Barrel Racing

Barrel Racing


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Barrel racing is a rodeo event in which a horse and rider attempt to complete a pattern around preset barrels in the fastest time. Though both sexes compete at the youth level and in some amateur venues, in collegiate and professional ranks, it is primarily a rodeo event for women. It combines the horse's athletic ability and the horsemanship skills of a rider in order to safely and successfully maneuver a horse through a clover leaf pattern around three barrels (typically three fifty-five gallon metal or plastic drums) placed in a triangle in the center of an arena.

In timed rodeo events, the purpose is to make a run as fast as possible, while the time is being clocked either by an electronic eye, (a device using a laser system to record times), or by an arena attendant or judge who manually takes the time using a keen eye and a flag to let a clocker know when to hit the timer stop; though this last method more commonly seen in local and non-professional events.

The timer begins when horse and rider cross the start line, and ends when the barrel pattern has been successfully executed and horse and rider cross the finish line. The rider's time depends on several factors, most commonly the horse's physical and mental condition, the rider's horsemanship abilities, and the type of ground or footing (the quality, depth, content, etc. of the sand or dirt in the arena).

The Pattern

Beginning a barrel race, the horse and rider will enter the arena at top speed, through the center entrance(or alley if in a rodeo arena). Once in the arena, the electronic timer beam is crossed, or broken, and begins to keep time.

The approach to the first barrel is a critical moment in the life of a successful pattern; the rider must rate their horse's speed at the right moment to enter the "pocket". The pocket is the term used to describe the area around the barrel in which the horse should use to make the fastest possible turn. As the horse sets up to take the turn, the rider must be in position as well, which entails sitting deeply in the saddle, using one hand on the pommel to keep themselves steady and still, the other hand to guide the horse through and around the barrel turn. The rider's legs will be held closely to the horses sides; the leg to the inside of the turn should be held securely along the girth to support the horse's rib cage and give them a focal point for the turn. The athleticism required for this maneuvering comes from optimum physical fitness of the rider and especially the horse. (Improper preparation for such a sport can cause injury to to both horse and rider. Injury can be avoided by using the proper protection for both horse and rider.(i.e. protective boots for the horses legs or a back brace for the rider.))

In approaching the second barrel, the rider will be looking through the turn and now focused on the second barrel, which is across the area. Now the horse and rider will go around the barrel in the opposite direction, following the exact same procedure just switching to the opposite limbs. Next, running toward the backside of the arena(opposite of entrance), and up the middle, they are aiming for the third and final barrel that they must turn, in the same direction as the second barrel was taken. All the while racing against the timer. Completing the third and final turn sends them "heading for home", which represents crossing the timer or line once more.

From the finish of the third barrel turn, the horse and rider have a straight shot back down the center of the arena; which means they must stay between the two other barrels. Once the timer is crossed, the clock stops to reveal their race time. Now the "clover-leaf" pattern, the three barrels set in a triangle formation, is completed.

Standard barrel racing patterns call for a precise distance between the start line and the first barrel, from the first to the second barrel, and from the second to the third barrel. The pattern from every point of the cloverleaf will have a precisely measured distance from one point to the next.

Usually the established distances are as follows:

* 90 feet between barrel 1 and 2.
* 105 feet between barrel 1 and 3 and between 2 and 3.
* 60 feet from barrels 1 and 2 to score line.

"Note:" In a standard WPRA pattern, the score line begins at the plane of arena, meaning from fence to fence regardless of the position of the electric eye or timer.

In larger arenas, there is a maximum allowable distance of 105 feet between barrels 1 and 2; and a maximum distance of 120 feet between barrels 2 and 3, and 1 and 3. Barrels 1 and 2 must be at least 18 feet from the sides of the arena--in smaller arenas this distance may be less, but in no instance should the barrels be any closer than 15 feet from the sides of the arena.

Barrel 3 should be no closer than 25 feet to the end of the arena, and should be set no more than 15 feet longer than the first and second barrel. If arena size permits, barrels must be set 60 feet or further apart. In small arenas it is recommended the pattern be reduced proportionately to a standard barrel pattern.

The above pattern is the set pattern for the Women's Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA), and The National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA).

The National Barrel Horse Association (NBHA) use the following layout for governing patterns:

* A minimum of 15 feet between each of the first two barrels and the side fence.
* A minimum of 30 feet between the third barrel and the back fence.
* A minimum of 30 feet between the time line and the first barrel.The fastest time will win.


In Barrel Racing, the fastest time will win. It is not judged under any subjective points of view, only the clock. Barrel Racers in competition at the professional level must pay attention to detail while maneuvering at speed. Precise control is required to win. Running past a barrel and off the pattern will result in a "no time" score and disqualification. if a barrel racer or her horse hits a barrel and knocks it over, there is a time penalty, usually five seconds, which usually will result in a time too slow to win.

Barrel Racing often times also requires a certain bond between horse and rider in order for them to successfully compete as a team. Just as rider must trust horse, horse must trust rider. Most winning horses at high levels of completion such as the National Finals Rodeo (NFR), College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR), or NBHA World Championships are described as having a willingness to please, often times referred to as “heart.”


Barrel racing originally developed as an event for women. While the men roped or rode bulls and broncs, the women barrel raced. Not much is known about the exact dates and details of barrel racing developments. It is believed that Barrel Racing first saw competitive light in the state of Texas. The WPRA was developed in 1948 by a group of women from Texas who were looking to make a home for themselves and women in general in the sport of rodeo. When it initially began, the WPRA was called the Girls Rodeo Association (GRA). It consisted of only 74 members with as little as 60 approved tour events. The Girls Rodeo Association was the first body of rodeo developed specifically for women. Women were allowed to compete in several events of rodeo. The GRA eventually officially became the WPRA in 1981, and the WPRA still allows women to compete in the various rodeo events as they like, but barrel racing remains the most popular event of competition.

Associations and Sanctioning Bodies

Since its beginnings, the sport has developed over the years into a highly organized, exciting, but well-governed sport. Several organizations govern barrel racing. the main sanctioning body of professional female rodeo athletes, governing events broadcast on ESPN and other sports broadcasts, is the Women's Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA). Today, the WPRA boasts a total of over 800 sanctioned tour events with an annual payout of more than a three million dollars. The WPRA is divided into 12 divisional circuits. Average and overall winners from their circuit will compete for Divisional Tour (DT) Finals.


Though not much information is available on the statistics of barrel racing, it can be inferred that barrel racing in the United States is popular, particularly in the west, and is one of the fastest growing equestrian sports among women in the country. Not only does barrel racing not have an age limit, but barrel racing is open to both sexes. Both men and women can compete in Barrel Racing, however, certain governing bodies of the sport such as the Women's Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) and Professional Women's Barrel Racing (PWBR) are maintained for women only. Therefore, a man would not be eligible to compete at the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) under current rules. The National Barrel Racing Association (NBHA), does however, allow men to compete at high levels of competition.

Costs for the purchase of a high caliber barrel racing horse can currently reach well over the $60,000 mark depending on the ability and individuality of the horse. While breeding plays a huge role in the sale price of a horse, athletic ability, intelligence, drive, and willingness to please also “make or break” the sale of a horse.

External links

* [ Professional Women's Barrel Racing]
* [ National Barrel Horse Association]

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