5 Best Breed Of Horse For Barrel Racing

Last Updated on December 29, 2022

Every breed of horse has qualities that make it suitable for specific disciplines, but here we’ll look at the best breed of horse for barrel racing. When asking this question, the most obvious answer is the American Quarter Horse. However, the breed isn’t the only factor that goes into making a good barrel horse.

What Is Barrel Racing

Barrel racing is a western riding event where riders gallop a pattern around strategically placed barrels. It is an event often held at western shows and rodeos. Barrel racing follows a pre-set route around a triangle pattern of barrels in an arena.

To win, the rider and horse must produce the fastest time without knocking over a barrel. Riders enter the arena from the in-gate, otherwise called the alleyway at speed. They follow a clover pattern around the barrels and gallop back out of the arena.

Qualities A Barrel Racing Horse Must Have

The breed is only one part of a good barrel racing horse. More important, are the qualities the individual horse possesses. The first quality is speed, you want a fast horse. The horse must have athleticism, agility, and explosive acceleration.

It also needs the ability to turn quickly and use as little space as possible to make this turn. Because barrel racing requires intense athletic performance, the horse must have good confirmation. It must be sound as this event puts a lot of stress on the joints in the legs.

Best Barrel Racing Horses

1. American Quarter Horse

It is easy to say that the best breed of horse for barrel racing is the Quarter Horse. When you look at the top levels of barrel racing competitions, the majority of horses here are Quarter Horses that come from lines bred for this event.

Despite being more commonly found in midwestern and western states, the Quarter Horse actually originated from the eastern United States. The early Quarter Horses were bred for racing, and the breed is still known for its ability to cover a quarter-mile at incredible speed; hence the name! The Quarter Horse is the fastest horse over a straight, sprint distance. It can reach speeds of up to 55 miles per hour. 

American Quarter Horse - Barrel Racing

While the breed still races, it is now more commonly associated with ranching activities. Today there are over 3 million Quarter Horses around the world, most located in the United States. The American Quarter Horse Association recognizes 16 colors in its registry.

The breed is popular for its good temperament, trainability, and its ability to turn its hoof at just about any job. Most Quarter Horses stand between 14 to 16 hands tall. This and the breed’s ability for speed are why it is considered the best breed of horse for barrel racing.

2. Appendix Quarter Horse

The Appendix Quarter Horse is an offshoot of the pure Quarter Horse. This horse is a cross between a Thoroughbred and a Quarter Horse. The breed registry began accepting this cross in 1949

Just like a pure Quarter Horse, the Appendix is very versatile. It combines the speed and athletic abilities of both breeds. These horses can reach over 16 hands, making them a good option for a taller barrel-racing rider.

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3. Thoroughbred Barrel Racing Horse Breed

Another obvious choice for barrel racing is the Thoroughbred. The Thoroughbred can gallop long distances at speed. They are athletic and have a good work ethic.

However, their achievements are often overlooked outside of racing. The confirmation of the thoroughbred is not always suitable for barrel racing, since they are bred for distance running. However, if they have the right physical and mental characteristics, they can keep up with their Quarter Horse counterparts.

4. Paint Horse 

The Paint Horse shares some of its lineages with the Quarter Horse. In fact, many Paints join both the American Quarter Horse Association and the American Paint Horse Association registries.

The breed has an excellent temperament and intelligence. It is strong, athletic, and fast. Confirmation and size-wise, the Paint is similar to a Quarter Horse. The Paint horse was first developed by the Native Americans, who felt their distinctive colored markings possessed magical powers.

Paint Horse - Barrel Racing

5. Appaloosa For Barrel Racing Horse

In addition to their unique and beautiful coats, the Appaloosa is a versatile horse that excels in many disciplines. Appaloosas have friendly personalities and range in height from 14.2 to 17 hands. The breed developed from the Russian Don and Spanish Conquistadors.

During the 19th century, the breed was at risk of disappearing. To save the breed, the breeders used Quarter Horses. This gave the Appaloosa more speed and versatility. It is this blood that makes the Appaloosa one of the best breeds of horse for barrel racing.

What to Look For When Buying a Barrel Racing Horse?

When buying a barrel racing horse, you need to find a horse with the perfect combination of speed, agility, and temperament. Look for a horse that is not only fast, but that can respond quickly to signals and adjust its direction of movement quickly.

The best barrel racing horses are intelligent and quick learners, which helps them learn to tune in to their rider. No one horse suits everyone, so as a rider you will get a feeling when you finally sit on your perfect barrel racing horse.

Can a Gypsy Horse Barrel Race?

Gypsy Vanners might not seem the obvious choice of horse for barrel racing, but these plucky little cobs can be surprisingly good at it! Gypsy horses do not have quite the same turn of speed as Quarter horses, but they make up for this with their nimble movement and powerful physique.

So, you may find that a gypsy horse cannot keep up with a quarter horse on the run, but they can make this time back by making tight turns around the barrels. Some Gypsy Vanners have gone on to compete at the top levels of barrel racing, so don’t be afraid to try this sport with your gypsy horse!

Can an Andalusian Horse Barrel Race?

While Andalusian horses are highly regarded for their elegance and beauty, in the past they were popular for Western riding pursuits. They are remarkably agile and can make speedy turns, making them a good choice for a barrel racing horse.

