Can Imaginary Drills Fix Common Barrel Racing Problems?

Embrace a little delusion and try out these drills from NFR cowgirl and million-dollar contender, Stephanie Fryar.
Stephanie Fryar barrel racing at Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo
After winning the first performance in Bracket 6, Stephanie Fryar advanced to the Wildcard Round. FWSSR Photo by James Phifer.

Stephanie Fryar weighs in on her drills that involve using your imagination and explains how they can help fix common barrel racing issues.

Next week, Stephanie Fryar has the potential to become rodeo’s first overnight female millionaire at the WCRA’s Rodeo Corpus Christi. We’re sharing some of her life stories and great training tips, in her words that have helped her qualify for multiple NFR’s and positioned her for the chance at the $1 million payday in the days leading up to the event.

Stephanie Fryar: You’ve already heard that I used to team rope, but you know I don’t do it much anymore outside of playing around roping the dummy. I mean hey, Frank actually has a lot of cow to hin, and maybe if I was retired and had the funds, I’d just go enter roping jackpots with him.

At the current moment, I don’t have any cattle and I don’t have a roping setup. But sometimes, I just need a horse to slow down, listen to their fundamentals or I need to fix an issue that has to be done well away from the barrel pattern. This is when I’ll pull the barrels down and rope invisible cattle.

Yes, invisible cattle.

I do all the things I would do if I was riding a real rope horse. I’ll make them track, move across the pen, move their hip, move their face.

I also pretend I’m a cutter sometimes. I’ve been on a cutting horse exactly two times in my life, but I really enjoy the mechanics of it. I’ll cut invisible cows on my horses. You can easily teach horses to travel in a straight line by doing this, and then show them how to get in an athletic position and get prepared to do something: turn, rate, etc. This helps train those quick-twitch muscles without creating anxiety around the pattern.

I also have a quarter-mile track around my place. I will exercise and clear one’s head. Move in, move out, travel in that straight line, that’s what we work on. Nothing has to be hard. It’s great for their brains, fitness and learning how to move in various ways.

So don’t let the lack of a roping setup, cattle, or any anxiety or fear that your horse may have in those situations hold you back from the positive things you can work on. If all you have is a pasture to exercise your horse in, there’s plenty of things you can do when it’s safe to condition and tune your horse without ever needing to set a barrel up. Just use your imagination.

And to build on that—not every fake or real drill you have to do needs to be at full-speed, half-speed or even a lope. I think whenever people think of fixing issues on their barrel horses or trying to work out a specific problem, they think they have to do it quickly or aggressively. Lots of times the trick to being fast is slowing down and working through it step-by-step until everything clicks into place.

I had to learn that on Selena, the mare I talked about last week who took me to my first NFR, and reapply it to many horses after her. Pulling your horse off the pattern when you’re tuning and taking a step back to work on those fundamentals and basic concepts will usually help both of you. So as you’re doing each of these, and the drills we’re talking about in the next articles, remember: You have to slow down to be fast.

In Parts 5 and 6, we’ll get into the drills I use with real obstacles like barrels and poles, plus some of my philisophies behind training barrel horses.