Barrel racing is an exciting sport where the winner is determined by just thousandths of a second.
Barrel racing allows anyone to participate.
Three fifty-five-gallon metal barrels are placed in a triangular pattern and the rider must ride around the barrels in a clover leaf pattern. The run begins when the horse and rider cross the start line. The line is typically flagged by a an electronic timer called the “eye.” The run ends when the pattern is complete, and the horse and rider cross the “start line” again. The rider can choose to run to the right or left first.
If the horse and rider team hit a barrel causing it to fall over, there is a penalty of five seconds per “knocked” barrel or a no time. Horse and rider teams may also be penalized for not completing the pattern or going “off pattern.” There is typically a sixty-second time limit to complete the course after time begins.
Standard barrel racing patterns require measured distances between the start line and the first barrel, from the first to the second barrel, and from the second to the third barrel. Usually, the established distances are 90 ft between the first and second barrel, 105 ft between the first and third barrel and between the second and third barrel, and 60 ft from the first and second barrel to the start line.
However, pattern size can and will vary according to the size of the arena.
Futurities, derbies, and juveniles are competitions designed for horses of the same age group with either limited or no prior competition experience. Many organizations offer futurities and derbies. While organizations may classify the age categories differently, a futurity is traditionally for horses 4-years-old and younger, but many organizations allow for a 5-year-old futurity horse, and some competitions designate a “juvenile” as a 3-year-old competitor. The 5-year-old year is often the maturity division, and 6-year-olds compete in derbies. Age divisions vary across organizations, so it is always wise to check with the event producer.
In addition, some of these events focus on horses that are sired by, or fathered, by specific stallions in the sport and certain incentives are offered to the offspring of those stallions who do well.
The divisional, or “D” system, revolutionized barrel racing by creating a handicap that allows barrel racers of all levels to run in the same race. The overall fastest time determines all subsequent divisions. There are typically four or five divisions that are usually a half (0.5) second apart. For example, the fastest time is a 1D, then the 2D would be 0.5 seconds slower than the 1D time, the 3D would be 1.0 second slower than the 1D or 0.5 second slower than the 2D time, and so on.
Many formal organizations use the divisional format, but nearly anyone can host a divisional barrel race.
Barrel racing in professional rodeo is governed by the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association. A standard WPRA pattern is 90 feet between barrel one and two, 105 feet between barrel one and three and between barrel two and three, and 60 feet from barrels one and two to the score line. However, this can vary widely depending on the size of the arena. For example, at the National Finals Rodeo in Thomas and Mack Arena in Las Vegas, the maximum allowed is 70 feet between barrels, compared to the largest pattern at the Pendleton Roundup where the barrels are set 298 feet apart.
There are also many open rodeos across the country that allow anyone to enter. These are typically produced by local, regional or state rodeo associations and may require membership in the producing organization to participate.
Rodeos are straight pay events, meaning only the fastest riders will win money. The number of places paid may be determined by the number of entries.
Dress to Impress
Like many other horse showing events, attire may be regulated. This would include requiring long-sleeve shirts, a western hat or riding helmet, and boots.
Some smaller races may not require specific attire. In the interest of safety, it is recommended that riders wear boots. Riding helmets are also suggested for safety.
The rules of each event will specify if there is a dress code.