So you have a horse that you think can be a barrel horse, or you want to be a barrel horse. How do you know when or if they are ready to get started? I am going to write from my personal experiences, and share with you.
We all get in the mode of: Lets do this, and then we head straight to the pattern. Whether it be right or wrong, who am I to say, but first off let us review a few things. Any horses that I have had in for outside training or riding, or even with giving lessons, yes, they seem to know the pattern, but there are some real important elements of foundation missing. Not with all of them, but generally most of them. Without a foundation, when your horse blows up, which they eventually will, you have nothing to fall back on, or to go back to, to reinforce the basics.
First of all, can your horse stop? And I don\’t mean lean into the bit and trickle down, pushing on you the whole way with their back end trailing behind and bouncing on their front end. Can they stop, use themselves, be smooth, have timing, and respond to your body cues?
Secondly, can they cross over with their front end, not swinging their hind out, and do a proper roll back by pivoting on their hind foot?
Shoulder control – does your horse respond to when you pick them up with the bit, or is it a power struggle?
Can you lope a smaller circle, or any sized circle for that matter, and have their hip engage underneath itself?
Also, are they soft in the face? When you put pressure on their mouth, do they give? Are you in charge of the throttle?
At any time, whether it be on the ground or on their back, you can reinforce all of the above. Manners are what it comes down to. I am not condoning being cruel; but have a respectful boundary, especially for safety.
Personally, if your horse cannot do some of these, or any of these, I would advise working on it and staying away from the pattern until it know these things. A horse does not have to be wound up and crazy to be able to run barrels and compete. They need to be broke, and be able to be efficient where those hundredths of a second counts. Without these basics, a horse cannot work to their full potential and will either end up hurting themselves, scaring themselves, or not lasting very long as a barrel horse. I work on these things daily, for me and for the horses I ride. Whether you are going for a joy ride, or practice, always ride and practice with a purpose. Bring out the champion in both you and your horse. Everybody has different opinions on what it takes to make a barrel horse, but this is what has worked for me.
Take what you like from it and best of luck.