Barrel Horse Racing
Though not a typical form of racing, barrel racing is still a very entertaining event. It takes place mainly at rodeos across the United States and is primarily a woman’s sport. Unlike in conventional racing, the rider and horse do not race against several other competitors simultaneously on a straight or oval track. In barrel racing, the horse and rider must race around three barrels which are set down in a triangular arrangement. Several competitors take their turn at the event after which the fastest race time and least penalties are combined to determine the winner.
The event is a sporting display of the speed and agility needed by cowboys and cowgirls when herding cattle and doing other ranch work. The course is run in a cloverleaf pattern and winning depends as much on the horse’s physical abilities as it does on the skilful guidance of the rider. Because of this, the American Quarter Horse is perhaps the most popular breed of horse used for this sport. The rider heads towards the barrels at a gallop, passing an electronic timer as they go. The first barrel must be approached at a slight angle and the horse must manoeuvre around it in a complete circle without bumping it over. Touching the barrel is allowed. At the second barrel, a change of lead – or leading leg – is required for a smooth turn as the turn is in the opposite direction from before. If the horse fails to respond to the command to change lead or the rider fails to give it, the horse’s turn will be clumsy, slow and the horse could possibly trip over his own feet or knock over the barrel. The rider then heads for the apex of the arrangement – the third barrel – around which he does a complete turn before galloping back to the finishing point and crossing the electronic timer.
The race is particularly difficult since a balance between speed and control must be reached. The closer the horse and rider get to the barrel, the faster their time will be. Yet they are also more likely to knock over a barrel which would result in a five second penalty. Top speeds range from between 13-18 seconds and the fast pace can be quite exhilarating for spectators to behold. Interestingly enough, traditional rules required that a cowboy hat be worn during the race. If the hat fell off during the race, the rider would be fined. This sport can reach national levels and it is governed over by several bodies such as the WPRA and the NBHA.