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Build Speed for a Faster Barrel Racing Time

Champion barrel racer Marlene McRae advises how to condition for a faster barrel racing time.

By Marlene McRae | July 31, 2007

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Q: What are some exercises I can do to help build my horse’s speed for a faster time in barrel racing?

A: Having a well-conditioned athlete is the first step to getting your horse to run to his maximum ability.  I like to work my horse every day for the first eight weeks of training, and then decrease the training to four days a week.  The distance I train and the pace I go are the secrets to a well-conditioned horse that has the ability to run faster during a barrel racing competition. 

Condition your horse in long, straight lines whenever possible, as circles are physically hard on a horse.   Here is my conditioning program broken down into each step:

  • Trot one mile
  • Lope one mile on one lead
  • Lope one more mile on the opposite lead
  • The fourth mile: Long trot the first half mile then slow trot the last half mile.

NOTE: Do not walk in between paces.

This totals four miles, which I feel is the optimum distance for building a well-conditioned equine athlete in barrel racing or any event. I want to keep the heart rate up and work it, then bring the heart rate slowly back down. Every third day, I sprint my horse after the third mile in a straight line for about 400 yards. 

You will be impressed how your horse’s muscle tone will change with this type of conditioning program.  Before long, you will find that your horse feels like running and will be quicker around the turns and faster in the straightaways.

Marlene McRae

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Reader Comments

Coco    Harrisburg, PA

12/20/2015 7:25:32 PM

Hello,my barrel horse seems to be getting lazy. He is a 1D but here lately all I can get out of him is 16 sometime's like today a 17 EUCK!!! Any advice? I am getting very upset and I don't know what I can do to improve him. He has a beautiful barrel pattern but is slow. Please help!!! Thank you.

Cally    Sand Diego, AZ

7/24/2014 11:40:55 AM

I like this advise. It got me kick-started for the day. Yes, take it in with a grain of salt because you ultimately should be listening to your horse. They say in this article you need to condition. That is first and foremost. Can your horse even hold you..?

sydney    st. clair, MI

12/24/2013 5:41:51 PM

this helps me alot, i need my horse to be able to hava a faster time. im going to tell my friends as well!

Emma    Page County, IA

5/15/2013 7:48:16 AM

Honestly my horse Amberlee is not the fittest horse after the winter but what I do is make her lope really slow up a steep hill at least five times, and that builds up her endurence. Then later in the season after she is at her best, I put the pole and barrel pattern on the same hill. And have her practice doing the pattern on the hill. So when she gets on the flat arena it is no problem to her and she doesn't break a sweat! She shaved off 6 seconds doing this on both patterns. Now she is running 23 seconds on poles and 16 seconds or less in barrels.

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