Gymkhana, pattern racing, timed events, gaming – whatever you call it, they all refer to exhilarating equine speed events. Without a doubt, the most popular of them all is barrel racing.
From 4-H fairs and high school equestrian meets to exclusive barrel competitions and rodeos, people of all ages enjoy the thrill of barrel racing. Of all the possible barrel racing patterns, the most well-known is the pattern in which three barrels are set up in a triangle. Riders cross the start line, head towards the barrel on the right, turn to the right, then cross over to the second barrel, turn to the left, then to the third barrel, turn to the left and race back over the finish line. Riders also have the option of running the pattern in the opposite direction, making a left and two rights. This event is called by various names – Cloverleaf Barrels, Texas Barrels, or simply Barrels– depending on the organization and the part of the country.
A barrel racing standout in real life, Babyflo is also a top contender
as a barrel racing model.
The National Barrel Horse Association (NBHA) is the largest barrel racing organization in the world, with more than 23,000 members in the US. There are also affiliates in 12 countries, including Canada, Italy, France, Panama and Brazil. To date, the NBHA has paid out over 12 billion dollars in prize money. They use a 4-D divisional time bracket format and welcome riders of all levels, from beginners to pros. There are divisions for youth 18 and under, seniors 50 and over, and open. In the NBHA, riders compete on a district, state, national, and world championship level.
As its name implies, the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) sanctions rodeo barrels for female youth and adult riders. Founded in 1948, WPRA now has more than 2,500 members and offers millions of dollars in prize money.
In barrel racing, the triangular pattern is most common, but it’s not the only barrel racing event. For example, in addition to Texas Barrels, Western Horsemen of Oregon offers a different event, called Cloverleaf Barrels, with four barrels set in a square. Horses must cross through a limed circle in the center of the pattern before turning each barrel. They cross a line on the other side and have to back 10 feet to the finish line.
The Pony of the Americas (POA) Club’s official handbook has the well-known Cloverleaf Barrels, but also describes two events with three barrels set in a row: Straight Barrels and Figure 8 Barrels. Their patterns are quite different from one another. Speed Barrels, popular in some riding groups, also has three barrels in a row, but with a different pattern than either of the POA ones.
Bobby Jo turns the first barrel.
Finally, there are single barrel events. In the POA Texas Rollback, a barrel is set 100 feet from the start/finish line. Riders approach on the right side of the barrel, turn 180 degrees to the right behind the barrel and exit on the other side. They also have the option of running it the opposite direction. Barrel Dash is another single barrel event in which riders simply ride down either direction around the barrel and race back over the finish line. This is a great class for very young riders.
While 55-gallon barrels are the norm, other requirements vary slightly by association. Most allow either metal or weighted plastic barrels. Some require a bicycle tire around the rim of metal barrels for safety. Rodeo barrels are often covered with a canvas sleeve with advertising on it, while others may be painted red, white and blue or other bright colors. Logos may also be added.
Almost any type of Western saddle and bridle is allowed, as long as it’s safe and humane. Lightweight saddles with little or no silver are desirable. Barrel racing saddles typically have stirrups that are pushed slightly forward, a forward slanted horn, and a very deep seat. Headstalls may be leather, nylon or other material. Snaffles, curbs, gag bits, and mechanical hackamores are all acceptable. Looped (roping) reins are typically used, and are often required for safety in youth organizations. Some also require a throatlatch to keep the bridle securely in place. Breast collars, cavessons, tie downs, and protective boots are common.
Riders typically wear jeans and a long-sleeved Western shirt. Boots and either a Western hat or helmet are required. Some barrel racers use a stampede string on their cowboy hat so it doesn’t fly off during a run, which incurs a $25 fine in NBHA. Shin guards are optional but often used. Riders often color-coordinate their attire along with their saddle pad, leg wraps, and other tack. Women customarily wear bright colors; fringe and sparkly fabric are also popular.
Stock breeds usually dominate in barrel racing, but any breed or mixed breed of horse can excel. In addition, ponies and mules can be good contenders. Even donkeys compete, but usually in Walk/Trot Barrels.
Since this is a speed event, the best entries will be galloping (like American Pharoah, Secretariat, California Chrome, or 1:12 scale Bella and Wahoo King) or turning (such as Paint Me a Pepto and Scamper). Slower equines may do well if cleverly photographed to give the illusion of speed, perhaps with the barrel hiding part of their legs. Standing horses can also give it a try. Show them waiting to begin the course. Electronic timers can enhance the starting line.
A lightweight game saddle is ideal, but a plain Western saddle is acceptable. Be sure that your tack fits properly and is correctly adjusted. Using boots and/or leg wraps will add to the realism. If using a rider, make them sit and hold the reins correctly. The doll needs to be in Western attire.
When setting up your model scene, be sure to use a barrel that’s in proportion to the size of your horse. About four inches high is appropriate for most Traditional models. Real barrels should never be closer than 15 feet from any fence or wall, so keep your model barrel several inches from your background.
Dust around the horse’s feet adds a touch of realism to this color-coordinated entry.
Think about your horse’s position – straight body or turning, left or right lead? Place the horse in a logical location on the pattern in relation to the barrel(s). Either an indoor or outdoor arena setting is appropriate, but it does need a fence or wall for photo showing. Use footing material that’s in scale to your horse and isn’t too deep.
To enhance the illusion of speed and add a touch of realism, put some “flying dust” around your horse’s feet. This can be achieved by using wool roving (the fiber used for felting). It comes in different colors, so choose a shade of brown or tan that matches your footing. Gently pull off a small amount, fluff it up and strategically place it around or behind the hooves. A little bit goes a long way!
Labeling your photo or live show entry and including the course diagram, with your horse’s location highlighted or marked in red, will show your knowledge of the event and help the judge quickly see where your horse is on the pattern.
Attention to details will help your barrel entry race to the winner’s circle!
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
National Barrel Horse Association www.nbha.com
Pony of the Americas Club, Inc. www.poac.org
Western Horsemen of Oregon www.westernhorsemenoforegon.com
Women’s Professional Rodeo Association www.wpra.com