Everything You Need to Know About the Sport of Barrel Racing

When you go to a rodeo, what do you see? Between the bull riders, bronc riders, steer wrestlers, and calf ropers, you might think, That’s a lot of testosterone. Where are the cowgirls? Well, we would tell you sit down and listen, but most people end up standing and cheering anyway…

A fan favorite at our own rodeo, barrel racing is a women’s only rodeo event that is known for quick turns, high speeds, and edge-of-your-seat excitement. But barrel racing has certainly evolved over time, so we decided to dust off the books and take a look back at the history of barrel racing.

Like other timed rodeo events, the winner of a barrel racing event can be determined by thousandths of a second! But that wasn’t always that case. Believe it or not, when barrel racing first started out, speed was not considered as important as it is today. During the 1930s, the rider’s outfit and horsemanship demonstrated when navigating the designated pattern were huge factors in determining the rider’s score. Another stark contrast we found was that in the early days, women’s barrel racing alternated between a figure-eighter and a clover leaf pattern. It wasn’t until 1948, when a group of women formed the Girl’s Rodeo Association (GRA), now known as Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA), that barrel racing became all about speed. Talk about the changing of times!

One way to think of barrel racing is as the Wild, Wild West (or in our case, East) version of horse racing. As opposed to riders racing in a oval track, similar to what you would see during the Kentucky Derby, riders race around three barrels placed in a cloverleaf pattern. Entering the arena at a gallop, the rider races towards her first barrel. (Did you know that the rider can choose between the left or right barrel to start?) She, along with her horse, has to make a complete circle around it. After the first barrel, the rider must race on to the second barrel, and then to the third (and last) barrel located on the other side of the course from her point of entry. Finally, the most exciting and loudest part at our rodeo, is when the barrel racer and horse sprint all the way back to their starting point.

While this may not seem difficult to some people, a lot of time, practice, and, crazy as it sounds, bonding, goes into barrel racing. According to the International Barrel Racing Association, “The horse’s athleticism and mental condition and the rider’s horsemanship skills are crucial.”

Heather Cannon, our friend from Women in Rodeo, recently sat down with Miss Rodeo Minnesota and barrel racer Eliza Evans. She was able to give some insight into what it takes to be the best barrel racer.

“Ride as much as you can! You need to take good care of your horse and take time to develop a good relationship with them, and they will take good care of you. The more you ride, the more confidence you will gain as a rider, and as your confidence grows, so will your speed.”

Needless to say, the most important factor that goes into barrel racing is the bond between the horse and rider. But after that, finding what techniques work for these girls is really just trial and error. During Country Girl Glitz’s interview with WPRA barrel racer Ann Scott, Ann offered this advice to future barrel racers: “Learn from everyone. There is a lot to know and use what works for you.” So it goes to show that in barrel racing even the pros are listening to new advice that comes their way.

Although barrel racing is the only official women’s rodeo event, that doesn’t mean their influence and presence in rodeo stops there. If you’re looking for more information about women in rodeo and barrel racing, check out Women in Rodeo.

Ready to experience your first rodeo? Save the date for Friday, May 31st and Saturday, June 1st for the 143rd Silver Spurs Rodeo where you can watch seven of rodeo’s traditional events: bull riding, saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, steer wrestling, tie-down roping, women’s barrel racing and team roping! Hope to see y’all then!