The History of Barrel Racing


In barrel racing, the clock rules. The winner of a race can be determined by thousandths of a second, which makes barrel racing one of the fastest rodeo events.

Barrel racing officially started in 1928 when it became the first sport for women on horseback, while the men participated in the other rodeo events like roping and bull or bronco riding. The goal is simple: the horse runs full-speed through an alleyway, makes a right turn along a large metal barrel, and then a left turn around a second barrel. The rider enters the arena at a gallop and runs toward the first barrel. A rider chooses between starting at the leftmost or rightmost barrel and turns a complete circle around the barrel. The pattern originally alternated between a figure-eight shape and a clover, until the clover pattern was permanently adopted.

Until 1949, the rider’s outfit and horsemanship were the main factors when determining the winner. After that, it became all about speed. Though speed is key, a horse must also be take quality turns around the barrels as to not knock any over. A skilled barrel racer also needs to consider burnout, since horses run full speed during the event.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Charmayne James dominated barrel racing in the rodeo scene. She set a record by winning 10 consecutive world championship titles and was the first barrel racer to win more money than any Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association cowboy in a single rodeo season. Though many changes have been made to barrel racing, there’s one thread of truth that remains the same: the bond between the rider and the horse is essential.

Now that you’re an expert, come see the barrel racers in action! Race to your tickets now for the Stockyards Championship Rodeo.