Barrel racing is a rodeo event dating back to the 1930's, starting as a sport for women. At that time the event alternated between a cloverleaf and figure-eight pattern and speed was not key. It wasn’t until 1949 that barrel racing was judged by the shortest time and not of the appearance of the girl and her horse.
In 1948 the Girl's Rodeo Association (GRA) was formed, and Barrel Racing started to look more like the fast and thrilling event we see today. The Women's Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) replaced the GRA in 1981. The sport now attracts prize money that competes with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA).
Modern barrel racing is open to both women and men with associations such the Nation Barrel Horse Association (NBHA) and others welcoming women and men into their membership and competitions.
The IBHF (International Barrel Horse Foundation) are now responsible for the development of barrel racing around the world. There are NBHA’s in over 20 countries around the world including Brazil, China, Italy, the Netherlands, Venezuela, Canada and France.
The UKBHA has been set up to promote barrel racing and increase participation in the sport. Aiming to provide coaching and riding opportunities for barrel racers around the UK and to provide a support network that enables an increase in the quality and quantity of riders, horses and competitions in barrel racing.
Barrel Racing Basics
There are three barrels which are set up in a cloverleaf pattern, and each rider must turn each barrel as fast as they can. Riders may choose to run a pattern that requires one right-hand turn, and two left-hand turns or vice versa. The rider must complete the required pattern and number of turns. The pattern is essentially a series of straight lines and quick, tight turns.
Remember, you and your horse won't be able to compete at speed without first working at slower gates, as with any competition accuracy is critical, and in this case, accuracy will save you seconds when you are ready to compete. Per the International Barrel Racing Association, “The horse’s athleticism and mental condition and the rider’s horsemanship skills are crucial.” Practice riding your horse in a figure eight pattern and circles to help your precision. You should consider stamina and conditioning work (for you and your horse!).
Getting Started advice from UKBHA
Working at a walk, as you head across the start line you should be roughly in line with the third barrel and gradually curve towards the first barrel. About 2 metres before each barrel you should stop your horse, this is to teach them to slow down before you turn. Once you start to ask for more speed, it is important that your horse has the understanding that you must slow down to make the turn accurately. If you go into the turn with too much speed, then you risk overrunning the turn, and then you will be out of position going on to your next turn.
When making your turn, you want it to be a smooth circle around the barrel. When working slowly, it’s important to stay around 6 feet from the barrel, and as you build up the speed, your horse will bring you in closer to the barrel. Start too close when you are working slowly, and once you add the speed you risk that your horse will start to turn too early and run you into the barrel and remember, the most important rule of all, have fun with your horse.
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Judging and Scoring
Rules may vary by association so be sure to read the rule book!
The first and second barrels are spaced 90 feet apart with 105 feet to the third barrel.
Barrel racing is a speed event, so as you would expect penalties are dealt in seconds and in a class where seconds can mean the difference between winning and losing a five-second penalty can be significant. Many associations will use electronic timers and sensors to ensure accuracy when recording the start and finish time.
To be successful in this class, the competitor must complete the pattern without knocking over any barrels. Tipping a barrel may result in a five-second penalty and deviating from the pattern results in a zero score.
Sports boots to help to protect the horse’s legs against injury.
Barrel racing saddle, these tend to have deep seats and short skirts. A barrel racing saddle will position the rider to be able to “sit deep” and “step out” through fast, tight turns with the rider’s legs slightly forward. Any saddle used should fit properly.
Western hat or safety hat, long sleeved western shirts or blouses, riding jeans, western boots, and a western belt is considered a standard dress code.