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6 Best Barrel Racing Horse Breeds (5 Common FAQs Answered)

6 Best Barrel Racing Horse Breeds (5 Common FAQs Answered)

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Barrel racing is a demanding sport for both horses and riders. Horses must be strong, athletic, and agile in order to excel at this exciting rodeo event. But, what are the best horse breeds for barrel racing?

The best barrel racing horse breeds are the Quarter horse, Paint horse, Mustang, Appaloosa, Thoroughbred, and Pony of the Americas. Quarter horses are considered the best barrel racing horse breed and dominate the barrel racing world.

What Makes a Good Barrel Racing Horse?

A good barrel horse will be fast, agile, athletic, and balanced. It is key that a barrel horse has sound conformation in order to win.

Barrel racing is all about completing a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels as fast as possible. In order to do this, a horse must have good speed and the ability to turn on a dime. Horses must be well-coordinated in order to complete the pattern without any faults.

Though barrel horses can have different conformations, they must have good confirmation. An example of an ideal barrel horse is one with straight legs, good feet, short cannon bones, low hocks, and a short topline. Horses must be sound, with good muscling and strong joints.

Barrel horses need time to develop and must be willing to learn. They need to have a good mentality as well, in order to handle the excitement and adrenaline of competing. Riders must have good communication with their horses in order to successfully compete.

What is a Good Barrel Racing Time?

For experienced racers, under 18 seconds is considered a good barrel racing time. However, most riders will be between 15-30 seconds.

Barrel racing times are calculated to hundredths of a second. One small mistake can make all the difference between winning or not. It requires precision and speed to run a good time. Every barrel knocked over adds five seconds of time.

The record for the fastest barrel racing times was set by Carlee Pierce and her horse Dillion with a time of 13.46 seconds.

Best Horse Breeds for Barrel Racing

1. Quarter Horse

Palomino American Quarter horse breed used for barrel racing
S.M /

The Quarter horse is the epitome of a quality barrel horse and they dominate the most prestigious barrel competitions. They have an athletic yet sturdy build that allows them to shine at this competitive rodeo competition.

Since Quarter horses have the ability to run a quarter-mile faster than any other horse breed, this gives them the advantage in the ring. In fact, many successful barrel racing Quarter horses come from the racing track. Their speed and athleticism give them an advantage when running the pattern.

The conformation of a good Quarter horse has all the makings of a winning barrel horse. Quarter horses have short, compact bodies, good muscling, straight legs, powerful hindquarters, and short toplines. They also have good temperaments and are willing to please, giving them the right attitude for the sport.

Also read, 9 common native American horse breeds.

2. Paint Horse

American Paint horse breed running in a snowy field /

Thanks to their strong, athletic builds, Paint horses make wonderful barrel racing horses. They are fast and agile, allowing them to complete patterns with ease.

Paints are reliable horses, with good overall demeanors. Their well-balanced builds and powerful hindquarters are a huge plus when it comes to barrel racing. Paints are compact, with strong legs, muscular and strong-boned, coming in a variety of different stunning coat patterns.

3. Appaloosa

Appaloosa horse in a field
Marie Charouzova /

Famous for their beautiful spotted coats, Appaloosas are a versatile breed. Speedy and athletic, they are competitive barrel horses.

With friendly attitudes, even tempers, and willingness to please, they have the mentality to excel in the show ring. They are hardy horses with great stamina, agility, and athleticism. Appaloosas have stocky builds, often displaying compact, muscular bodies and strong legs.

4. Mustang

Mustang horse breed
Dennis W Donohue /

Mustangs are a symbol of the American West, roaming freely across thousands of acres of wilderness. However, in order to manage herd numbers, the Bureau of Land Management rounds up Mustangs every year, placing them up for adoption.

Thanks to their hardiness, Mustangs make great mounts in many Western disciplines, including barrel racing. Though they are often on the smaller side, they are fast and agile horses. Despite their wild beginnings, many Mustangs are highly trainable, with good temperaments.

Though Mustangs’ conformations can vary, many of them have muscular builds, compact bodies, and short backs.

5. Thoroughbred

Dark bay Thoroughbred horse breed
horsemen /

Thoroughbreds may not be the first horse to pop in your mind when it comes to barrel racing, but they actually do quite well in the sport. Famous for their speed, these athletic horses have what it takes to be competitive barrel racers.

Many OTTB (off-the-track Thoroughbreds) are transitioning to careers as barrel horses. In fact, the Thoroughbred Incentive Program run by the Jockey Club hosts the T.I.P. Barrel Racing Championships at the annual Thoroughbred Makeover. This event promotes and showcases the Thoroughbred breed’s versatility, including in barrel racing.

Thoroughbreds have tall, athletic, lean, muscular builds. Many top barrel horse breeds can trace back to Thoroughbred blood, including Quarter horses, Paints, Pony of Americas, and Appaloosas. Thoroughbreds have the agility and stamina to excel at this demanding sport.

Since Thoroughbreds are hot-blooded, they often need a more experienced rider. However, with the right training, they can become wonderful barrel racing horses.

6. Pony of the Americas

Pony of the Americas horse breed

Small and colorful, Pony of the Americas stand out in the show ring. These versatile ponies are popular mounts for young riders.

Pony of the Americas (POA) began from a cross between a Shetland pony and Appaloosa/Arabian cross. Later on, other breeds like the Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse, and Welsh Pony were mixed into POA bloodlines. This small spotted horse breed has a delicate head like Arabians, muscular bodies like Quarter horses, and the coloring of Appaloosas.

POAs are athletic, gentle, agile, and easy to train. They are talented barrel racing mounts, as they are reliable and fast. Though they may be small, they are rugged and fast.


What is the Best Age for a Barrel Racing Horse?

Between 5-16 years old is considered the best age for a barrel racing horse. At this time, horses will be experienced and physically in their prime to meet the demands of the sport.

How Much Does a Good Barrel Racing Horse Cost?

Barrel racing horses on average can cost anywhere from $2,000-$40,000. However, some top-quality barrel racing horses can cost $50,000 or more. Prices will vary based on age, training, show record, conformation, and bloodlines.

How Many Hands Should a Barrel Horse Be?

Barrel horses can be any height. Many barrel horses stand between 14-15.2 hands tall. However, ponies and even draft horses can compete in barrel racing. Though it may be uncommon, people even compete with Clydesdales in barrel racing.