The main disadvantage of barrel racing with an Andalusian horse is their larger size compared to a Quarter horse. Both breeds are comparable in terms of speed, but the Quarter horse is normally more nimble and can make faster, tighter turns.

What is The Most Expensive Barrel Racing Horse?

Some of the most expensive and valuable barrel racing horses are those that have not only won many barrel racing championships but that have also gone on to sire many winning foals.

The top barrel horse sire is Dash Ta Fame, who to date has sired foals that have gone on to earn over $30 million in prize money.

At What Age Should a Horse Stop Barrel Racing?

Barrel racing is a very physically demanding sport for a horse, that puts a lot of strain on the joints and ligaments of the legs. This can cause long-term lameness issues for horses that are barrel-raced for many years.

The key to deciding when to stop barrel racing a horse is when the horse no longer feels as bold and keen as it used to. Horses find it difficult to communicate to us that they feel pain, so it is vital to be alert to any cues that may indicate the horse finds barrel racing too difficult.

How to Train a Horse to Do Barrel Racing?

To train a horse to do barrel racing you will need to teach it the techniques for racing whilst also working on its fitness. When teaching a horse to negotiate the barrels, start at a walk and gradually build up the pace. Work on the fitness of the horse at the same time by carrying out ridden work out on the trails or in an arena.

Before starting barrel horse training with your horse, you need to make sure it is trained to respond to your aids to move forwards and sideways. The horse should understand how to yield to leg pressure and move sideways. This will help you negotiate the course of barrels with accuracy and speed.

Are Palomino Horses Good For Barrel Racing?

The first thing to understand about palomino horses is that they are not a breed of horse! The term palomino is used to refer to the color of a horse, with a light golden body and white mane and tail. In some countries these horses can be registered as a ‘color breed’, but they vary widely in terms of their physique and appearance.

Palomino coloring can be seen in many breeds of horses and is particularly prevalent in breeds such as the Haflinger and Quarter horses. Whether a palomino horse is good at barrel racing or not will depend on what breed it is.

For example, palomino Quarter horses often make excellent barrel racers, as they have the ideal athletic ability for this sport. In contrast, a palomino draft horse would be a bad choice for barrel racing, as it will not be able to accelerate and make the tight turns necessary to compete in this sport.

Barrel Race Horses- Conclusion

While the clear winner for the best barrel racing breed is the Quarter Horse, it doesn’t exclude any horse. Look at the horse in front of you, if it has the right qualities to complete the job well, then it is good for barrel racing. Every breed has exceptions, and it is surprising when you see some breeds turn up.

Read more about What Breed Of Horse Should I Get?

How do you pick a good barrel horse?

The qualities a good barrel horse need to posses are being athletic, intelligent, and fast. Sound conformation and good temperament is also very important and can make a difference between an average barrel horse and a winner.
Barrel racing has been around for a long time, but its popularity and influence have increased over the last few decades. The horses selected to race in the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Championships, for instance, have become famous for their athleticism and the competition is now an important part of horse breeding.

Do Arabian horses make good barrel horses?

Arabian horses can be used to compete in a barrel racing although they might not be the first choice. Barrel racing is a sport where the riders race horses in a circle of barrels in which they must negotiate several obstacles. The Arabian horses are light in build, quick and able to turn quickly, which gives them some advantage over traditional horse breeds.
However, the most popular breed for barrel racing is a Quarter horse. It’s not surprising that a Quarter horse is so popular for barrel racing because they have good balance and excellent maneuverability. A Quarter horse is a hardy breed that can handle the rough and tumble of the barrel racing arena and is extremely agile in tight corners. 

Is barrel racing hard?

Riding a barrel race well requires careful preparation and planning. In the beginning, your barrel must be cleaned thoroughly and the barrel-to-ground contact must be perfect. However, once you’ve prepared your horse and made sure all of your equipment is ready to go, it’s time to start riding your pattern!
The most important thing to keep in mind is not to rush it. Riding barrel races fast and accurately is not an easy task. Going slow and clean will often give you a better time than going faster. When you slow down you can pay closer attention to what you’re doing, and your focus can become more precise.

How many hands should a barrel horse be?

Barrel horses have a range of sizes; anything from a bit under 14 hands to more than 16 hands is fine. These horses can have different conformation, for example, they can have either long or short backs, they can be either high-headed or low-headed. The conformation of a horse is important for the type of training and riding you want to do with your horse as well as whether that horse fits you as a rider.
A horse that is not suited to your particular needs will frustrate you and your horse will not give you the best performance possible. To find out what your horse’s conformation is, you can look at his hooves, legs, back and neck. If you are looking at his back, it is important to notice the length of the spine from the withers to the tailbone. The longer the horse’s back is, the better it will be for jumping, dressage and any other equestrian activities.

Are Mustangs good for barrel racing?

Many Mustangs make great mounts for Western horse sports including barrel racing. Though they are on the smaller side, Mustangs are powerful, agile, and even-tempered horses. Most Mustangs are easy to train, can be ridden in any discipline, and are surefooted enough to handle most obstacles. They are hardy and will not flinch at a jump or obstacle. A well-trained Mustang is a pleasure to ride, and will have fun doing it!