Barrel Racing Lessons – Where To Start

Barrel racing brings horse and rider together in the most exciting way possible. Interested in the sport, but don’t know where to start? Craft your own barrel racing lessons right from home and see if your interest, talent, and dedication align. And all without breaking the bank!

In this post we’ll discuss what you need to know before you start, special equipment to consider, practice set-ups, and helpful tips. Once we’re finished, your entry into barrel racing will be as smooth as a perfect pocket around barrel one. Let’s giddyup!

Woman on a horse in front of a barn with text from the blog post.

What to Know Before Beginning Barrel Racing Lessons

A horse and rider need to complete a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels inside an arena. The best time completing the pattern without knocking over barrels is the winner. Let’s review the rules and a few common terms below:


The basic rule is to run the pattern. The direction doesn’t matter. Just execute a cloverleaf shape. Your time starts and stops at the start line. A missed barrel or interruption in pattern results in disqualification.

If a barrel is knocked over, 5 seconds is added to the time. A toppled barrel can even result in a “no time” penalty. 


Here are two terms you’ll hear quite frequently. A pocket is a 3 to 5 foot buffer between the horse and barrel. Horses need to learn pocket space to leave enough room to turn the barrel before tipping it.

Rate is a 10 foot buffer between horse and barrel. And in the same way, horses need to learn pocket space to ensure they turn the barrel before tipping it.

It’s Important For The Horse & Rider To Connect

Before starting any new sport with your horse, get the basics down first. If your horse listens to you half the time at home, it won’t get better inside the arena. The distractions of the audience, music, and other horses will overwhelm your horse’s attention. A quiet, dependable mount is best when learning. Make sure you and your horse have a strong bond before you compete. Your horse needs to take your prompts to slow down, turn, spin, and flat-out ride without difficulty. Spending quality time together and laying a proper foundation will reap massive benefits, later in the ring. Guaranteed!

Get free advice from X Factor’s pros to see what your first steps should be.

Barrel Racing Lessons: Attire & Tack

Barrel racing groups have rules to keep both horse and rider as safe as possible. The tack for your horse isn’t required but will make your buddy safer and more comfortable. 

The Rider’s Attire

  • Long-sleeved buttoned western shirt (some events will allow short sleeves due to weather)
  • Jeans
  • Cowgirl boots
  • Cowgirl hat

Horse Attire

  • Proper barrel racing saddle- deep seat and a short skirt. These make it easier to keep your balance and stability.
  • Breast collar – prevents the saddle from shifting backward as you take off
  • Protective support boots for your horse’s legs, which helps prevent injury. And protects tendons from overstretching.

Woman on a horse by a barrel, with barrel racing tips in a yellow box.

Setting Up Practice Barrels At Home

If space allows, the best practice you and your horse will get is to set up a practice pattern. It lets you both get familiar with the patterns and equipment in your surroundings.

Setting Up The Barrels

Find 3 barrels for the same pattern that’s used in the arena. You need the same placement and measurements used in most events. Each event will be slightly different, but the following is close enough to get the benefits.

Set the 3 barrels in a triangle. The first 2 are 60ft from the starting line. The 3rd is 105ft from the starting line.

How To Begin Your Barrel Racing Lessons

Start slow. Remember both you and your horse need to learn the fundamentals correctly. Begin by walking the patterns. Once you both are comfortable, progress to a trot. When your horse knows what to expect the chances of breaking the pattern in the arena decrease. 

How you hold your reins also helps your horse anticipate what’s coming next. Hold your reins with your right hand around the 1st barrel as you start the right turn. Switch to your left hand as you approach the 2nd barrel to turn left. Keep the reins in your left hand as you close in on the last barrel. Then ask for a full-bore run to the finish line!

Visit X Factor Barrel Racing for more fundamentals to incorporate into your barrel racing lessons.

Tips For Barrel Racing Lessons

Of course there are countless barrel racing tips out there, but here are a few that we think are very important: 

  • Go slow. We mention this so much because it’s so vital to get the fundamentals down correctly.
  • Give your horse variety during training. Your horse still needs trail rides and quality time mixed in with training. You don’t want him bored or resentful.
  • Watch the pros. Go to events or watch the pros here at X Factor Barrel Racing. Pattern yourself and your habits after the best in the sport!
  • Fix your eyes on what’s coming. Don’t watch the barrel you’re turning around. Always watch the upcoming barrel.
  • Practice good body posture to stay secure
  • Mix up training with circles and figure eights
  • Sit deep and press into your stirrups when approaching the pocket. This helps you both slow down. Resume normal posture once you finish the turn.
  • Keep your hands low and tilt a bit forward as you gallop to the finish line to gain a bit more speed.

Hire A Pro To Help With Your Barrel Racing Lessons

Barrel racing lessons don’t need to blow your budget. In fact, you can enhance our tips by using free hints and advice from barrel racing champions at X Factor Barrel Racing. Beginners and pros can get the best direction found anywhere – all in the comfort of your home. If you find the information helpful, consider becoming a member. Some of the membership perks include:

  • Access to the X Factor Barrel Racing Online coaching program that features professional champions. (Like Lisa Lockhart, Dena Kirkpatrick, and Tammy Fischer)
  • Video tutorials
  • Personal feedback
  • Exclusive footage showing how the pros practice and prepare
  • So much more!

Check out our resources here. Give them a try to see if they’ll help you with your barrel racing lessons!

Woman riding her horse around a barrel and text promoting X Factor Barrel Racing membership.

About X Factor Barrel Racing

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