Patterns for the Weekend: Cloverleaf Drill

This drill commonly is used with barrel horses, but it’s great for all horses.

There are many versions of this drill. We recently saw it posted on the Rodeo Kids Facebook page, but a lot of people are familiar with it from Clinton Anderson as well.

If you’re a barrel racer, this is a great drill to if you have problems with your horse diving into the barrel, stiffening up in their approach, or losing their correct body position as they get closer to the pocket. Even if you’re not a barrel racer, it’s a great way to make sure your horse is listening to you, holding up its body through turns, and loping on a loose rein. It can also be really helpful to get an antsy or hot horse to relax.

The great thing about this drill is that it can be done almost anywhere. You don’t need an arena of a fancy set up — just a flat, safe area to work you horse.

The drill can be performed at all gaits, but you’re best to start your horse at a walk or a trot. The pattern is essentially a four-leaf clover with a barrel placed in the center (Anderson does not have the barrel in the drill — it can be effective both ways).

Do circles in each of the four quadrants of the designated area. Go the same direction, always staying on the same lead (once you’re loping) and keeping the barrel on the same side for each of the four circles until you stop and change directions.

For those whose goal is riding one-handed, start this drill two-handed and stay that way until your horse builds its consistency. Only then should you try it two-handed. Begin by lifting your inside hand slightly above your outside hand. Hold it steadily, without bounce the rein on the bit. Don’t cross the center of the horse’s mane with your inside hand — simply elevate it slightly above the shoulder. The goal here is to block and lift the inside shoulder. Squeeze or bump your outside calf against the horse’s belly, close to the back cinch area. This will push the hip to the inside. Don’t over do moving the hip in — you want the horse traveling just slightly to the inside of a straight line for the drill.

The goal is to get your horse to pass by the barrel on a straight line, with a consistent headset, cadence, and body position. Once you get 1-2 honest efforts from your horse, stop and praise them. Then try the other direction.

Clinton Anderson’s variation has no barrel in the center, and he explains how it keeps the horse from anticipating and softens the horse. Here’s Anderson’s explanation and demonstration of the drill:

We look forward to offering more exercises to help you and your horse improve. Have a pattern you’re dying to share? Feel free to send it our way. Email the pattern with a diagram to [email protected]. Be sure to put “Patterns for the Weekend” in the subject heading.