Top 10 Horse Breeds for Barrel Racing

horses for barrel racing

There are many horse breeds that can excel in the world of barrel racing. Whether you’re looking for a gentle companion to leisurely compete with, or an athletic powerhouse to compete at the highest levels, there is a breed for everyone.

What Is Barrel Racing?

Barrel racing is a rodeo sport that involves navigating a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels. It is open to riders of all skill levels, though it is most popular among women and girls. Barrel racers compete for the fastest time, with points awarded for each corner as well as overall time.

Best Horses For Barrel Racing

The best horses for barrel racing tend to be agile and quick on their feet, as well as have good speed and acceleration. Certain breeds have natural tendencies that make them more successful in the sport, such as: 

Quarter Horse

  • Height/Size: 14.3 hands (56 inches) to 16 hands (64 inches)
  • Weight: 950 to 1,200 pounds
  • Body Type: Muscular body; deep chest; small head with wide forehead and flat profile
  • Common Uses: Racing, pleasure and trail riding, show, rodeo, and other competitions
  • Lifespan: 25 years 

The Quarter Horse is perhaps the most popular breed for barrel racing due to their natural speed and agility. They are known for having a calm, even temperament that allows them to focus on their task without getting spooked or distracted.

Clydesdale Horse

  • Height/Size: 16 hands (64 inches) to 18 hands (72 inches)
  • Weight: 1,600 to 2,400 pounds
  • Body Type: Long, silky feathering on legs; round feet; broad forehead; arched, long neck
  • Common Uses: General riding, eventing, show, work
  • Lifespan: 20 to 25 years

Clydesdales horses are known for their powerful, muscular build and calm temperament. They are well-suited to the physical demands of barrel racing due to their strength and agility. Their height gives them an advantage when negotiating tight turns at high speeds. Clydesdales tend to be very responsive to commands and willing to work with the rider.

Friesian Horse

  • Height/Size: 14.2 to 17 hands (58 to 68 inches)
  • Weight: 1,300 pounds on average
  • Body Type: Heavy, sturdy stature with a high, arched neck and a thick mane and tail
  • Common Uses: Driving, general riding, shows, and performances, agricultural works
  • Lifespan: 16 years

The Friesian is a versatile breed with an excellent temperament, making them suitable for barrel racing. They are powerful and agile animals, full of energy and determination to compete. The Friesians’ strong hindquarters give them extra power while turning the barrels quickly. Also, they have a higher pain tolerance than other breeds which helps them succeed in this high-energy sport. Friesians have a strong affection for their owners, making them easier to bond with and train. This can be beneficial in barrel racing as the horse must trust its rider completely.

Paint Horse

  • Height/Size: 14 hands (56 inches) to 16 hands (64 inches)
  • Weight: 950 to 1,200 pounds
  • Body Type: Strong, well-balanced body; colorful coat patterns; powerful hindquarters
  • Common Uses: General riding, work, sports, jumping, racing, rodeo
  • Lifespan: 30 years

The Paint Horse is an American horse breed that’s known for its colorful coat pattern. The most common color of this breed is the classic tobiano, which features a white base coat with black over-markings. They are also often found in the popular overo and tobiano patterns. This breed is highly intelligent and very trainable, making them a great choice for barrel racing. Their size and intelligence make them easier to move around the barrels, as well as fast enough to compete in the sport.

Australian Stock Horse

  • Height/Size: 14-16.2 hands (142-164 cm, 55.9-64.6 inches)
  • Weight: 1,200 pounds
  • Body Type: Stocky and hardy
  • Common Use: In competitive disciplines like show jumping, dressage, eventing, camp drafting, endurance riding, polocrosse, and polo; also for Pony Club activities, stock work, general hacking, and stockman challenges
  • Lifespan: 20-30 years

The Australian Stock Horse is a popular choice for barrel racing due to its even temperament, ability to cover ground quickly and agility. Its average stature means it’s fast off the mark while its powerful hindquarters provide the necessary power and acceleration required in barrel racing. These horses are also highly intelligent and can be trained easily with patience and consistency.

Mustang Horse

  • Height/Size: 14 to 15 hands
  • Weight: 800 pounds
  • Body Type: Stocky and hardy
  • Common Uses: General riding, trailing, pulling carriages, horse shows and performances
  • Lifespan: Up to 40 years

These hardy horses have been bred to be sure-footed and agile, making them well-suited for the sport of barrel racing. Mustangs are typically smaller in size than other breeds and are known for their strength and endurance. They have good agility and responsiveness, which makes them a great choice for turning tightly in the barrels. The breed is known for its intelligence and ability to learn quickly, making them easier to train for barrel racing.

