HISTORY OF BARREL RACING
As a youngster growing up in the High
Plains, specifically northeastern
, there was no barrel racing as part of
the annual local rodeos, or kid’s horse
competitions during the 1940s.
I saw my grandfather take my horse
through the barrel racing paces at the
local fair in the late 1940s.
As I remember it, he loped my
buckskin mare along at an unhurried pace.
Not at all what we see when we
watch the fast and furious event in
today’s rodeo arena.
My curiosity got the best of me.
Where did the sport of barrel
racing begin and when?
My first contacts were women who
were active in rodeo as early as possible,
such as Faye Blackstone of
; Dixie Reger Mosley of
; and Wanda Harper Bush of Mason,
began her trick riding career in the
1930s, but when specialty acts began being
replaced Faye turned her great
horsemanship talents to barrel racing.
She and a few other cowgirls began
the barrel racing event in
Dixie Reger Mosley began her rodeo
career at age 5 ½ years old, trick riding
on a Shetland pony.
Growing up in a rodeo family gave
her many varied opportunities, including
some rodeo clowning.
When the Girl’s Rodeo Association
(GRA) began in 1948, which turned in to
the Women’s Professional Rodeo
Association (WPRA) in 1981,
was the bullfighter, rodeo clown, and
competed in most events, except bull
She saw barrel racing evolve
through the GRA organization to become an
event for women that today offers purses
that compete with the Professional Rodeo
Cowboy’s Association (PRCA) event
Wanda Bush won her first Barrel
Racing World Championship in 1952, and
followed this top honor with numerous
additional World Championships throughout
her rodeo career.
Barrel racing was first seen in
, according to Faye Blackstone, and spread
Although women had been competing
in rodeo, in various ways, since the
1880s, when Buffalo Bill Cody, hired Annie
Oakley, the best known woman gun handler
of the day.
Cody discovered that fans would
flock to his wild west shows to see her
But the decision to include women
bronc riders, relay race riders, and so
on, was always at the discretion of the
men producing the event.
The 1931 Stamford, Texas, Cowboy
Reunion, a weekend rodeo, decided to add
girls, sixteen years and older, that were
sponsored by area businesses and
represented the community from which they
The girls would lead the parade,
participate in various minor rodeo
activities and be available to visit and
dance with the cowboys at the social
events held each evening.
The following year the young ladies
were given prizes for (1) the best mount,
(2) most attractive riding outfit, and (3)
The horsemanship was demonstrated
by riding in a figure eight around
In 1935 the
event changed the barrel racing to a
cloverleaf pattern, but it was not judged
strictly by the shortest time until 1949.
The Cowboys Amateur Association (CAA)
organized in 1940, and held rodeos where
the contestant could compete on the
amateur level until they had won $500.
They could then join the
‘professional’ rodeo organization,
should they choose to do so.
The CAA held competitions for
women, as well as men, which included
barrel racing, cutting horse contests,
bronc riding and a roping event.
They also offered money as prizes
instead of feminine gifts, such as make-up
cases and hair products, which were the
general prizes offered previously.
There was a flurry of “all girl
rodeos” during World War II.
They were highly successful, but
when the war was over and the men came
home things went back to the way they had
been before the war, that meant few rodeo
competitions for women.
The earliest barrel races were done
in either figure eights or the cloverleaf
Eventually the figure eight was
dropped in favor of the more difficult
There is no ‘official
measurements’ for barrel racing.
The Standard of the barrel racing
pattern, according to the Women’s
Professional Rodeo Association Rule Book,
feet between barrel one and two, one
hundred five feet between barrel one and
three, and between barrel two and three.
Sixty feet from barrels one and two
to the score line.
The score line should be at least
sixty feet from the end of the arena, if
allowed, and not less than forty five
Pendleton RoundUp has the most
non-conforming and the largest barrel
racing pattern in the country, by far.
It covers more than double the
The Pendleton RoundUp, which began
almost one hundred years ago, has a grass
The grass is difficult for horses,
both roping horses and broncs, because of
However the grass is a tradition
and Pendleton has no intention of changing
barrel racers wanted to participate in
this prestigious rodeo, but did not want
to jeopardize the safety of their horses
because of the grass.
It was decided to place the barrels
on the race track, which surrounds the
grass infield in 1999.
Since the pattern is more than
twice the size of the Standard pattern,
288 feet between barrel one and two, and
288 feet between the second and third
sixty feet from the score line.
Times are in the twenty-eight
second range to win.
Barrel racing requires the rider
and the horse to compete as one.
