Updated: Apr 24
All Rights or All lefts is a great exercise for all horses to make barrel turns consistently with balance, collection and forward implusion. This exercise is also great for horses just getting started on the pattern
or for long bodied horses that need get collected around the barrel.
Horses naturally carry 60% of their weigh on their front end. This often lead them travel like they are running down hill, when the approach the barrel they drop their shoulders toward the barrel. Many horses will even almost stick their head on the top of the barrel, plant their front end, and spin their hind quarters around the barrel then race off to the next barrel. I strongly feel that as these horse then increase their speed on the pattern; turning in this fashion then causes them to get sore backs.. but more on that later!
For a horse that runs to the right…Instead of practicing the traditional pattern, for all rights you will start by traveling to your right hand barrel, circling the barrel once or twice. I prefer 2 circles which does not allow your horse to cheat and be strung out on the backside but instead, helps your horse bring his inside hing leg up and under themselves to be able to power out of the turn better once you do make a run. Then go to your third barrel and turn right, then go to your second barrel and turn right. Continue on until your horse can complete this competently at a consistent speed. For all lefts, you will start going to the second barrel first and turn left, then go to the third barrel and turn left, then finish by turning left at your first barrel.
In this first video is the Amazing Zara who was not familiar with this exercise even though her horse has been running barrels for many years. He is a long bodied horse so it is harder for him to collect up and get around the barrel. I call it getting your horse to be like an accordian. Does anyone remember that musical instrument also called a squeeze box? It compacts and expands to a very small then very large size. This is what we ask our horses to do… Stretch.. expand and run between the barrels, then compact, collect and make a tight turn. Here Zara is asking for her horse Cash to trot around the barrel with equal distance all the way around the barrel and at the same speed with fluent movement.
This exercise depends on three principles:
Lift: In order to help your horse learn this you need to think about elevating your horses front end (think of it as popping a wheelie a bit) and keep them moving past the barrel and not stopping and diving into (tipping towards) the turn at the barrel. To do this you will need to slightly elevate the hand toward the barrel you are approaching and bring it back slightly toward your front pocket. (I call it putting your money.. in your pocket!) Elevating your hand will pick your horses inside shoulder up and tipping away from the barrel and bringing it back slightly is asking your horse to slow down for the turn and “be an accordian”. Doing this also helps bring your horses inside back leg up and reaching forward, keeping forward momentum and round his back and protect it in the turn. Think of the long jumper or heavy weigh lifter.. they start their jump/lift in a crouched, compact form then start there jump/ lift. If they started from a normal standing position they have less power and are more likely to hollow their back out and suffer injury.
Bend: You also need to keep the amount of bend in your horse consistent and correct. We have a horse here at the ranch that really wants to over bend around the barrel.. we call him Gumby! You really need to travel around the barrel with your horse bent such that you just see the corner of his eye. If you cannot see his eye, he is not bent enough and is not engaged in his work… Gently wiggle your fingers to get his head bent and his attention back on what you are asking him to do. If you see more than just the corner of your horses inside eye, he is over bent… such as horses who tend to rubberneck and put their head on the top of the barrel. When your horse does this.. they lose their forward momentum. Horses drive forward from their rear ends… so if their front end stops around a barrel… their hind then has to go somewhere.. and it either collides with the front end.. jamming their backs up.. or spins around the front end and the barrel. Some horses can actually turn pretty efficiently that way, however they have to spin around until their hind end gets around the barrel, then hesitate before being able to push forward to the next barrel… costing precious seconds.. and increasing chance of injury. Depending on what is going on as your horses is over bending .. you can correct this by 1) asking your horse to move forward with more impulsion which will help them straighten out 2) bring your hand slightly forward and bump and release your reins repeatedly across his neck to encourage him to straighten his bend (but be careful if you bump to hard or hold your rein to long you will make the problem worse) or 3) use two hands and your inside hand (toward the barrel) will be slightly up to get your lift, but your outside hand will be low and back toward your pocket to get the right amount of bend. You may need to circle your barrels several times practicing how to get your horse to keep the correct amount of bend, while maintaining forward momentum and not getting “sticky” on the barrels.
Drive: Finally, you as a rider, need to keep driving your horse around the barrel to keep his forward impulsion. I call this the “Angry Turtle”. If you want your horse to be collected and controlled in their turn, you too need your seat and throughout your body engaged and not bouncing around on your horses back. To perfect the “Angry Turtle” you need to think about pulling your belly button in toward your back, round your back and seat like a turtle’s shell would sit on it’s back. Drive forward with your seat bones and use your voice or perhaps even a hand whip to encourage your horse to continue moving forward in a collected manner. Horses new to this will have difficulty keeping collected in your tight circle around the barrel and will try to drop to a trot or shoulder in to the barrel ( causing them to drop to a trot). You must keep enough distance between your horse and the a barrel for them to be able to bend around and keep that consistent distance and speed.
Horses new to the pattern: This exercise is great for horses just starting on the pattern or green horses that are not yet ready or able to switch leads between the first two barrels. Making all rights or lefts helps them learn to travel in-between your reins, allows them to build muscle memory of making consistent turns through repetition with same approach to each turn without having to switch leads or change directions and allows the riders hands to stay consistent and quiet while the horses are learning. At first I am not concerned with how big the circles around the barrel are, just that they are performed on the correct lead, with consistent speed (They are not trying to rush to the next barrel, but have mastered keeping a consistent gait …so if you are loping they are not breaking down to a trot). Allow them to gain confidence with this then move on to your traditional patterning.
The video below is my awesome student Elyssa riding Anna who is a seasoned on the pattern. Slow is fast so if you can get your horse moving consistently through the barrel pattern with the help of this drill it will make your runs faster!
Happy Riding !