Barrel racing, a popular rodeo event, is a race against time as a horse and rider zoom around three barrels set in a triangular pattern in an arena. The pair circles each barrel once, finishing at the top of the triangle, then gallops as fast as possible back to the starting line.
To run the cloverleaf pattern as quickly as possible, a horse must possess intelligence, trust in its rider (usually a woman), enough agility to negotiate turn-on-a-dime maneuvers around each barrel and lots of speed for the final dash across the arena.
Agility and speed make the American Quarter Horse a common breed choice for barrel racing. Quarter horses specialize in sprinting, and, according to the American Quarter Horse Association, they are capable of attaining speeds of up to 55 miles (88.5 kilometers) per hour and running a quarter of a mile (0.4 kilometers) in less than 21 seconds with a standstill start.
In a standard-sized arena, the barrel racing pattern totals more than 420 feet (128 meters) — a good run is generally less than 17.5 seconds, reports Ralph Clark, rodeo expert for About.com.
Rodeos will occasionally pit a barrel racing team against a dirt bike, with each contestant performing the cloverleaf pattern simultaneously then dashing to the finish line. It’s an exciting event to watch as the horse and rider’s agility and teamwork compete against the bike’s motorized speed.
One such competition was captured on video and posted by RM Videos in August 2014. Click and watch to see how the dirt bike starts the race with an immediate lead, loses it going around the barrels, and is unable to catch the horse during the final all-out race for the finish line!