Horse Activities: Barrel Racing

A Western riding sport and traditional women’s rodeo event, barrel racing is a test of speed, agility and skill, with horse and rider galloping around three barrels set up in a triangle in the fastest possible time.

The sport is said to have originated in Texas during the early 20th century. Soon, it was on its way to becoming the first competitive rodeo event in which women could regularly participate. Today, though it remains a popular women’s rodeo event up to the professional levels, barrel racing is also contested by both sexes in amateur and youth classes at rodeos, gymkhanas and O-Mok-See events. In addition, there is intercollegiate barrel racing competition up to the national level.

Barrel racing takes place in an arena and calls for horses and riders to follow a “cloverleaf” pattern around the three barrels, which are set at standard distances. The timing of each run starts when horse and rider cross the starting line. Each horse and rider must round each barrel, successfully execute the pattern and cross the finish line in 60 seconds or less. The horse and rider with the lowest time win.

If a horse or rider knocks down a barrel during their run, a penalty of at least five seconds is added to their time (touching or tipping the barrel incurs no penalty, as long as it doesn’t fall). A departure from the pattern or a run time over 60 seconds will generally result in no score.

The results sometimes come down to a nail-biting 1/100th of a second. In a sport where the top three riders often win cash prizes, this can make the difference between taking home a check and going home empty-handed.

A streamlined, lightweight Western saddle is commonly used in barrel racing. Riders in this sport tend to use Western bridles with single looped reins for easier recovery should they be dropped. The horses used in barrel racing are typically American Quarter Horses or Quarter Horse mixes that are “handy” and can accelerate quickly. Because of the tight turns and lightning-quick movements required, the horses often wear boots to support and protect their legs.