Home Tips For Riders Barrel Racing For Beginners: The Basics

Barrel Racing For Beginners: The Basics

by Dani Buckley

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Barrel racing is the event of choice for those riders that have a need for speed, competition, and an adrenaline rush. If this sounds like you, here’s a guide to barrel racing for beginners.

barrel racing for beginners woman riding a horse

The Game

Barrel racing is racing your horse around three barrels as fast as you can. The barrels are set up in a triangle pattern in an arena – the first and second barrels are 60 ft from the starting point and the third barrel is 105 ft from the starting point. However, this even calls for much more control of your horse than you think as both horse and rider must work together to have a fast run.

Outdoor barrel racing in sun and shade jackpot rodeo horse event

The Penalties

There are two penalties in barrel racing: knocking over a barrel and breaking the pattern. If a horse knocks over a barrel, it adds five seconds to the time. However, if you’re skilled enough to catch the barrel to prevent it from hitting the ground, you’re in the clear! A broken pattern disqualifies the run completely.

Barrel racing indoors on palomino horse around pink barrel

The foundation

Barrel racing takes a lot of time, discipline, and control. Once you begin training correctly, you will notice that it’s not just about running around barrels. A good rule of thumb for a beginner barrel racer is to perfect the pattern first and the speed will follow. The best way to learn to barrel race is with an instructor, whether it be a seasoned barrel racer or an actual instructor. However, it’s not impossible to teach yourself.

If you’re interested in learning about how fast horses can go, check out our popular article Need For Speed — The 4 Fastest Horse Breeds In The World

Outdoor barrel racing in sun and shade jackpot rodeo horse event


A pocket is a buffer between the horse and the barrel, about 3 to 5ft in distance. Every barrel horse must learn how to respect and learn the pockets of the barrel as this is what teaches them to give themselves some space when turning the barrel, so they don’t knock it over.

Barrel races include both male and female competitors


The rate is about 10 feet from the barrel. In the beginning, stop your horse at the point so they know when to slow down and start setting up for the pocket and turning the barrel.

The best way to mark these important points out in the pattern is with soccer cones. However, just like in jumping, you should be looking past your jump and not at it. In barrel racing, you need to train yourself not to look at the barrel in front of you. Instead, look past it then as soon as you round the barrel look past your next barrel.

If you’re looking for some inspiration as you dip your toes into the world of barrel racing, check out our popular article Paralyzed Rider Wins Barrel Racing Championship

barrel racer in motion

Start slow

Start at a walk as you start training. Ensure that you have control of your horse and that you’re stopping at each point. Make sure you are leaning the pockets – going into the barrel a little wide and coming closer as you start for the next barrel. As you start teaching your horse to know where to slow down and set up for the following barrel, train your self as well; know where to look, where to place your hands, and where to add more leg.

Western horse and rider competing in pole bending and barrel racing competition.

As you master the basics and have a good foundation, your horse’s speed will follow. Barrel racing is just as addicting as it looks when you watch the NFR and the hypnotizing riders at a young age. Do you have any barrel racing tips for beginners that you’d like to add? Let us know in the comments below!

Interested in learning about other horseback riding styles? Check out our popular article 11 Different Riding Styles For Your Horse.

Sources: [1] 


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