Barrel Racing at the Del Mar National Horse Show

Barrel RacingBarrel racing is often a common connotation associated with western riding. It is a popular event at western competitions, and for good reason. Barrel racing is a fast paced rodeo event that is centered around time. The main objective is for horse and rider to attempt to complete a clover-leaf pattern around preset barrels (typically three fifty-five gallon metal or plastic drums) in the fastest time. Although barrel racing is open to both sexes, it is mainly known for its women competitors. Spectators will  be able to witness all this excitement at the upcoming Western Week at the Del Mar National Horse Show.


Barrel racing was initially created for women. Men typically roped or rode bulls and broncs. In early barrel racing, the pattern alternated between a figure-eight and a cloverleaf pattern. The figure-eight pattern, though, was eventually dropped in favor of the more-difficult cloverleaf.

The Women’s Professional Rodeo Association was created by a group of women in 1948 who were looking for a permanent position for women in the sport of rodeo. They felt that there was subjectivity towards male competitors and were fed up with the unfairness of the sport. Here’s what they have to say about Barrel Racing

About Barrel Racing

Split-Second Decisions
Poetry in Motion

That’s Barrel Racing!

In a sport where the winner can be determined by thousandths of a second, the relationship between the rider and horse is crucial. The horse’s athleticism and mental condition and the rider’s horsemanship skills are tested as they maneuver through a clover leaf pattern at top speed.

The course consists of barrels placed in a triangle in the middle of an arena. The rider races into the arena with the timer starting when the team crosses the start line, and ends after completing the clover leaf pattern and racing to cross the finish line. The team that puts up the best time with tight turns, explosiveness, communication and no overturned barrels wins.

The History of Barrel Racing

Originally, Barrel Racing was a women’s event and alternated between a figure-eight and clover leaf pattern. In the early 1930’s speed was not as much of a factor in the results as the rider’s outfit and horsemanship as demonstrated by maneuvering through the designated pattern. This was an event for women, while the men participated in the athletic rodeo events like roping and bull or bronco riding. By 1948 a group of women formed the GRA (Girl’s Rodeo Association) and in 1949 Barrel Racing became all about speed.

Barrel Racing Today

While barrel racing was initially developed for cowgirls, modern barrel racing is open to girls, boys, men and women of all ages and levels of experience including weekend riders and professionals with payouts and awards packages surpassing $250,000 through the IBRA.


Today barrel racing is one of the more popular events and often has a cash prize for the winner. Like the jumpers in hunter/jumper riding, the main objective in barrel racing is to have the fastest time. There is no subjectivity, and the only judge is the clock. Modern barrel-racing horses not only need to be fast; but strong, agile and intelligent as well. The strength and agility are needed to maneuver the course in as little distance as possible. A horse that is able to “hug the barrels” as well as maneuver the course quickly and accurately follow commands, will be a horse with consistently low times. This particular sport has surely made milestones since its introduction to the rodeo world. According to the WPRA:

Today, the fast paced event of barrel racing dominates the activities of most WPRA members. WPRA barrel racers compete for millions of dollars each year, culminating in twelve circuit finals rodeos held throughout the country, the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo held in Oklahoma City, OK in April, and the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo held in Las Vegas each December.

By Don Reedy
Don Reedy on Google+

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