Barrel Racing Pattern – Rules & Standard Measurement

Barrel racing is a rodeo event that is enjoyable over the world. The riders and their horses have to complete barrel racing patterns (a cloverleaf pattern for example) in the fastest time. Although both sexes can join in, this competition used to be for women only.

Below is all the general information you want to know about barrel racing: the history, the rules, and measurement of the barrel racing patterns, how to train horses for racing, and tips in competition.


Barrel racing history

Originally, barrel racing was an event for women. In early competition, a figure-eight and a cloverleaf were the two patterns to compete. However, as figure-eight was quite easy, it eventually dropped.

Barrel racing competition is believed to be held in Texas for the first time. And, the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) was founded in 1948 by a group of Texas women. At first, it was called the Girls Rodeo Association (GRA) and consisted of 74 members with 60 approved tour events.

In 1981, the GRA changed its name and officially became the WPRA.


What is a good barrel racing time?

Time is the sole determining factor in barrel racing.

A good time run will base on the size of the arena, however, the average times should range from 13 to 30 seconds (a contestant is said to have the fastest times at 13.40 seconds in the National Finals Rodeo).

The cutoff time is 60 seconds. If you finish the pattern longer than that, you are out of the race. Besides, a penalty of 5 seconds will be given if you hit a barrel. Well, on some small play days, the rules may be changed a bit to suit the level of competition.

Barrel Racing Pattern – Rules & Standard Measurement



In barrel racing competitions, the fastest time wins. If you run past a barrel and off the pattern, you will get a “no time” score and disqualification. If you or your horse hits a barrel and knocks it down, there will be a five-second penalty which makes it harder to win.

You will have only 60 seconds to complete the course. You cannot be required to start a run from an off-center alleyway. You are not allowed to set your horse and enter the arena.

After 12 contestants have finished their run, the arena is required to be harrowed. The barrels have to be 55 gallons, metal, enclosed at all ends, and appear in at least 2 colors.

In the National Barrel Racing Association (NBRA), contestants are required to wear a long-sleeved shirt, cut pants/jeans, hat, and boots in Western style. Contestants are asked to abide by this dress code one hour before the competition.

Standard measurement


Barrel racing patterns require standard distances between the start line and the first barrel, between the first and the second barrel, and between the second and the third barrel. The distances are often as follows:

  • Barrel 1 to barrel 2: 90 feet
  • Barrel 1 to barrel 3: 105 feet
  • Barrel 2 to barrel 3: 105 feel
  • Startline to the first barrel: 60 feet

In a WPRA pattern, the scoreline starts at the plane of the arena, which means from fence to fence no matter where the electric eye or timer is.

In bigger or smaller arenas, the size of patterns can change a bit.

Distance In bigger arenas In smaller arenas
Barrel 1 to Barrel 2 Maximum 105 feet Minimum 45 feet
Barrel 1 to Barrel 3 Maximum 120 feet Minimum 60 feet
Barrel 2 to Barrel 3 Maximum 120 feet Minimum 60 feet
Startline to barrel 1 At least 18 feet At least 15 feet

The pattern in smaller arenas should be reduced proportionately to a standard barrel pattern.

Above is the pattern for WPRA and the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA). In the National Barrel Horse Association (NBHA), the pattern’s measurement is as follows.

  • Each of the first two barrels to the side fence: minimum 15 feet.
  • The third barrel to the back fence: minimum 30 feet.
  • The timeline to the first barrel: minimum 30 feet.

If you are setting up an area to practice, remember to make ample room between your barrels and the nearest fences.

How to train horses for barrel racing?

If you want your horse to get familiar with barrel racing patterns, you need to make sure that he is willing to work. Also, he should be helped to ease fatigue, reduce the risk of muscular breakdown, and improve neuromuscular coordination.


The training should consist of 3 stages:

  • Long and slow distance work
  • Strength work
  • Fast work

To get the best performance of workouts, the training program should mimic the demands of the sport.

Firstly, every training program should start with a warm-up. This is important as it will help prepare your horse for performance, prevent injuries, and is good for psychological preparation.

This starting exercise delivers oxygen to the working muscles and helps improve the coordination of your horse. There are various ways to do a warm-up, but some groundwork is recommended. For example, you can lunge your horse at a trot, flex him to each side, gallop in small and large circles, and transition into loping.

Warm-ups are to get the horse’s feet moving and help him pay attention to you and your commands.

Secondly, after the warm-up is finished, the actual training session will begin. This should be done within several minutes after the warm-up. The exercise should be designed to know your horse-specific skill, then you will know what strength and speed need to be improved.

When your horse’s skill improves, this part of the workout will need to change continuously to keep advancing him. What you choose should focus on increasing his speed and strength.

Also, your horse needs to adapt to the additional stress before you change to something more advanced. If you are careless with this aspect of training, your horse may be overworked which can lead to injuries.

Lastly, the training should end with a cool down. You can trot for 5 to 10 minutes, then walk your horse for another 10 to 15 minutes. This helps his muscles relax and recall everything he has just learned. This is also a good way to bond both of you after workouts.

Besides, a cool-down helps remove lactate (which is built during intense exercises) from the blood, then reduces fatigue for the horse’s muscles.

Barrel racing pattern competition tips

The approach to the first barrel is important. You will find that you can get a better time when riding the pattern slower and cleanly, not just try to ride fast.

Actually, riding fast can slow you down. By going at a slower gait to keep lines straight, turns tight, and accurate, you may go faster. In contrast, galloping wildly all over, making large turns, and running wobbly between the barrels can make you waste more time.

When you pass from the second to the third barrels, you need also to change your horse’s lead as you change direction (from a right turn to a left turn or vice versa).

Remember, control is as important as speed.

Some people think that riding barrel races with Western saddles is better than English saddles as a Western one brings more security. But this is not true. Either the Western or the English saddle can help you stay centered on your horse.

Do not forget your horse riding helmet and always keep your heels down, your eyes up, and your hands quiet.

Barrel racing pattern is an exciting sport for both the contestants and the spectators. If you want to succeed in the competition, you should definitely understand the rules, and train your horse appropriately. Knowing what strength your horse owns is surely an advantage.

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