Barrel Racing - Part Two: Training your horse
You must have a large enough area to set up your barrels, though it does not need to be regulation size for training. Dirt is a much better surface because grass can get slippery, which is a danger for horse and rider. Putting large tractor tires around the barrels is a good idea.
1) Walk your horse to the barrels and stop about 10 feet from the barrel by sitting down in the saddle, or with the reins if you have to. Repetition is how the horse learns and always stop at the same point.
Back him up until his hind end is under him -- then move slightly forward asking him to "go walk around the barrel." Keep him a little wide and bring him in as you leave.
Be sure to stay straight in the saddle and do not look at the barrel. Look toward the area where you will next start to turn toward the barrel. Repeat for each barrel and after the third one, turn left to the fence and back to the starting area. Do not practice more than 4 times a week at first.
2) When the horse has mastered the pattern and is stopping on his own at the rate point, begin trotting the barrels. Continue the same pattern of stopping and backing at your rate point that was established in the walking exercises. At this point you should be trotting to the barrels and walking around them. When you start to move away from a barrel push your horse into a trot so he knows he must move out. Repeat for each barrel.
3) Move on after your horse does the trotting very well, but don't rush him. You don't want your horse to get bored, so doing other activities is a must, like poles, cones and trail riding several times a week. This can even be done after the barrel practice.
Now you can start loping the barrels. You must concentrate on lead changes between the first and second barrel. Usually you can feel the lead changes but it's a good idea to have someone watching or take a video to view later to see if your horse naturally slows down at his rate point. Now you should be loping between the barrels and trotting around them. Be sure to push him right into the lope after leaving the barrels. Repetition is the best learning technique.The horse will soon know the pattern pretty well but you should not add speed for at least a year. Just expose your horse to the experience of being in competition and an arena. When at home don't put too much speed, too often. And, once the horse is a seasoned competitor, it isn't necessary to practice the barrels between shows. The most important thing at that point is to keep your horse relaxed and happy by riding trails and team penning, anything but barrels.
If you notice deficiencies in your horses pattern, go back to the slow work and fix the problem before it is a big problem. Always make sure barrel racing stays fun for you and your horse.