PC: Robert Taylor

Similar to barrel racing and pole pending, keyhole races are about securing the fastest time while completing a pattern. They take speed and a lot of agility.

You might see this event at rodeos, fun shows, and gymkhanas. Those with basic riding skills can try their hand at these races.

The Pattern


The pattern is easy to set up and varies depending on how casual the show is. Most commonly, white powder is used to mark the dimensions and key hole shape at the end.

Local fun shows may use cones, bales of hay, poles, or even overturned buckets. The start and finish line should be easily recognized. It is also important that the ground be flat.

Running It

The horse and rider team cross the start line and the clock begins. They race down the center aisle, spin around in the keyhole, and fly back to cross the finish line. The fastest time wins. Any horse that crosses or touches the boundaries is disqualified.


  • Riders can turn their horse left or right in the keyhole. Practice both sides and see which one your horse is more efficient at.
  • It’s not just about speed. It is more important to run an accurate test and stay within the boundaries.
  • Don’t over practice the same pattern. You can get more speed, better stops, and increased flexibility by doing circles, figure 8s, and various shapes at different gaits and directions. You’ll keep your horse interested.

Speed events are the ultimate test for horse and rider. They require a horse that is athletic and responsive to aids. And a rider that can make split second decisions. But more than anything, these events should be fun! Keyhole races are a great opportunity to learn new skills and develop a better partnership with your horse.