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How to Barrel Race Horses

Updated on March 7, 2019
Turning the barrel on the left and full speed ahead!
Turning the barrel on the left and full speed ahead! | Source

Barrel Racing

If you're interested in barrel racing you've come to the right place! I enjoy everything horseback especially barrel racing (aka: barrels). I've been riding in Gymkhana (horse oriented games) for more than 25 years now and the last event of the day is always barrels.

When I lived in Pleasanton, CA I rode with District 6, The Vineyard Vaqueros, but now I've moved my family to the Ione area and we signed up with District 27, The Castle Country Riders. What a great group of people. They really made us feel welcome. And a big thank you to Carole. She knows how to write a great news blog AND how to outfit a horse! For a complete profile of the events you'll find at a gymkhana event click here.

To start off as a barrel racer you're going to need a horse. I have noticed over the years that the short, stocky horses tend to produce better race times than the taller horses. This is not to say a tall horse can't be fast at barrel racing, but the stockier horses, on average, tend to have the better times.

Turning the barrel on the right.
Turning the barrel on the right. | Source

What is Barrel Racing Exactly

Barrel racing is an event usually found at rodeo's and gymkhana events. Barrel racing has traditionally been an event that women would compete in. Times are changing, as they do, and it's becoming more common to see a guy running the barrels. The guys traditionally do the bronc riding, calf roping, bull riding, etc.

When you sign up for barrel racing at the rodeo or gymkhana office, on the day of the race, you'll be given a number that you pin to your shirt or sometimes, usually in gymkhana, everyone knows everyone so well they just go on a first name basis.

After you sign up and get your number, pin the number to the back of your shirt so the judges can see it easily and go prepare your horse. Groom him, saddle him, bridle and go to where ever the warm up area is and warm your horse up, but don't wear him out before your turn.

You'll hear your number or name called when it's time for you to go on deck. On deck means your there at the gate waiting to go in. You usually have ten minutes from the time your name is called to the time you need to enter the arena.

When you enter the arena acknowledge the judge with a tip of your hat or eye contact with a nod. The judge will not start your run until he knows you are ready with an acknowledgement. If you run the course without the acknowledgement your run will be disqualified, so remember to tip your hat to the judge!

(A big Thank You to Michelle DeWitt for permission to use her fantastic photo's!)

Riding Barrels Starting on the Right
Riding Barrels Starting on the Right | Source
Starting on the Left
Starting on the Left

Ride the Course

The object is to ride your horse as fast as you can around all the barrels and back again.

There is a timing light that has an invisible beam that goes from one side of the arena to the other. You can see the timing light at each end, it's usually on a small tripod and it looks like a camera. When you cross the invisible line between the timing lights your time starts!

Decide whether you're going to run the barrels starting at the right (see photo) or from the left (see photo). Starting on the right you will have the last barrel on your left (see photo above), and vice versa if you start on the left barrel your last one will be on your right. Some horses turn better in one direction or the other.

Take your horse into a controlled gallop to the first barrel, don't slow down until you get to the barrel, then go around the barrel as fast as you can and as close as you can without knocking the barrel over. Half way through the turn start to encourage your horse back up into that gallop. When you ask for the gallop halfway through the turn, by the time the signal is passed to the horse, he process's what you want in his horsey mind (we're talking milliseconds here) you're already around the barrel and he shoots out for the next one.

After you've turned all the barrels, on the last one, the furthest one away from the start, you want to get every inch of speed out of your horse for the shot home to pass the timing light faster than any of the other riders could!

Pratice, Practice, Practice

Gymkhana in Central CA; District & Location

District 27 - Castle Country Riders:
Ione, CA, USA

get directions

Ione, Sutter Creek and Jackson

District 6 - Vineyard Varqueros :
Livermore, CA, USA

get directions

Livermore Rodeo GroundsPleasanton.

District 32 - Motherlode Wranglers:
Sonora, CA 95370, USA

get directions

Sonora Fairgrounds

District 7 - Clements Buckaroos:
Clements, CA 95240, USA

get directions

Clements Fairgrounds

District 45 - Sabatapol Ranglers:
Marin, CA, USA

get directions

Novato Horseman's Arena


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