Barrel Racing 101  

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Barrel racing was invented as a means to pacify bored women watching men have all the fun. The rodeo started out as a true man's event, so women got together and came up with a little competition for themselves. As any cowgirl knows, there's a knot in your stomach that won't let you just sit on the sidelines and watch the game. They developed a cloverleaf pattern that they could run their horses around as fast as possible. The exact details and dates are not known, but it is believed that barrel racing first became competitive in the state of Texas. In 1949, the Girls Rodeo Association (GRA) was instituted as the first body of rodeo specifically for women. There women were allowed to compete in several rodeo events. The GRA eventually became the official Women's Pro Rodeo Association (WPRA) in 1981, which still allows women to compete in various events of their choosing, but barrel racing remains the most popular event of competition.

Today, barrel racing has become a recognized sport, and for many, a way of living. It is no longer just a woman's game. All over the world guys and gals of all ages compete against one another. There are numerous associations, and each has their own set of rules. In some competitions, knocking over a barrel will cost you a five second penalty; the competitions I ride in, it means disqualification. Even the best barrel racers have had a bruised shin every now and again. That might be why a good pair of shin guards will cost you about fifty bucks. There are many variables in barrel racing, and no two areas are alike. You have to be prepared to run on different surfaces, and the pattern may be very small or very large. Some competitions still use steel drums, but most have adopted plastic barrels which do a lot less damage to the rider and horse in case of a collision.

"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 horse's 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 both. 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.)

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 beam 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) uses 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."

A good barrel racer has to be in shape and keep their horse in shape as well. You need good balance, strength (especially in your legs), and body control. Also, a horse can feel your anxiety, and many times they will then exhibit the same nervous energy. There have been times at shows where I am warming up my horse, and both of us are completely relaxed, but as soon as I know it is almost my turn to run, my nerves of steel turn into butterflies. As soon as this happens, my horse's whole demeanor changes. He begins to carry himself differently and has a little prance in his step. A good trick I have learned is to sing or hum. It seems that the brain can't do both at the same time. If I keep a song in my head before the adrenaline hits me, my horse remains calm until he sees the gait, and by this time a little anxiousness just propels him to run faster. The next time you get nervous, try this technique. And for anyone who wants to learn how to get into barrel racing, there is endless information on the web about the horse and equipment you need (although there are many opinions on these matters). There are also good television programs. (see the links on my home page) my best advice would be to find someone who loves and lives the sport and let them mentor you. Although there are big, expensive competitions around the states, there are also plenty of smaller competitions where a novice rider can flourish.

Although my family has been barrel racing our whole lives and enjoyed many accomplishments,
here are a few of our most recent:

In 2006, I won the True Grit award and a buckle because despite having two broken wrist, I continued to compete.  I was only able to compete part of the 2007 season. My beautiful daughter, Leah, was born in October 2007.




That same year, my sister, Christy, won the 2006 Open Championship and Rookie of the Year.


     In 2007, my mom, Teresa, won Rookie of the Year...   youngest sister, Mindy, won Open Reserve Champion...

...and my dad, Ricky, won Most Helpful Member both years.