Arabian Horse

  • Height/Size: 14 hands (56 inches) to 16 hands (64 inches)
  • Weight: 800 to 1,000 pounds
  • Body Type: Lithe, compact body; small, wedge-shaped head; dished facial profile, long, arched neck
  • Common Uses: Enhancement of other bloodlines, Racing, Show, Pleasure riding, Work
  • Lifespan: 25 – 30 years

Arabian horses are another breed often seen in barrel racing. These horses have a strong work ethic and natural athleticism. They are known for their speed and agility, which makes them ideal for running fast around the barrels. Arabian horses also have great stamina and endurance that allows them to compete at longer events or during more intense runs. The breed is known for its intelligence and willingness to please, making them easy to train.

Thoroughbred Horse

  • Height/Size: 15 hands (60 inches) to 17 hands (68 inches)
  • Weight: 1,000 to 1,200 pounds
  • Body Type: Deep chest; lean, athletic build; long neck; powerful hindquarters
  • Common Uses: Riding, drawing carriages, shows, hunting, sports
  • Lifespan: 25 to 35 years

Thoroughbreds are often associated with horse racing, but they can also be great barrel racers. These horses have lots of speed and agility, which makes them well-suited for the sport. They are also highly intelligent and adaptable, so the rider can easily teach them the barrel’s patterns. 

Appaloosa Horse

  • Height/Size: 14.2 hands (56.8 inches) to 16 hands (64 inches)
  • Weight: 950 to 1,200 pounds
  • Body Type: Compact, muscular build; colorful coat patterns with mottled skin; striped hooves; white sclera; sparse mane and tail
  • Common Uses: Riding, drawing carriages, shows, hunting, sports
  • Lifespan: 30 years

They have strong hindquarters and a muscular build that allows them to make sharp turns at top speeds. Appaloosa horses also tend to be very responsive to cues from the rider, which is an important factor in successful barrel racing competitions. 

Pony Of The Americas

  • Height/Size: 11.2 – 14 hands (adult average)
  • Weight: –
  • Body Type: Compact, muscular build;
  • Common Uses: Jumping, dressage, eventing, endurance
  • Lifespan: 25-30 years

Pony of the Americas (POA) is a breed created for the purpose of barrel racing. The POA is a hybrid of an Appaloosa Horse and a Shetland Pony. It is known for its quick reflexes, agility and responsiveness. This makes it an ideal horse choice for beginners in the sport of barrel racing.

Best Age For A Barrel Racing Horse?

When it comes to barrel racing, the best age for a horse can depend on many factors. Generally speaking, horses between 5 and 16 years old are considered ideal for this sport. At this age, horses are trained enough and also are physically ready to be successful in the arena, while older horses may lack the agility or speed needed to compete effectively.

How To Pick A Good Barrel Racing Horse

When choosing a horse for barrel racing, there are several things to consider. First, look for an animal with a balanced and athletic build. You want one that is well-muscled but still agile enough to maneuver around the barrels quickly and accurately. Additionally, good conformation helps the horse move more smoothly and efficiently. 

Next, think about the temperament of the horse. You want a horse that is confident and willing, with plenty of energy and enthusiasm for running barrels. An animal that is timid or anxious may become overwhelmed by the barrel racing environment, leading to unreliable performance.

Finally, make sure you choose an animal that can stay healthy and sound throughout its career in barrel racing. Horses with good feet and strong joints are best; look for a horse without preexisting conditions that could be exacerbated by the demands of the sport.


What size horse is best for barrel racing?

Size is an important consideration when selecting a horse for barrel racing. Barrel racing horses must be agile and quick, so they should not be too large or heavy. Generally speaking, most successful barrel racers ride horses that are between 14 and 15,2 hands tall.

How long should reins be for barrel racing?

Reins are an important part of horsemanship and barrel racing. The length of reins should be tailored to the individual rider’s needs, depending on the size and height of both the horse and the rider. Generally speaking, reins for barrel racing should extend from your hands to just behind your horse’s withers. This length allows you to have enough control of your horse without compromising the horse’s ability to move freely and comfortably.

Do you need a breast collar for barrel racing?

Breast collars are an important piece of equipment for any horse rider, but especially so in barrel racing. A breast collar helps to keep the saddle from slipping back or shifting around on a horse’s body during high speeds and sharp turns. It also provides support for the rider, helping them stay balanced and secure in the saddle.

What is the best breed of horse for beginners?

When it comes to barrel racing, a great horse for beginners is the Pony Of The Americas. They are easy to handle and control and possess great speed, turning ability, and agility.

What age do most barrel horses retire?

The retirement age of barrel horses is typically around 20-25 years old, depending on their physical condition.

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