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Turn In Burn: Basics of Barrel Racing

Updated on July 22, 2010

Barrel Racer: Lynette Wren


Just what does turn and burn mean? I asked a spectator at a local barrel race and she simply told me, "you get on your horse, go as fast as you can like fire around the barrels, and get home clean." Easy enough to the under-experienced barrel racing fans out there right? But honestly, there is way more to the sport than just getting on your horse and running the barrel pattern. 

In barrel racing there are three barrels set up in a pyramid type of design, this is what we call a pattern. The National Barrel Horse Association or NBHA states that there are certain regulations that must be followed when setting up the barrel pattern. For example, there must be a minimum of 15 feet between each of the first two barrels and the side fence. Also, there must be a minimum of thirty feet between the third barrel and the back fence. And finally, there must be a minimum of thirty feet between the time line and the first barrel.

The Barrels Are Set Up, Now What?

Once the barrels are in place and the electronic laser eye timer is in working condition, it is time to get down and dirty. Prior to the event the coordinator will usually randomly draw (or use a computer generated draw) to determine each participants running order. Once the running order is established the event can begin.

Each barrel racer gets an individual shot at running the barrels. It does not matter in the regulations whether the rider chooses to take the left barrel or right barrel first. Once a pattern is established that rider will continue it for the length of the event. The rider will go around either one of the two front barrels, come across the arena to the opposite front barrel, and then dash to the farthest and third barrel. Once the rider turns the first barrel it is a no holds barred race to the timer line.

The time will begin when the rider and horse cross the start line (a minimum of thirty feet before the first barrel). The time for the run ends when the entire barrel pattern has been completed and the rider comes back across the finish line.

There are many things that can affect a rider's time. From the rider's perspective, their mental condition, their horsemanship abilities and the riding style can all influence the time of the run. The horse's physical and mental condition also can influence the quality of the run. The noise of the crowd or surrounding area and other horses can affect a horse's performance. Even the best barrel horses have their off days. One other thing to consider is that the quality of the sand or dirt in the arena is also going to affect a rider's time.

Typical Barrel Pattern

Things To Avoid

Barrel racers have to try to go around the barrel smooth and clean so they do not knock a barrel over. If a barrel is knocked over there is a penalty. Depending on the regulations a penalty can range in severity from added time onto your score or even a disqualification for that particular run.

Also, if a barrel racer runs past the barrel and breaks the pattern, the run is also disqualified.

Tiare Ferguson: Running Home

I took the photographs so no copyright is needed :-)


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    • photographybyar profile image

      Addie's Momma 6 years ago from Bakersfield, California

      You have awesome barrel racers, team ropers, calf ropers, you name it, Texas has some awesome athletes! :-) Thanks for the comment I really appreciate it.

    • Angela Blair profile image

      Angela Blair 6 years ago from Central Texas

      Great Hub -- as an old barrel racer (now retired) it's wonderful to see interest in the sport is alive and well. We've got some great barrel racers in Texas (and some super barrel horses). Enjoyed this read immensely and voted up! Best/Sis