Barrel racing , is a rodeo event that features a horse or barrel racer and one rider, running a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels in a triangular arrangement.
The cowgirl or cowboy (though barrel racing is traditionally a women’s event, at the non-professional level many men also compete) will take a running start on his/her horse and ride towards the first barrel. At the first barrel, a rider should come at a slight angle. It’s easier on the horse if you don’t come at it straight on. They must make a complete turn around the barrel then race toward the second barrel. At the second barrel, they will again make a complete turn, which means they will make the turn in the opposite direction as the first barrel then accelerate toward the third barrel. At the third barrel they will again make a complete loop in the same direction as the second barrel and then run back across the starting line which also serves as the finish line.
The racer may go to the right barrel first and turn it to the right and the second and third barrel to the left, or he/she can choose to go to the left barrel first in the triangular shaped pattern and turn it to the left and the other two to the right. The choice of which barrel to go to first is usually made by the racer based on the specific abilities of his/her horse and if they turn better to the right or to the left. The racers will pass through an electronic timer entering and leaving the barrel pattern and the elapsed time is the time for the event. However, if the racer tips a barrel over, he/she will be pentalized by getting five seconds added to their time and in this competion where thousandths of seconds make the difference between first and second place, the extra five seconds will entirely take the racer out of the competition.
Since going wide around a barrel is slower, a delicate balance of speed and control must be made to achieve the fastest times. The time of the event is affected by the size of the arena in which the event is held and the distance between each barrel relative to the others and the time line. The stardard barrel pattern looks like an isosceles triangle with a base of 90 feet and sides each of 105 feet. The distance from the first barrel to the time line is 60 feet. These distances can be adjusted to fit the size of the arena in which the event is held, but the distance between the corner barrels and the top barrel must be equal.
A cowboy hat is part of the dress code for the event; if the riders hat falls off during a race, a rider will be fined $10-$25. This fine is unique to barrel-racing, though it is falling out of favor in non-professional competitions. The western shirt ,jeans , cowboy boots, and western belt (usually with a prize buckle the competitor has won) complete the dress-code of the barrel racing event.
The sport is governed by several bodies. The Women’s Pro Rodeo Association (WPRA) governs on the professional level and several amateur associations exist, including the National Barrel Horse Association (NBHA).