Barrel Racing: All You Need To Know About This Intense Sport

Barrel racing is a fast, intense, and dangerous sport that is seen mainly in rodeos and other western riding competitions. Believe it or not, mostly women and girls compete in barrel racing and usually men and boys will compete only at the youth and smaller rodeo competitions.

What Is Barrel Racing?

Barrel Racing is a timed event where horse and rider must run around three barrels as fast as possible. The barrels are arranged in a triangular shape and the horse and rider must run around them in a clover-leaf formation without knocking over any of the barrels. The fastest team with the best score wins.

Where Did Barrel Racing Originate?

The first barrel racing competition was intended for women only and was actually the first equine sport women could compete in. The first official barrel racing began in 1928 in Stamford, Texas, and only consisted of two barrels. Horse and rider would run for the barrels, go right around the first, then left around another, and race back as fast as possible.

The barrel racing we know today, consisting of three barrels, didn’t start until 1935. It was in this year that a third barrel was added. Though this was the year that modern barrel racing began, it wasn’t really judged professionally until 1949.

It is thought that barrel racing became an official sport in 1948. It was first recognized as a sport in that year by the WPRA (Women’s Professional Rodeo Association) and true timed and judged barrel racing competitions began the following year (1949).

What Is Expected Of The Horse?

In barrel racing, the horse is expected to gallop to the barrels and run around the first barrel and turn as fast as possible without knocking it over. The horse would then gallop to the second. When turning around the second barrel, the same is expected as when turning around the first. A horse should turn as tightly as possible around the barrel without knocking it over. After rounding the second barrel, the horse will then gallop to the third barrel, turn it without knocking it, and gallop as fast as possible out of the barrel pattern and back through the gate.

The clover-leaf pattern should be completed in the shortest time possible without knocking any barrels over. Horses and riders are allowed to touch the barrels, but not tip them over or bump into them.

Do Barrel Horses Like Their Job?

I have friends who run barrels with their horses and from what I’ve heard, their horses absolutely love running the pattern. Some horses can’t hardly even be held back from running the pattern as fast as they can at just the sight of barrels. Horses like to please their owners, riders, and handlers so if the horse is trained to run this specific pattern they feel it is their duty to do it the best and fastest they possibly can.

I think that this sport is something that some horses love to do.

Is Barrel Racing Dangerous?

Barrel racing is one of the more dangerous sports in the equine world. Part of this is because the riders aren’t required to wear helmets. Another reason that barrel racing is considered dangerous is because the horses are running and turning so fast that there is a chance the horse or rider may fall. This is not a rare occurrence and serious injuries caused by falls are seen frequently in this sport.

Barrel Racing Patterns

Barrel racing is run in a pattern that is shaped like a clover-leaf. Horses can start the pattern by running for the right barrel first but must end on the furthest barrel. The horse will do a figure eight around the first two barrels then loop around the last before running back toward the gate.

Barrel Racing Penalties

The main penalty given to a horse running the barrel pattern is given when a horse knocks over a barrel. The consequence for knocking the barrel is an additional 5 seconds is added to the horse and rider’s time. Sometimes, knocking a barrel makes the horse’s time too slow to win the competition.

World Record Barrel Racing Time

The fastest clocked barrel race time was 13.11 seconds. This achievement was won by a rider named Hailey Kinsel who was riding a Palomino horse named DM Sissy Hayday “Sister.” This mare was just 6 years old at the time of her achievement!

How Old Does A Horse Need To Be Before It Starts Running Barrels?

A horse shouldn’t be too young when starting to run barrels for health risks to a growing horse. The youngest age I would ever consider to be okay is three to four years old.

Horses shouldn’t be started in this sport too young because of how tough this sport is on their bodies, especially their legs. The cartilage needs to have fused in their joints before they should be ridden at all, let alone used to barrel race.

At What Age Should A Horse Stop Running Barrels?

A horse will usually let their rider, owner, or handler know when they are ready to be done. Horses should not be used for this high intensity sport over the age of 20 to 25 depending on the horse’s health. One of my friends used an old gelding named Fireball for competitive barrel racing right up into his mid 20s. Some horses can engage in these activities more often and longer than others.

What Do Barrel Racers Wear?


Because Barrel racing is a western sport, most barrel racers are seen wearing cowboy hats before, during, and after their runs.


Boots with a good heel are a must when running barrels. The last thing you want to happen is to have your foot stuck in the stirrup, fall, and get dragged through the arena. Wearing a good sturdy pair of western cowboy boots with a heel will keep this from happening.


Not all barrel racers will wear spurs at it depends on the horse. If a horse requires spurs, then spurs will be used when strapped to the rider’s boots. Some horses need the rider to use spurs to drive the horse forward faster, while other horses don;t require the extra encouragement to run.


Any shirt is acceptable to wear when running barrels. T-shirts and button up flannels are the most common shirts to see being worn by a rider in this competition.


Boot cut jeans are a barrel racers best friend when it comes to clothing. Boot cut jeans cover the top part of the rider’s boot and are relatively comfortable to wear.

Barrel Racing Tack

Barrel Saddle

A barrel saddle is a western saddle that is specifically designed for the barrel racer. A barrel saddle will have a high pommel and high cantle to help keep the rider in the saddle when rounding such tight bends.

Saddle Pads

Sometimes colorful western saddle pads are used in barrel racing to give the horse a more bright colorful appearance. Sometimes, barrel racers will intentionally match their tack with their other riding equipment and tack for the soul purpose of catching the eye of the crodn and put on a show.

Flashy Breast Collar

It is common to see a barrel racer having a flashy breast color. Flashy breast colors can come in nearly any color and can be adorned by tassels or siiver.

Flashy Bridle

Sometimes a barrel racer’s bridle will match their breast color. Other times, it is possible that the bridle might have the same pattern as certain equipment used on the horse such as on the saddle, but more commonly the breast collar. I actually own a matching breast color and bridle that are adorned both with the same silver studs. The two go great together.

Hailey Sipila

Horses have been my passion ever since I can remember. At school, I was known as that weird horse girl, and I would read horse encyclopedias for fun. Over the years since those days, I have only learned more. My experiences with horses of a variety of breeds have taught me a lot. Now I want to share what I know with you!

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