Transition Drills by Alissa Kelly
The way a horse runs into a barrel, engages its hind end, and continues forward motion through the turn in a barrel run is always fun to watch. When I am in the practice pen I like to work my horses in a way that resembles what they will need to do in a run. While there are many different drills to do with barrel horses, one of my favorites is working on transitions.
Stopping at your rate points teaches your horse to use it’s hind end and where to do it at during the run. Transitions teach a horse to listen to your body cues. Cueing your horse with your body before you use your hands helps prepare your horse for what you are about to ask. When I want my horse to transition from a trot to a walk I will melt into my saddle and take the slack out of my reins. At first you may have to add a little pressure to the reins. What you want is a smooth motion. When you “melt” you sit deep in the saddle and lower your heels. Sometimes your horse will feel a little rough at first or possibly stop. If this is the case work on this away from the pattern. I like my horses to break at the pole and still drive up underneath themselves with their hind end. I do this by asking my horse to break at the poll while lightly squeezing my legs at the same time. When your horse gives, always be sure to reward by releasing pressure. Practice this first at a walk, then at a trot. Remember to make sure your horse understands what you are asking before you try it in the pattern.
Transitioning when you reach your rate points at the barrels teaches your horse to engage its hind end, while continuing forward motion. I always start with going from a trot to a walk. Then you can also reduce your speed from a lope to a trot. Do not over work this drill. If your still having trouble by the 3rd time through, go back your basics of the drill off of the pattern. My goal is to do a perfect pattern at a trot and perfect one at a lope. I will do this once a week on the average horse. If I have a horse that gets really strung out and is running by barrels, I’ll do this twice a week. One thing I have learned over the years is that this helps a horse that has a lot of natural rate too. Sometimes a horse that really wants to turn will start turning in their front end and get bouncy this helps keep them driving through the turn and encourages forward motion.