How To Start Barrel Racing

A woman is riding a horse, with a quote from Calamity Jane next to her.

Barrel racing is fueled by passion and grit. It requires a lot of determination, skill, and discipline too. How could it not, when you’re choosing to ride 1,200 pounds of bridled lighting at breakneck speeds? If it’s your dream to become a barrel racer, then you’ve landed upon the right post. In it we’ll discuss how to get started, basic rules, and some helpful tips. So keep reading to learn more! 

Get Ready To Get Ready! Find a Good Instructor

One of the first steps to learning any new skill is laying down a solid foundation. Though the professionals make barrel racing look easy, they’ve put in years and years of practice. 

They had to learn correct technique as well as follow drills to attain the level of perfection you see in the arena. But how do they do it? Well, most hire a skilled instructor to get them started. If you’re looking for an instructor, you might look for a reputable trainer within your hometown horse community first. Word of mouth is always helpful, but you can always make online inquiries too. Breed associations are another great resource. Use them to find trainers who meet their qualifications and standards. Check out or to get the ball rolling.  

Find an Instructor Online

Can’t find an instructor in your area or looking for a more affordable option? In this day and age, you have options! One of those options is becoming a member of X Factor Barrel Racing. We have exclusive footage, training videos, and online coaching all at an incredibly affordable rate. 

The greatest perk is that you’ll receive training from some of the best coaches in the world, like Lisa Lockhart and Tammy Fischer. The ones that know the sport in and out and have found huge success! You can even submit videos of your runs and ask questions directly to our coaches. So although it’s online, our training tutorials are truly in a league of their own.

We also have the number one rate barrel racing App. So you can easily access this treasure trove of information from anywhere, at any time! 

Attend Barrel Racing Clinics

Once your horsemanship improves, or if you’re already confident, give a clinic a try. Many trainers travel around the country. They demonstrate and share what they know about the sport they love.

DIY Barrel Racing Practice

Fortunately, barrel racing doesn’t require a lot of equipment. You just need enough room for a practice pattern and 3 barrels or cones. Arrange the barrels in the same triangle pattern and measurements used in events. Place the first two 30ft from the starting line, 90ft apart from one another. The 3rd barrel is the tip and needs to be 105ft from the first two. Now you’re on your way to learning how to start barrel racing.

Prepare Your Horse

You’re not the only one learning how to become a barrel racer. Your horse is learning, too. And while it should go without saying, let’s say it anyway – horsemanship is absolutely critical to your success. Begin with a good relationship between the two of you. If your horse is in tune with you at home, he’s much more likely to display that same temperament in the chaos of a competition arena. Remember, it’s up to you to teach your horse how to start barrel racing.

Horseback riding woman, and a quote about having a good relationship with the horse beside her.

Put Your Horse in the Pocket

Your horse will need to learn how to stay in the pocket to avoid knocking over barrels. The pocket is the sweet spot around the barrel between turn and topple. It’s tight enough to pivot, but not so close as to tip the barrel.

Start Slow

Barrel racing is fast – lose-your-hat fast. But you need to start slow. Your horse is learning the pattern and your expectations. After all, you want your horse to love this sport as much as you do. Before long, you’ll have a confident partner. Remember, “the only thing tougher than a barrel racer is her horse.”

Basic Rules

To learn how to become a barrel racer you need to know the rules. Check out the National Barrel Horse Association rule book – it contains more in-depth rules and competition information. But here are the basics…

Follow the Pattern

The biggest rule is to follow the cloverleaf pattern around the barrels. A rider can start from the left or the right. If you break the pattern, you’re disqualified.

It’s All About the Time

Barrel racing is a timed event. The clock starts ticking when you and your horse cross the start line and ends with your return. Depending on which event you’re in, time may be added for a toppled barrel, or it could result in “no time”.

Midday practice of a woman and her horse, and a quote about learning how to start barrel racing next to her.

10 Tips for How To Start Barrel Racing

  • Tip #1 – Just start. In the words of Calamity Jane, “I say if a girl wants to be a legend, she should just go ahead and be one.” Not everything has to be perfect to take the first step.
  • Tip #2 – Work your horse on loping or trotting in a circle. Progressively reduce the circle size as confidence grows.
  • Tip #3 – Start slowly by walking the pattern. Progress to a trot. Remember, you’re both learning; get comfortable before introducing speed.
  • Tip #4 – Hold your reins in your right hand around barrel 1. Switch to your left hand on the approach to barrel 2. Keep your reins in your left hand to barrel 3. Then book it like you stole something to the finish line!
  • Tip #5 – Create a pocket for the first barrel instead of bee-lining for it. Aim towards barrel 3, then angle gradually to barrel 1.
  • Tip #6 – Mix up your horse’s training with trail rides and lots of quality time. Keep it fun!
  • Tip #7 – Practice figure eights.
  • Tip #8 – Fix your gaze on what’s next, not on the barrel you’re working on.
  • Tip #9 – Sit deep and press into the stirrups when approaching the pocket. Resume normal posture once you round the barrel.
  • Tip #10 – Observe. Learn how to start barrel racing by developing patterns used by the pros. Attend events or watch the legends here at X Factor Barrel Racing.

Learn How To Become a Barrel Racer From the Legends

This article only scratches the surface of barrel racing. Tap into videos and tutorials created by the very women who made their names in barrel racing arenas. Become an X Factor Pro Member and get instant access to advice and inspiration. You’ll learn from the pioneers who forged the sport, with lessons from Lisa Lockhart, Hailey Kinsel, Dena Kirkpatrick, and Tammy Fischer. Get personal feedback, pro preparation, and more!

About X Factor Barrel Racing

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