Barrel racing is a popular event both in the real horse world and in the model world. But did you know that barrels can be used as props in many other events, too? Here we’ll discover how to make realistic miniature barrels.
For real horse events, barrels are 55-gallon drums. Metal barrels were the norm up until recent decades when plastic barrels became available. Metal ones are still often used. They usually have two ribs on them, which divide them into thirds. However, imagine running at full speed, having your horse cut the corner too close, and ramming your knee or shin into the barrel! That’s why many barrel riders wear shin guards for protection and why those metal barrels have a bicycle tire mounted around the top rim – they will soften the impact if a rider hits a barrel.
To make realistic Traditional-sized barrels, you needn’t look any further than your freezer! Twelve-ounce frozen juice concentrate cans – the ones made of a glossy cardboard material with a pull-strip to remove the metal end – make great barrels. Wash and rinse thoroughly and let them dry.
I find the cans are a bit too tall, so I measure 10 centimeters from the top rim, mark it with a black marker, and cut approximately 2 cm off the bottom, which is the open end. If there’s any printing (such as date or lot number) on the metal top, clean it off with nail polish remover on a paper towel. (Note: While soup cans are often used to create miniature barrels for the model world, they do have a couple drawbacks: they are a bit too tall and narrow, and they have ribs all along their length.)
The next step is spray painting. Lay down plenty of newspapers outdoors or in a well-ventilated area, such as a garage with the door open. Spray tends to drift, so stay away from other objects to prevent them from being painted. It’s recommended to wear a respirator, too.
Start with white primer. It will take at least two coats to cover the label. Several light coats work better than a single heavy one. Allow to dry between coats. Next, apply a coat of glossy white spray over the metal top.
Using a ruler and pencil, mark 3.25 cm down from the metal rim, then again 6.5 cm down. If you repeat the measurements and marks several times around the barrel, you can sketch in a fairly straight line between them.
Now that the barrel is divided into thirds, you can start painting it with acrylic paint and a brush. Often the center section of the barrel is white, while the upper and lower sections are colored (either the same or different). Of course, you may also choose to paint it all one color, in which case you would not need to measure. You may want to color-coordinate it with a particular model, rider outfit, or tack set.
Once you have painted two or three coats, and the paint is dry, it is time to put a rubber rim on the barrel. Black surgical tubing is available in sporting goods stores, in the sporting section of department stores, or online. With your scissors, slit the tubing lengthwise until it is long enough to go around the rim (about 24 cm). Using Super Glue (or other quick-bonding glue), apply small dabs just below the rim, at the top of the painted area. Work quickly, as the glue dries almost immediately. Put the tubing with the slit over the rim and press the outer part onto the glue. Apply a few more glue dabs and continue putting the tubing in place. Once it is all the way around, trim it so the ends meet. Smooth the tubing around the inner part of the rim. Voilà, you now have a “bicycle tire” around your barrel.
Work quickly as you glue the rubber tubing onto the barrel rim.
You can go one step further by decorating the barrel with a corporate logo or a club, show or rodeo name, or even the name of your model stable. Tack and riding apparel catalogs are a great place to find logos, as is the internet. Attach the image with clear-drying craft glue – or paint right onto the barrel – for a permanent image. For a temporary logo, attach it with a bit of double-sided tape or sticky wax.
Obviously, barrels are used in barrel racing, but they can also serve you well in a variety of other events. Horses must turn a barrel in the Scurry Race. A barrel is needed to set things on in various gymkhana events, such as crackers in the Cracker Race, a phone book in the Gretna Green, or a bucket with flag in one version of the Flag Race. There is plenty of inspiration to be had!
Paint your barrels in different color schemes to add variety to your show entries.
In trail, entries may be asked to back around barrels, pick up an object from one barrel and carry it to another one, or lope a small circle around a barrel. In obstacle driving, entries may trot a figure 8 around two barrels, pick up an object from a barrel, or back between two barrels.
Have fun making and using your own barrels!
Barrels aren’t just for gymkhana events – they also make great props for a trail course.