Barrel Racing 101

What is Barrel Racing?

The Pattern.

In barrel racing, three barrels are set up in a triangular pattern—measurements between barrels and how close the barrels are to the fence are set at the discretion of the event producer and/or sanctioning body. Each rider must turn each barrel while navigating the cloverleaf pattern as fast as he or she can. Riders may choose to approach the right or left barrel first. The right barrel is most-commonly selected as the first barrel, requiring one right-hand turn and two left-hand turns.

The Times.

In barrel racing, the fastest time wins. However, in a divisional race with a 4D format, riders can win money by placing in a division. This means that the 1D is the fastest time of the race, the 2D is the winning time plus half a second, the 3D is the winning time plus one second and the 4D is the winning time plus two seconds.

The Penalties.

If a horse and rider team go off pattern, this results in a no time.  Knocking a barrel is a plus-five second penalty at rodeos or results in a no time at a divisional race. Riders are allowed to touch the barrel and if it doesn’t fall completely over, a penalty can be avoided.

Barrel Racing History

It’s noted that barrel racing began as a sport in Texas during the early 1900s—with the known cloverleaf pattern, as well as a race through a figure-eight pattern that dropped off in early years. Women were the only ones to compete, while men competed in the other rodeo events. It wasn’t until the 1940s that the competition was based on speed, rather than on the appearance and horsemanship of the ladies riding. In 1948 the Girl’s Rodeo Association (now the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association) was formed and in 1949 the event shifted to be about speed.

Who Can Compete

Although barrel racing originated as a sport for women, there are now avenues for both men and women to compete. The WPRA is still an organization exclusively for women. With the development of divisional barrel races, however, there are now men at the top of the sport in various organizations. Some organizations have limitations on age—women must be older than 18 to compete in the WPRA—but young children up to senior ages can compete at most events.

Major Associations & Their Rules

  • - Women’s Professional Rodeo Association

The WPRA is the oldest women’s sports organization in the country. With events at divisional barrel races as well as being the barrel racing sanctioning body at Professional Rodeo Cowboy’s Association events, women compete at WPRA events in an attempt to qualify for their divisional circuit finals, circuit finals and the National Finals Rodeo.

Here are the rules.

  • - World Champions Rodeo Alliance

The WCRA offers a unique format of rodeo and barrel racing. By allowing contestants to enter events through a Virtual Rodeo Qualifier, contestants collect points at events they are already entering and earn a spot on the WCRA leaderboard to compete at major events. Both men and women are allowed to compete in the barrel racing at WCRA major events—excluding the Women’s Rodeo World Championship.

Here are the rules.

  • - Better Barrel Races

The BBR is made up of independent producers who host barrel races where members can accumulate points to attend the BBR World Finals. Barrel racers of every level, age and gender can compete at BBR sanctioned events—non-members are allowed to compete at BBR approved events but aren’t eligible for points. The BBR is also the sanctioning body for barrel racing at RFD-TV’s The American rodeo.

Here are the rules.

  • - National Barrel Horse Association

The NBHA sanctions local events that allow contestants to accumulate points for year-end awards and to qualify for the NBHA World shows. It was the first organization to consistently use and promote the divisional barrel racing format. Both men and women can compete in NBHA events and the association offers classes for contestants in all age categories.

Here are the rules.