Our First Barrel Race

This past weekend, the kids and I went to our very first barrel race. We had no idea what to expect. Sure, we knew we should take our bag chairs, a bottle of water, the stick horses and of course our camera. I knew that we should wear jeans and tennis shoes (since we don’t have boots). But other than that, I was completely clueless. I saw the showbill, but it made absolutely no sense. So for those of you who have never experienced a western barrel race, this is for you! This may have been our first, but definitely not our last. What a fun day!

Our First Barrel Race

There are multiple events at a western style barrel race. Each event is called a class and is divided by age groups. There are entry fees for each class and then prizes awarded to the winners.

Stick Horse Race

Typically the stick horse race is for the younger kids and doesn’t require an entry fee. My 6 year old was probably a little on the older side for this class, but in our ignorance, he jumped right in. The kids can either bring their own stick horse from home or use the horses provided by the show hosts. Each of the participants received a prize. My son loved eating his very own candy bar all by himself! That’s a rare treat!

The kids running the stick horse race.
The kids running the stick horse race.

Leadline Class

The leadline class is typically for young riders who aren’t ready for the big races yet and is usually free to participate as well. They have a lead person who helps control and guide the horse while the young riders have the chance to be a part of the show. My daughter and her friends had been enjoying the mini horse during the warm ups, so when it was time for the leadline, they were naturally excited to join the parade around the arena.

Each event will have its own’ rules for the participants in the leadline. So don’t be clueless like us. Find out ahead of time, so you can be prepared. Read details about the Leadline Class from Wikipedia.

Natalie in the leadline class
Natalie in the leadline class

Poles and Barrels

The big events are of course the poles and barrels. Each of the events is divided into classes based on age and skill levels. For the novice like me, here’s what I learned about the events. The Poles are literally a series of poles very carefully arranged in a straight line in the middle of the arena. The rider comes out of the gate at a very fast pace and rides straight down the length of the arena. Then the rider and horse weave back through the poles two directions before making a very fast return to the start.

I was shocked at how quickly the horses came out of the gate. They were flying. We sat right beside the starting gate and could literally feel the ground vibrating from the hooves.

The horse and riders are timed and then score points based on whether they stay in the pattern or knock over any poles.

barrel racing
Cheering on a friend in the barrel race!

The Main Event

Sometimes the main event at any show is not advertised. For my kids, the highlight of the Barrel Race was not the official line up; it was playing with Brownie! Brownie is a mini who puts up with alot of attention from the kids.


I’m obviously not an expert on Western barrel racing. But I did love our first experience. I can’t wait till the next event so we can go learn more and make new memories!

Have you been to any western style barrel races? Got any tips or stories to share? I’d love to hear!

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