horse breeds for barrel racing

Best Horse Breeds For Barrel Racing

Discovering the best horse breeds for barrel racing is like unlocking a door to an exciting world full of action and adventure. You never know what’s around the corner and who might take the win. In the end, it all depends on one thing: the best horse breed for this rodeo event.

What Is A Barrel Horse?

To put it simply, a barrel horse is a horse that has been trained specifically for the sport of barrel racing. This is a rodeo event where a horse and rider have to circle three barrels set out in a cloverleaf pattern in record time. The goal is to complete the course in the fastest time possible without knocking over any barrels along the way.

Best Horse Breeds For Barrel Racing

Quarter Horse

The American Quarter Horse is considered one of the best for barrel racing as it can run up to a quarter mile faster than any other horse breed. Quarter Horses are known for their quick bursts of speed and gaining momentum.

These traits are essential for making sharp turns around the barrels and sprinting between them. An American Quarter Horse has a very calm temperament, making them relatively easy to train.

Advantages: Well-known for their fast sprints over short distances.

Disadvantages: They do not possess the stamina and endurance needed for longer course layouts.

Paint Horse

Paint Horses are known for their friendly nature and high trainability, making them a great choice, especially if you’re starting or a beginner rider.

The Paint Horse’s robust frame, with a compact and strong muscular build, makes them good barrel racing horses.

Advantages: They share similar traits with the Quarter Horse, and are very agile.

Disadvantages: Because they are bred for show, they might be slightly slower than other breeds.


When trained properly, Thoroughbreds can make great barrel racing horses. They were originally bred for racing and long-distance running, however, they are well suited for the exact distances involved in the cloverleaf pattern of a barrel race.

Because of their hot-blooded nature and lively behaviour, they can pose a challenge for beginners or inexperienced riders. Nonetheless, Thoroughbreds demonstrate exceptional intelligence and a strong ability to work. Combined with their athleticism and built-for-speed physique, they become a top choice for this demanding sport.

Advantages: They are notorious for their stamina in running long distances.

Disadvantages: Their height might affect their ability to take on tight turns in the sport.

Mustang Horse

Mustang Horses live in the wild. They might not seem like it, but with proper training, Mustangs can excel in various activities and equestrian sports, including this dynamic discipline.

These feral horses are quite compact, weighing a maximum of 360 kg on average. This makes them an excellent option for smaller but more experienced riders. Their wild nature counts in their favour when barrel racing, as they are very aware of their surroundings. However, they will still need consistent training to transform them into good barrel horses.

Advantages: Mustang Horses are hyper-aware of their surroundings because of their wild nature.

Disadvantages: They require consistent and specialised training and are best suited to experienced riders.


Arabian Horses are exceptionally sensitive and intelligent horses. While they were not intentionally bred for barrel racing, a well-trained Arabian Horse could thrive in the sport. They are known as one of the best horse breeds for riding.

Because of their slender build and small frame, Arabian Horses are ideal for the sport’s tight turns and fast speed when manoeuvring around barrels during a race.

Advantages: Fast learner, and listens to riders’ commands well.

Disadvantages: Doesn’t sprint as fast over short distances.


Originating in the Netherlands, the Frieisan is well known for its striking black coat.

Friesians are robustly built, with muscular bodies and shorter legs. This makes them well-suited for barrel racing, as their sturdy muscles help to protect them against injuries in this challenging sport.

Advantages: They can maintain control more easily than most horses because of their muscular build.

Disadvantages: They might need more training time than other horses because they were not bred for agility.

Australian Stock Horse

Australian Stock Horses share ancestry with American Quarter Horses. European Stock Horses were selectively bred which gave rise to both Australian Stock Horses and American Quarter Horses.

Australian Stock Horses share many attributes with the American Quarter Horse. They have high endurance, agility, and speed, and are calm and trainable.

Advantages: Australian Stock Horses perform very well under pressure.

Disadvantages: They require consistent training as they were not specifically bred for this sport.


The Appaloosa breed is quite adaptable.

Appaloosas are recognized for their calm and gentle temperament. They are usually easy to train, eager to please, and respond swiftly to their rider’s commands. This breed is great for barrel racing, whether you’re a seasoned pro or a beginner.

Advantages: They have a larger build for durability and are fast.

Disadvantages: They are not usually as fast as a Quarter Horse because of their large build.

Grade Horses

Unlike certain sports that only allow purebred horses to participate, barrel racing allows Grade Horses to take part in the fun.

The Grade Horse is a mix of different breeds. This doesn’t imply that they belong to an unidentifiable breed; it simply means their bloodline is unknown. They might have originated from unintentional breeding, or perhaps they were never registered by their breeder.

They can range from breeds such as Paint Horses, Quarter Horses, Mustangs, and even the Arabian Horse. All these tend to excel at barrel racing, which is why Grade Horses are often amazing for the exciting sport as well.

Advantages: The mixed lineage of Grade Horses can sometimes work to their advantage, and they are affordable.

Disadvantages: Because of the mixed breeding, a Grade Horse may not consistently exhibit the specific traits required for optimal performance in barrel racing.

Qualities Of A Great Barrel Racing Horse

Speed is only one of the characteristics a horse must possess to excel at barrel racing. Here are some other key qualities to indicate if a horse breed is good for this sport:

  • Bloodline: A horse’s bloodline can influence its performance.
  • Quick learner: Agility and speed training are crucial, which requires a horse that learns fast.
  • Good legs: Strong and healthy legs are important for navigating tight turns.
  • Manners and temperament: A well-mannered and calm horse responds to the rider’s commands.
  • Experience: Previous experience in barrel racing and similar activities enhances a horse’s performance.


Can you teach an older horse to barrel race?

Most definitely! It’s entirely acceptable to train an older horse for barrel racing. Horses tend to learn at an even faster pace as they age.

Are mares or geldings better for barrel racing?

Male and female horses are equally good at the sport. There has been no evidence that one is better than the other.

What is the time limit for barrel racing?

After the timer starts, you have sixty seconds to finish the course.

What is the National Barrel Horse Association (NBHA)?

The NBHA is the world’s biggest barrel racing organisation, whose international members include:

Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Great Britain, Panama, Hungary, Italy, Mexico, Puerto Rico, United States, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

Final Thoughts

Choosing the right horse breed for barrel racing is crucial for success. Each breed has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Whether it’s the agility of a Quarter Horse, the endurance of a Paint Horse, or the adaptability of a Mustang, the “best” horse for barrel racing will always depend on the rider’s preference and technique.

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