones or buckets together to be the width of a barrel. Some people draw a circle a foot in diameter with bright chalk. Set them up in a triangle 105 feet apart. If your horse has never barrel raced before and has a long stride, then you can place the barrels 125 feet apart and then shorten the distance when the horse is more coordinated.
Always introduce a horse to do barrel racing at the walk. Give him his head and let him sniff and investigate the strange objects he has to walk around. Always make barrel race training a fun experience and end on a good note. Going around the barrels in the traditional cloverleaf pattern at a walk three or four times a day for a week is more than enough.
You can then progress to trotting. Try this for a week or however long it takes for the horse to go around the barrels and not lose coordination. You also will need to be sure your toes do not point out to the side but straight ahead so that they don't knock into the barrel.
Eventually, the horse can do barrel racing at the canter and then the gallop. This is where some horses get very excited and may try to race all around the arena in excitement rather than sticking to the cloverleaf pattern. Bring the horse gently back to a trot or walk and try again. Always end a session on a good note. Ask the horse to do something that he knows how to do, like backing up two or three steps, and then praise lavishly.