What is Barrel Racing?

The Pattern. 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 

While 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. 

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