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Danyelle Campbell’s Circular Tire Drill

One of Danyelle Campbell’s favorite barrel racing drills is her circular tire drill. She uses it to reinforce her horses’ body positioning, take away anticipation and help you ride more correctly. Using tires instead of barrels helps a colt learn footwork and how to turn correctly and keeps a finished horse from sucking toward the barrel like a magnet.

“The tires give me as a rider a guideline of what I’m doing and where I’m going, and it also takes the anticipation away from the horse. I can teach body positioning without a large barrel. A tire is pretty obsolete down on the ground,” Campbell said. “I can teach this horse body positioning and how to move his feet, giving myself a visual aid but without him associating himself to it. For an open horse, it really helps to keep a horse honest throughout a turn without anticipating the turn or diving in like they would at a barrel.”

Campbell stresses that drills are not concrete exercises set in stone. You can always modify drills to fit you and your horse’s needs, and you don’t always need an arena and a set of barrels.

“Drills are in your head—the only thing we do drills for is to reinforce proper body positioning and generally relaxation in our horses, so be creative and come up with your own,” Campbell said. “You don’t always need barrels or tires—you can use bushes, trees, round bales in the pasture, invisible objects on the ground. Drills are simply something we use to better our horses and our horsemanship. Know the goal that you’re trying to achieve and stay consistent and work toward it.”

The Circular Tire Drill

Follow along with the video here:

  1. Set five tires on the ground, allowing ample space between tires to circle around them at a walk, trot or lope.
  2. Variation One: Shaping and Lifting Shoulders — Beginning at a walk, pick one direction to turn all tires. Hold bend in your horse’s body without letting it float out or move in, asking the horse to hold a shape, keep a frame and keep its shoulders up through each circle and in between tires. Turn each tire in a perfect circle and look to the next one like it’s a barrel, holding your horse in position throughout the drill.
  3. Variation Two: Straight Lines and Collection — Turn the tire as if it were a barrel, and let your horse’s head go at the completion of the turn. Walk in a straight line to the next tire and pick the horse up and ask it to collect and soften at the tire, holding your horse in correct position around the tire. Release your horse’s face at the completion of the circle and repeat at each tire. This version will help a horse learn collection, how to gather itself before a turn and get soft through the turn like it needs to in a barrel run.
  4. If your horse can complete the drill perfectly at the walk, move on to a trot, then a lope. Don’t go faster if it’s not perfect at a slower gait.
  5. Don’t let your horse get away with mistakes. Campbell says she won’t allow her horse to start the turn if it’s not soft and set up for the turn. If the horse gets bracey and pushes into the bridle, she’ll skip a tire and lope big circles until the horse softens and readies itself for the turn. Campbell says turning should be the reward for your horse softening and backing off your hands.

She says the circular tire drill is also useful for teaching a horse to accelerate through a turn or helping an impatient horse relax and not rush the turn.

“I’ll get after him if he gets stiff or falls in,” Campbell said. “I’m not going to allow him to make a mistake—I’m using this drill as a way to get my horse right, so I’m going to make sure he’s doing everything exactly the way I want him to.”

The great thing about the circular tire drill is that you can adjust it to whatever training goal you have for the day. The key to getting what you want out of the drill is having a clear goal when you begin, such as “Today I want my horse to stay soft and wait for my cues to turn,” or “Today I want to work on straightening and then collection before the turn,” and work the drill to achieve your goal.

As with any riding exercise, stay patient and consistent with your cues.

“Sometimes you’re going to fumble your way through it,” Campbell said. “This exercise isn’t always as easy as it looks, but we’re focusing on body control. It’s not near as much about the pattern as it is about what my horse is doing. I want him to stay soft and round.”

Article by Blanche Schaefer.

Find instructional videos of this drill and more at