Barrel horse trainer Dena Kirkpatrick diagrams her methods of patterning a barrel horse.
World champion barrel horse trainer Dena Kirkpatrick demonstrates specific patterns she uses on the barrel course.
Dena’s patterning method is the acid test of a horse’s barrel-racing basics.
The horse must be able to respond correctly to different kinds of rein and leg pressure in order to successfully use Dena’s pattern for smooth, fast turns.
The Three-Quarters Place
“The ideal turn for a barrel horse is the one that’s the most efficient,” Dena says. “The horse needs to have his body arced and his rear under him going into the turn to help him take as few steps as possible around the barrel.”
A horse with his weight collected on his rear end is automatically light in the front, allowing him to lift his shoulder and flex his body when cued by the rider. He’ll have proper body position coming into the barrel, with his rear end trailing directly behind his front end. He’ll balance his weight on his driving rear end and reach around the barrel with his front feet.
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To create fast turns, Dena has developed the turn system. Here, a running horse turns a first barrel in three jumps, or “reaches.” (At a slower speed, the horse will naturally take more strides to turn the barrel.) After Dena cues the horse to collect himself, she lifts the inside rein against his neck and applies leg pressure to help him arc his body. The horse’s first jump after being cued to collect himself takes him to the back side of the barrel.
As the horse makes his second reach around the barrel, Dena continues to lift his shoulder and arc his body with the inside rein. This second reach takes his front end to the “three-quarters” place, due to its position at three-quarters of the way through the turn.
“At the three-quarters place, the horse gathers his weight on his rear end,” Dena says. “Be sure the barrel is even with his hip and his line of sight to the next barrel is clear before asking him to roll over. Then he can drive off in one smooth motion.”
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To help the horse roll over, Dena lightly pulls his nose around with the inside rein, also using her legs and outside neck rein to encourage him to roll over his hocks. If the rider drives the horse to the three-quarters place properly, the horse will finish the turn cleanly, collected on his rear end and in line for the sprint to the next barrel.
“Every day that I go to the pattern, if the horse tried hard, then I’m happy and I quit for the day. They can’t be perfect every day. Be happy with a little progress,” Dena says.