Beginner's Guide to Barrel Racing

                Barrel racing is a Western timed, speed event that requires you and your horse to maneuver around three barrels as fast as you can. However, this sport isn’t just about speed. It is all about body control, concentration, and synchronization between you and your horse. Both horse and rider have to work together as a team in order to accomplish the task at hand. Otherwise, your race isn’t going to go well and you or your horse could get injured.


The Barrel Racing Setup:

                A barrel race is held within a closed arena, and it includes a starting line and three barrels. The barrels are set up so that one barrel is in a direct straight line from the start. The other two barrels are positioned so that one is on the left and the other one is on the right. With this barrel configuration, the barrel patterns makes a triangle shape. The distance of the barrels on the left and right measures at 60 feet from the start line. The middle barrel however, is measured at 105 feet from the start line.

On your marks, get set, GO!

                When running the barrels, you are going to make a clover pattern. This pattern will start at the gate when you run past the time keeper. The time keeper is either going to be an automatic timer or a person with a stopwatch. Once you run past the time keeper, your time starts and you will race to either the left or the right barrel. Once you loop around your first barrel, you are going to race towards the second barrel, on the opposite side, making a figure-eight pattern. Once you loop around the second barrel, you will race and loop around the third barrel (the one that is in the straight line from the start/finish line). Once you loop around that third and final barrel, it is a race to the finish line! 

Time and Penalties:

                The only thing you are up against in a Barrel race, is the clock. Time is the determining factor within the barrel racing ring. If a rider knocks over one of the barrels, they are disqualified. The rider is also penalized if they hit one of the barrels while going around them. If they hit the barrel, five seconds are added to their final time.

Beginner Racing 101:

                Learning how to barrel race takes a lot of time and practice. It is also a long process that requires a lot of patience.  It is always a good idea to begin barrel racing on a horse who knows what he is doing. A good barrel horse will know how to whoa very well, know the lead signals from the rider, and have great transitions (i.e. being able to go from a walk, to a trot, to a lope, and then back to a walk). If you and your horse are both new to the barrel racing concept, then it is best to start from the beginning!  


Phase 1:

                The first thing to do when training is to start by walking the barrel pattern. Walk to your first barrel and stop at about 10 feet away. This 10 feet point is called your Rate. The rate point is where your horse will whoa and start to slow down for the barrel turn/pocket. The pocket is the 3-5 feet area where you will go into to turn your horse around the barrel. You want to make sure that you are stopping at the same place every time for you rate point. This will help the horse to know the specific spot of where he needs to slow down for the pocket and make as close of a turn as possible. Once you have mastered the rate point, go ahead and walk your horse around the barrel. You want to keep your horse a little wide at the beginning of the turn, and then bring him in closer as you are leaving the barrel turn. Make sure you don’t look at the barrel while you are turning. You always want to keep your eyes on the next turn/pocket. Do this walking process about 3 to 4 times a week. Repetition is going to be one of the key things in training and you want to make sure that both you and the horse are getting the basics down. Once you and your horse have mastered the pattern at a walking pace, you can start adding more speed!    


Phase 2:

                Once you are ready to add more speed, do the same walking process while trotting. Trot from the start line to your first rate point and have you horse stop. Once stopped, proceed with walking your horse around the barrel. When you come out of your turn, transition your horse into the trot and go to the next barrel’s rate point. Once again, stop at the rate point and then walk your horse around the barrel. Continue to do this several times a week until both you and your horse are comfortable at this pace.


Phase 3:

                Once you and your horse are comfortable with the trotting pace, go ahead and try doing the same pattern at a lope. Try not to rush your horse and don’t get upset if it’s not perfect the first time. Racing barrels at this pace takes a lot more body control and synchronization with your horse. Body control is going to be one of the key points in communicating with your horse.  Without the proper body control of the rider, the horse may get confused and his speed could be hindered while barrel racing. Lope from the starting line to your first barrel. By this time, your horse should know what to do at the rate point and automatically slow down for the barrel turn. If he is still having trouble at the rate point, go back to the walk or trot pace and practice going through the motions. It is always a good idea to make sure you have all the basics down before adding speed!  Continue this process until both you and your horse have the barrel pattern down pat. Once you and your horse have finished the barrel racing training, it’s time to hit the rodeo!


                You want to make sure that you aren’t boring your horse with racing barrels all day. Your horse will get tired of it and may not want to perform. Make sure you do other things with your horse besides practicing every day. Get out of the arena a couple times a week and go on trail rides! Trail rides are a great way for both you and your horse to relax and to have some fun together. Practicing something every day takes the fun out of it and makes you not want to do it. This same principle applies to your horse! You horse isn’t going to want to run barrels every day. So, make sure you keep your horse happy and only practice a couple times a week. Because a happy horse, equals a happy rider!