What Is Barrel Racing?

Barrel racing is an event that involves a horse and its rider working together to finish an arranged pattern around three barrels positioned in an arena. Watching this as a first-time spectator might seem confusing, but it’s easy to comprehend and fun to see.

Arranging the Barrels

A barrel racing event usually holds in an arena or enclosed ring. There’s a starting line, with the three barrels set in a triangular pattern. Set the first one directly facing (and furthest from) the starting line, another barrel to the right, and the last one to the left.

You May Need a Trainer

To fully understand the nitty-gritty of barrel racing as a beginner, you’ll need a horse trainer beside you. The best barrel racing trainers are equestrians who are well experienced and have participated in the sport. Such a trainer will give you the type of advice that no inexperienced barrel racer can offer. And they can show you the little changes that will make a massive difference while racing.

However, if you wish to learn barrel racing without the help of a trainer, you can start with gymkhana at the local level and gradually move up to other specific barrel competitions as you both gain confidence.

Running the Pattern

You’ll need to run a cloverleaf pattern that begins at the gate. Then, ride past either a person (who holds a stopwatch) or an automatic timer at the starting point.

You’ll then ride toward the barrel either on your left or right. Ride around it, and then make a loop. Ride towards the next barrel (directly opposite the barrel you just left). Ride around it, changing direction this time (making a figure eight), and then ride towards the last barrel (furthest from your starting point). After making a loop around it, head back to your starting line (now your finish line).

You’ll cross the line, while the timer (either human or automatic) records the time you spent throughout the process. The winning time for rodeo barrel racing is below 15 seconds.

Penalties and Time

Time is the only determinant in barrel races. A rider who goes off the pattern route or knocks over a barrel gets disqualified. In official competitions, a rider who hits the barrel receives a five-second penalty. Of course, the rules may change to suit the competition level at gymkhanas or other small play days.


The pocket is a three to five feet distance between the barrel and the horse. Every barrel racing horse must learn to observe and respect the pocket of each barrel. It will teach them to give themselves some allowance (space) while turning around it to avoid knocking it over.


A rate (ten feet from each barrel) isn’t a complete stop. It’s a process whereby your horse adjusts their stride to enable them to turn around the barrel successfully. The best method of marking out the vital points is by using soccer cones.

You’ll need to learn to avoid focusing on the barrel ahead of you in a barrel race. Look past the barrel, and as soon as you turn around it, look past the next one.

Improving Your Barrel Racing Skills

Precise and fast riding in a barrel race isn’t an easy task. Most times, you’ll discover that, if you go through the process slowly, you might achieve a better time than when you try to be faster.

As a beginner who’s learning barrel racing for the first time, going fast may slow you down. To go more quickly, you need to move at a slower pace by keeping straight lines and making accurate and tight turns. Making a huge turn, a wobbly run between barrels, and galloping wildly may take more extended periods than trotting. Nonetheless, remain on the pattern. Speed is essential, but control is too.

You may be thinking you can’t ride a barrel race if you’re riding an English saddle. Well, although you won’t get the security that a barrel racer would enjoy in a deep Western saddle, barrel racing is a great way to learn accurate turning, speeding up, slowing down a horse, and staying centered.

Remember to wear a helmet and keep your eyes up, your hands quiet, and your heels down. While in an event, you can easily get sloppy, tug on the horse’s mouth, and forget the safety riding rules.

Find Barrel Racing Events Near You

You can find most national and local barrel racing competitions online. The event details will specify the division or the class and whether you’ll require membership before riding in the event.

You can call in at the start of the week before the show. You can also make inquiries about the event and how to participate.

Ensure to arrive at the location before the event begins so you’ll have enough time to prepare your horse before the competition starts in the arena. It will allow your horse to loosen its muscles and familiarize itself with the arena.

Horse Trotting


  • Begin slow. Learn the pattern with a trot, slow canter, or walk.
  • Don’t over-train the horse. Take him for pleasure rides like trail riding. Too much training at once can cause the horse to be terrible at the skill.
  • Watch a competition before riding in one. Attending a barrel racing event or rodeo ground without participating enables you to have an idea of the process. Observe the entries, scoring, errors that riders make, how they run, and more.
  • Don’t focus on where you’ve been, but on where you’re going. Don’t focus on the barrel around which you’re turning, but look towards the next one.
  • Practice balance as you ride. When you’re better at keeping balance, it becomes easy for the horse to navigate.

The easy part is understanding the barrel racing basics, while practicing with a horse to become a team is the hard part. But you can achieve this with more effort, time, and patience. Whether you lose or win, one exciting fact is that you’re working as a team with your horse to accomplish your goals.

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