Barrel racing is a competition where riders must circle three barrels placed in a triangular pattern in the shortest amount of time possible. Agility and speed are key words in this sport: Riding around the barrels at top speed, the riders must create a cloverleaf pattern without touching or knocking down any of the barrels with the winner often decided by a difference of hundreds of a second.
Traditionally, the American Quarter Horse has been considered the best breed to practice barrel racing. However, from Appaloosas and Arabians, to Mustangs and Thoroughbreds, barrel racers have many choices when choosing the most appropriate or exciting horse breed to practice and compete in the sport.
A combination of personality, conformation–the horse’s proportions, and adequate training all contribute to determining what the best horse breed is for you if you decide to try your hand at barrel racing. (source). (source).
9 Barrel Racing Breeds
There are many reasons why Quarter Horses are considered the best breed for barrel racing.
Quarter Horses have great temperaments and are easy to train. More importantly, Quarter Horses are bred for speed, especially when covering short distances.
Quarter Horses are short with muscular necks and builds, and muscular and firm legs. Quarter horses are usually bred for cutting cattle, a type of work that demands the ability for quick starts and stops and sharp turns.
Appaloosas are very popular horses in many types of Western riding, including barrel racing. T
heir most distinctive characteristics are their spotted coat and their sclera–the area around the iris in the eyes–which is white. Other distinctive traits include their striped hooves and a sometimes thinner tale and mane.
Appaloosas are also gentle, versatile horses that are very willing to learn. This makes them a very good choice to train in the skills needed for barrel racing.
Appaloosas descended from the tall and slender Spanish horses brought to the American continent in the 16th century. Breeding practices by the Nez Percé Indians in the 18th century and later the introduction of Quarter Horse and Arabian bloodlines into the breed resulted in the fast and versatile Appaloosa horse of today. (source). (source). (source).
Arabians are highly sensitive, intelligent horses. Though not traditionally bred for barrel racing, a properly trained Arabian horse can excel at the sport.
This is due to Arabians’ light frame, which gives them an advantage when having to negotiate the barrels in a race.
Furthermore, as the Arabian Horse Association explains, “Racing is in the heart and soul of every Arabian horse,” which makes Arabians a great choice when looking for speed and the racing spirit required for the sport. (source). (source).
The Friesian is a horse native to the Netherlands. Friesians’ main characteristics are their arresting black coat, abundant mane and tail, and long fetlock hair.
According to the Friesian Horse Association of North America, some of the qualities that make Friesians great riding horses are their “intelligence, willingness to learn, and readiness to perform.”
Friesians are also robustly built, and have compact and muscular bodies, with shorter legs.
A beautiful sight in any race, Paint Horses always stand out due to their striking colorful coat. Paint Horses’ coat color can range in unending combinations of white with bay, chocolate, palomino and black.
In terms of configuration, Paint Horses are strong, with a compact and solid musculature, a great asset when it comes to barrel racing.
Paint Horses are also very friendly, versatile and highly trainable, which is why they are usually a good choice for beginner riders. (source).
Australian Stock Horse
This wonderful breed has almost all characteristics that would make it a great choice for barrel racing.. The Australian Stock Horse Society describes Australian Stock Horses as “possibly the world’s most versatile horse.”
This is due to these horses’ intelligence and quiet temperament which is coupled with their athletic ability and stamina.
Grade horses are horses of unknown lineage or parentage. This doesn’t mean grade horses are of some non-identifiable breed, but that their bloodline is not known, they may have been the result of unintentional breeding, or may not have been registered by their breeder.
Unlike certain sports where only purebreds are allowed to compete, grade horses are allowed to participate in barrel racing.
And as with the other breeds on this list, more important than the breed is the overall personality and configuration of the horse: a willingness to learn, agility, speed, and a sound racing body. (source). (source).
Mustangs are feral horses; this means they live wild on the land. However, in the United States, the Bureau of Land Management is in charge of rounding up and adopting Mustang horses to control overpopulation. Mustang horses, when trained properly, can be very successful in many uses and sports, including barrel racing.
