Horses, speed, competition and adrenaline; all things barrel racing has to offer us. Barrel racing is a times event with nothing but you, your horse and three barrels to conquer. The race is a clover leaf pattern, starting with either a left or right turn depending on your preference. The clock is the only judge as the fastest times win. 

The clover leaf pattern can start with either the left or right barrel first. If you go right, you will have one right turn and two left turns. If you choose to start with the left turn first, you will have one left and two rights to complete this course. It is complete preference on which barrel you start with, most horses are said to be “left handed” or just more dominant with their left turns. Because of this, most people start with the right turn first so they get two left handed turns. 

How it Works:

First, we must establish the pattern for us and our horses. The pattern has many points on it that we must try to aim for to avoid a disqualification such as a down barrel. The size of pattern changes from race to race, arena to arena, but typically as per NBHA rules: 15 feet off the fence for first and second barrel and a minumum of 30 feet from third and the fence and from the timer line and first barrel.

Attending an event: NBHA Division Format

In order to give every rider a chance to make money. NBHA started having divisions added to their open race to allow everyone, not just the top times to earm some cash. If you’re looking for only the top times to make money, hit up a rodeo where they only pay top spots. But, for inclusion 4D is where its at.

It goes like this,

  • 1D is the fastest times of that go/race
  • 2D is half a second slower then the fastest time
  • 3D is 1 full second
  • 4D is 2 seconds off the fastest time.

Example: top time was a 15.0, the 1D winner is a 15.0, the 2D is above a 15.5 the 3D is above a 16.0 and the 4D is anyone slower than a 17.0

Everyone enters the open race the same, we all pay the same entry fees and do our one run for the class. When the class is over, the results are shows in the above format.


There are a few ways to earn a disqualification in barrel racing.

– A Down Barrel. This is when a barrel is hit by you or your horse and falls over. There are some cases of the quick reactors to reach down and grab the barrel before it falls. Beware, some riders loose their balance and end up falling of their horses trying this move!

– Running Off the Proper Barrel Pattern. This means if you run home and go anywhere but the middle of the 1st and 2nd barrel, its a automatic DQ. Also, if you turn the barrel inside out, meaning the horse exited the barrel the same side they came into it.

– Final Call. When your name is called, you have a specific amout of time you MUST enter the arena. If you fail to get in the arena, due to horse alley issues, or you just miss your run due to a longer than expected warm up. Whatever the cause is, make sure you know the time allowed before you get “last call” and miss your run.


The Tools we Need

Check out a few of my favourite bits for barrel racing >>

A few terms you need to know

Exhibitions: This is before the show start time. Exhibitions are a paid time slot you get in the arena with the barrels up. Learn about doing exbos here. They are your time to practice the pattern before you run against the clock. BUT, expos are limited as well. Usually 60 seconds is your MAX. Please respect everyones time and ride within your time limit, it helps the show run smoother and everyone is happy. YAY. 

Rate Spot: This is the spot on the pattern wher you start to slow your horse down for the turn. It differers per horse but it is typically around 10 feet before the turn. It is important to look ahead of the rate spot, we don’t want us or our horses to anticipate the turn and hit it. 

Pocket: The pocket is the area we give our hores the aceptable room to make the turn smoothly. Our pocket is going to change based on the horse, some big horses need more room for the turn and smaller horses might need less space. It is typically the area going into the turn and behind it that we want to give room so we can leave the barrel nice and straight an close to the barrel.

Home: AKA the timer line. Hustle HOMEEEEE is the phrase. or just “go on!!” “Hustle!!!!”excetera.   


Do you want to learn more about barrel racing?

Follow us on Youtube, Instagram, and Facebook