The horse the rider chooses is
extremely important in this event.
It must be fast and have the
ability to make turns around the barrels
with the utmost precision and speed.
“The main thing necessary when looking for the right horse, to perform as
a top ranked barrel racing mount, is a
huge heart, a good mind, and a love of
barrel racing,” said Angie Clark,
well-known barrel racer, barrel racing
teacher and organizer of the Wrangler
Heartland Barrel Racing Tour, which
consists of eleven competitions held in
Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri.
Another needed qualification of the
horse is the ability to have the stamina
and be able to hold up while being hauled
miles and miles to each barrel racing
Trailering a horse for fourteen or
more hours to get to an event is not
When this is done day after day it
can be grueling on a horse.
also said, “It
is the only sport I know of that a person
could ‘buy themselves into’.
If a fairly good rider had enough
money, like $150,000, to spend on a
top-flight, well-trained horse, she could
probably beat everyone.”
The entire event is usually
over in a matter of a quarter of a minute,
on a Standard pattern in today’s
The shortest times at the National
Finals Rodeo has been in the thirteen
Brandie Hall ran the course in the
8th Round at the 2006 National
Finals in a record-breaking 13.52 seconds.
Mildred Farris, barrel racing
pioneer, whose competitive years spanned
the 1950s until 1971, and was a Girl’s
Rodeo Association director, vice-president
and president from 1965 to 1971, remembers
the days when she and others in her era
were trying to get barrel racing included
at rodeos across the country.
worked for the rodeo producer, Tommy
Steiner, as a rodeo secretary and he
always had barrel races at his rodeos.
I think that the barrel racing
event, in the beginning, often took the
place of contract acts, that had been such
an important part of rodeos in earlier
The girls in the barrel racing
event, in our day, always wore more
colorful, flashy clothes, much like the
Steiner was the first producer to
use the electric eye in timing the barrel
It must have been in the 1960s,” Farris
She also said that in those days
the prizes for barrel racing were not
comparable to the men’s events.
If the men’s bronc riding or
roping paid $400 to win, the barrel racing
paid around $100 to the winner.
She is quite proud to say that in
today’s rodeo the WPRA-sanctioned barrel
racing events pay comparable monies to the
PRCA-sanctioned events, such as bronc
riding, roping competitions, etc.
Farris reminisced about her first
barrel racing horse.
She bought a ‘spoiled’ roping
He was ‘high-headed’ and it was
impossible to use a tie down on him.
But when he started running he
would put his head down and he handled
first barrel race I entered with him was
an amateur rodeo and I had only run him a
At the last minute they decided to
change the pattern and run to the first
barrel, then to the third barrel, (the
farthest away), and back to the second
In spite of the fact he’d not run
this pattern before we finished second.
That night I practiced this new
pattern with him and the second
performance we finished first.”
Farris was one of the top fifteen
barrel racers in the
for twelve years, 1958 through 1970, only
She was also voted Rodeo Secretary
of the Year by PRCA nine times, with the
most recent honor given to her in 2006.
She was inducted, with husband,
John, in to the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in
Charmayne James has been the most
consistent winner of the World Champion
Barrel Racer, with eleven titles between
1984 and 2002.
She has also won the average at the
National Finals Rodeo seven times.
Her horse, Scamper, was inducted in
to the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, and has been
chosen as The Horse With the Most Heart by
WPRA six years.
Her accomplishments in barrel
racing have surpassed any other competitor
She also leads the list of Career
Earnings in WPRA, with almost two million
The recent announcement of 29 year
twin, by way of cloning, born August 8,
and named Clayton, after her home town, is
James way of attempting to continue
Scamper’s exceptional genetics in barrel
anxiously waits to see the results.
Barrel racing has come a long way
in a relatively short period of time when
reviewing the development of rodeo.
In less than sixty years the sport
can boast prizes equal to all other rodeo
Springing from a beginning as a way
of judging young ladies in a contest
emphasizing their beauty, attire and
horsemanship, to a sport that can require
the rider and their special mount, to race
against the clock with speed and agility
around those barrels and across that final
The horses have staying power and a
heart as big as Texas, and the barrel
racers today are goal oriented, hard
working achievers that think nothing of
getting ‘down and dirty’ to prepare
themselves and their horse for
competition, then entering the arena to
perform with grace and determination to
have the fastest time.
But this didn’t happen without
the hard work, tenacity and ‘never say
die’ will of many who were convinced the
sport of barrel racing had a place along
side bronc riding, steer wrestling and the
And it came to be!