Barrel racing is a speed event where horse and rider gallop through a cloverleaf pattern with three set barrels. The fastest team without penalties is usually the winner. Most successful runs are under 15 seconds. However, for those just starting out the discipline can be modified so that it is fun for all levels. Here’s the basics!

The Pattern

Barrel racing is normally held inside an enclosed arena with good footing. You’ll need a start/finish line and three barrels. The barrels will form a triangle with one to the left, one to the right, and the last one directly straight ahead from the start line. The center one should measure 105 feet from the start line, whereas the other two measure 60 feet. This can be adjusted, depending on your arena size.

How To Run It

Ride past the start line, which should also have a timer. Head to the left or right barrel and make a loop around it. Next, ride toward the opposite one and complete a loop in the other direction around it. Your goal is to make a figure 8 around the left and right barrel before heading to the furthest one in the center. Loop around the last one and head back to the start line in a straight line.

You will be making either one left turn and two right turns or one right turn and two left ones.


  • Riders can be disqualified for not doing the pattern correctly or knocking over a barrel.
  • The fastest team is the winner, as long as they didn’t have any penalties.
  • Control is more important than speed. A slower run with straight lines and tight turns will be better.
  • Practice circles at the walk, trot, and lope. Make your circles gradually get smaller than bigger by yielding your horse in and out.

Go at the speed that you feel comfortable with, but most importantly have fun! Barrel racing can be for all riders and levels. It can be a great challenge.