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Corro Stories

Corro 101: The Ins, Outs, and All Arounds of Barrel Racing

By Jessica Konopinski

If you’re a part of the rodeo world, you’re probably already familiar with the sport of barrel racing. If not, just imagine both horse and rider traveling at full speed around three standing barrels competing for the fastest time. Sounds intense, right? Well, we’re here to tell you everything you need to know about this crazy passion of cowgirls all around the country.

 

The Origins of Barrel Racing

Image courtesy of the National Cowboy Museum.

Barrel racing dates back as early as 1928, but its first most popular debut was located in Texas in 1931. Invented as a way to encourage women to have more of a presence in the rodeo world, the Texas debut in 1931 was a way to invite local women to compete in rodeo activities—barrel racing being one of them. The idea was to test horsemanship by having women and their horses race down an alley way, circle around large metal barrels and then turn around and gallop back. Both figure eight patterns and clover leaf patterns were seen. Women were judged on their overall horsemanship and even their attire.

Objective and Technique

Image of barrel racer Madeline Grothaus of Big Ten Ranch. Image by Carlyon Photography.

In effort to display true horsemanship, precision, speed, and agility, the typical figure eight pattern transpired into the cloverleaf pattern involving three barrels. The objective of modern day barrel racing is to complete the pattern with the fastest time without disrupting the placement of the barrels. Consequences including a five-second penalty are placed if a horse and rider knocks a barrel. It is the riders goal to make as tight as a circle as they can around the barrel to ensure no wasted time and the fastest speed.

Each barrel racing organization carries their own rules and regulations, but typically barrels one and two are placed at nine feet apart, and barrels one and three and then two and three are placed 105 feet apart. The start line usually begins six feet in front of barrel one.

Scoring

With speed and agility being the horse and rider’s main objective, the overall goal is to manipulate the pattern in such a way that it earns them the fastest time on the leader board. Any penalties are deducted from the pairs final score, which can include that of a knocked over barrel which is a deduction of five points. Judges in earlier barrel racing days typically used a stopwatch, but today, automatic sensors are installed that start and stop as the horse and rider cross the imaginary line.

Image of barrel racer Madeline Grothaus of Big Ten Ranch an her horse Candy Crackers. Candy Crackers (2006 Paint Appendix- Mare) has around $40,000 in earnings throughout her career.

Organizations

While there are many barrel racing organizations, The Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) is the oldest in the industry, beginning their competitions as early as 1948. The National Barrel Horse Association is another well-known professional organization. Each organization differs slightly in their competition style, rules and regulations.

Competition

Image of barrel racer Madeline Grothaus of Big Ten Ranch an her horse Candy Crackers. Candy Crackers (2006 Paint Appendix- Mare) has around $40,000 in earnings throughout her career.

The life of a barrel racer can be pretty rigorous between intensive training, preparation, and travel for competition. With hundreds of events happening almost all year round, organization and time management is key when it comes to lining up a successful training schedule.

Typically, each organization offers their own circuit of events. Riders can pick and choose which organization they would like to become a member of and which circuits they would like to participate in. Competitive riders will choose to follow the entire circuit of competitions in order to qualify for year-end finals for that specific organization. Less competitive riders can navigate each organization’s schedule of events to determine which competitions fit best for them. Some organizations even offer local district shows to cater towards those who are less likely to travel consistently for competition.

Divisions and Prize Money

Each organization can range in their selection of divisions. Riders are able to choose which division they would like to compete in based on their status and qualification criteria. These divisions can range anywhere from Pro-Rodeo, to Junior and Senior.

Prize money is typically based on division, event status, and ranking. Participants will compete for prize money or points (to go towards year-end finals) based on who is sanctioning the event. Typically, each event will offer an Open Class, meaning it is open to all riders, whether they are youth, adult, or masters. In these classes, individuals have the opportunity to compete for money, where they may not have been able to in their prior division. Placings will range based on which organization is sanctioning the event, but usually offers placings for 1st-8th, giving contestants the opportunity for more substantial prize money.

Getting Started

If barrel racing sounds like a sport you'd like to give a try, the National Barrel Horse Association and Women's Professional Rodeo Association are great resources to start to get more information. Additionally, since barrel racing has become such a popular sport nationwide, it's become easier than ever to find a barn near you that can help you get started.

Whether you are looking to give it a go or just want to know more before attending the rodeo, we hope you've found this article helpful in getting to know more about this high-speed, high-excitement sport.