Photo Courtesy of Alex Tam of the Canby Herald
A horse and rider attempt to complete a pattern around pre-set barrels in the fastest time. Though both girls and boys compete at the youth level, and men compete in some amateur venues, in collegiate and professional ranks, it is primarily a rodeo event for women. It combines the horse's athletic ability and the horsemanship skills of a rider in order to safely and successfully maneuver a horse through a clover leaf pattern around three barrels. These are typically three fifty-five gallon metal or plastic drums placed in a triangle in the center of an arena.
In timed rodeo events, the purpose is to make a run as fast as possible, while the time is being closed either by an electronic eye (a device using a laser system to record times), or by an arena attendant or judge who manually takes the time using a keen eye and a flag to let a locker know when to hit the timer stop; though this last method is more commonly seen in local and non-professional events.
The timer begins when horse and rider cross the start line, and ends when the barrel pattern has been successfully executed and horse and rider cross the finish line. The rider's time depends on several factors, most commonly the horse's physical and mental condition, the rider's horsemanship abilities, and the type of ground or footing (the quality, depth, content, etc of the sand or dirt in the arena).
If a horse and rider should knock a barrel down, a five second penalty per barrel will be added to the rider's time. If all three barrels are knocked down, fifteen seconds are added to the rider's time. Bumping the barrels is a common occurance, but penalties will only be added if the barrel actually falls over and hits the ground. If a rider should go off course (not completing the pattern correctly), the rider will be disqualified and a score of "no-time" will be given.
Diagram of a Barrel Racing Course. Riders enter at the red line, circle around the 1st barrel to the right, proceed to the 2nd barrel and circle it to the left, and then continue to the 3rd where they will complete the pattern with a circle to the left and finally exit the course crossing the red line a second time. This pattern is often referred to as a "Cloverleaf". The pattern may also begin with the left barrel first, but the turns will be a turn to the left followed by two turns to the right.