Mustangs are also smaller horses, weighing only up to 800 pounds, which makes them a great choice for smaller riders or for children. However, due to their wild nature, Mustangs are also much more careful horses–they have a heightened sense of self-preservation– so they will need careful, steady training to turn into happy barrel racers. (source). (source). (source).
Thoroughbreds can be excellent barrel racing horses, provided that they are trained properly.
Thoroughbreds are bred for speed and to race over long distances, opposite to the short, precise distances of the cloverleaf pattern of barrel racing.
They are also hot-blooded which means they tend to be very spirited and harder to handle for beginner or inexperienced riders.
However, Thoroughbreds are also hard-working and very intelligent, which coupled with their natural athleticism and build for speed makes them an exciting choice for barrel racing. (source). (source). (source).
How to Pick a Good Barrel Racing Horse
Good barrel racing horses need to have a few important characteristics: they need to be agile, fast, have the right conformation, and be willing learners. More importantly, they need to enjoy the challenges presented by the sport.
Agility and speed are necessary to do the sharp turns required when completing the pattern around the barrels: A horse must be able not only to handle these turns smartly but do so at full speed!
Next is conformation. As mentioned above, conformation refers to the muscle and bone composition or structure of the horse. Conformation also refers to the overall proportions of the horse, including their bone length and joint angles.
According to Horse Canada, when it comes to barrel racing, the ideal horse conformation consist of “solid legs, strong hindquarters and good gaskin and rump muscles,” all which allow them to “shift their weight back on their hindquarters and make tight turns.”
Lastly, a good barrel horse needs to be willing to learn the sport: a horse that resists the training may not be the best choice.
Experts therefore believe that even more important than the breed, it’s the horse’s personality, his heart, that will impact if they are able to become a great barrel racing horse. (source). (source).
Best Barrel Racing Pedigrees
15 Top Barrel Racers of 2019
|Rider: Nellie Miller Rafter W Minnie Reba||Quarter Horse||$154,610.50 – 28 Rodeos|
|Rider: Hailey Kinsel Lockwood DM Sissy Hayday Thunder Stones||Quarter Horse||$148,866.64 – 49 Rodeos|
|Rider: Lisa Lockhart Rosas Cantina CC An Oakie With Cash Prime Diamond||Quarter Horse||$146,351.65 – 47 Rodeos|
|Rider: Shali Lord-rider Freckles Ta Fame||Quarter Horse||$111,775.59 – 55 Rodeos|
|Rider: Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi Babe on The Chase Ima Famous Babe KissKiss BangBang||Quarter Horse||$105,503.40 – 67 Rodeos|
|Rider: Stevi Hillman Cuatro Fame MCM Imasharpguy||Quarter Horse||$105,334.82 – 76 Rodeos|
|Rider: Emily Miller Namgis D 33 Namgis D 56 Namgis D 35||Quarter Horses||$98,144.73 – 79 Rodeos|
|Rider: Jessica Routier Firey Miss West||Quarter Horse||$96,581.90 – 54 Rodeos|
|Rider: Dona Kay Rule High Valor Bullseye Bullion||Quarter Horse||$96,507.49 – 64 Rodeos|
|Rider: Ericka Nelson Goodfrenchmanfriday PC Cash||Quarter Horse||$93,433.24 – 65 Rodeos|
|Rider: Ivy Conrado-Saebens KN Fabs Gift of Fame||Quarter Horse||$93,269.24 – 49 Rodeos|
|Rider: Amberleigh Moore CP Dark Moon Blue Duck Down||Quarter Horse||$93,059.22|
|Rider: Jennifer Sharp KR Famous Tequilla Mitos Cutter||Quarter Horse||$91,754.45 – 94 Rodeos|
|Rider: Cheyenne Wimberley KN Fabs Mist of Fame VQ Sucker Punch Dash Ta Suz||Quarter Horse||$90,360.85 – 89 Rodeos|
|Rider: Lacinda Rose RR Meradas Real Deal Sheza A Mazie James Famous Illusion||Quarter Horse||$88,935.85 – 73 Rodeos|
When learning a new sport and choosing a horse, it is important to consult a wide variety of sources. These are the sources we used in this article.