This fan-favorite event is known for quick turns, high speeds and edge-of-your-seat excitement. At a gallop, horses and riders race toward their first barrel (they can choose left or right first). A complete turn around the barrel and then it’s on to the next one, and then to the third (and last) barrel, making a cloverleaf pattern. Finally, the most exciting and loudest part of most rodeos, is when the barrel racer and horse sprint all the way out the gate.
Like other timed rodeo events, the winner of a barrel racing event can be determined by thousandths of a second. Making a winning time requires precision teamwork between horse and rider. Tight cornering, ground-level turns and break-neck speeds are key to winning in this fast-moving event. Though contestants may touch a barrel during their sharp turns, contestants receive a 5-second penalty for each barrel they knock over.
Contestants compete in the arena against each other and the clock, with 13 to 14 seconds usually claiming the winning times, but can vary according to the size of the arena. Disqualifications result from not following the cloverleaf pattern.
One way to think of barrel racing is as the Wild, Wild West version of horse racing. Instead of racing around an oval track, riders rip through a 3-barrel pattern at daunting speeds.