Barrel Racing - A Guide to the Basics with Hailey Kinsel

Barrel Racing - A Guide to the Basics with Hailey Kinsel

Barrel racing is one the most exciting events on horseback, and nobody knows the rodeo sport better than Ariat-sponsored rider Hailey Kinsel. Together, we've put together a beginner's guide to barrel racing to help you learn more about this popular sport.

Barrel racing is one the most exciting events on horseback, and nobody knows the rodeo sport better than Ariat-sponsored rider Hailey Kinsel. We caught up with the three-time world champion barrel racer to get her run-down on the basics of the sport.

What Is Barrel Racing?

Barrel racing is a Western speed event — one of eight professional rodeo events — in which a horse and rider circle three 50-gallon barrels laid out in a standard cloverleaf pattern at a gallop, as fast as possible. Three-time world champion, Hailey Kinsel, has been a professional barrel racer since 2015, but she’s had horses in her blood for far longer than that. She grew up around horses on a legacy cattle ranch in Texas where her family introduced her to rodeo.

What Kind of Horse Is Best for Barrel Racing?

Many beginning riders learn how to ride on a well-seasoned lesson horse before buying (or training) their own horse for barrel racing. Barrel horses can be either sex and many breeds, but Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds are popular for their speed.

While Kinsel holds the speed record for the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) standard pattern atop her Quarter Horse mare, DM Sissy Hayday (affectionately called “Sister” in the barn), she doesn’t necessarily prefer mares over geldings for barrel racing. Kinsel cites speed and a sound partnership as the essential characteristics of a barrel horse.

“You have to have a fast horse that can turn smoothly and tightly,” says Kinsel. “You need a strong bond with your horse so that they trust your cues and you trust their speed.”

Kinsel demonstrates this bond with Sister, and she praises her horse for having endless try, with “no quit in her,” in addition to her natural athleticism, kind and willing nature, and of course, her speed.

Kinsel says there’s nothing more important than proper conditioning to create that all-essential speed.

“Every barrel racing horse should be conditioned properly, regardless of their level of competition, to prevent injury and maximize performance,” Kinsel emphasizes.

What Do You Wear to Barrel Race?

As opposed to English riding disciplines, Western disciplines embrace color. The rules for barrel racing are not especially strict on competition apparel. Riders are outfitted in basic gear, including boots, a hat and a Western-style long-sleeve shirt tucked into Western jeans. Boots like the detail-forward Ariat Circuit Savannah are the norm in this sport.

Kinsel proudly wears Ariat gear during competition. She says Ariat clothes are the most comfortable and athletic clothes to work in while also looking stylish.

“I like that I can ride my best, but still be presentable,” says Kinsel.

If you’re looking for champion-recommended women’s jeans, Kinsel’s favorite denim is the Ariat Arrow Fit.

Check out the Ariat Odessa Stretch Fit for boots perfect for working barrels and working the crowd, or the Frontier Tilly Western boot for an ultra-comfortable model (thanks to TekStep technology) that’s tailor-made for barrel racing.

What Does a Beginning Rider Need to Get Started Barrel Racing?

The necessities for a barrel racer are a safe saddle, a quality pad and a bridle (and, of course, a pair of cowgirl boots). But, says Kinsel, what’s even more valuable than good gear is good horse sense and education.

“Basic horsemanship is the most important thing to start with,” she says. Kinsel recommends finding a local coach and spending time around horses to develop riding skills before trying barrel racing. New riders searching for resources on how to get into barrel racing can attend a horsemanship clinic or take advantage of ample online resources if coaching isn’t readily available nearby.

What Kind of Equine Care is Involved in Barrel Racing?

New riders need to understand what’s required to get to the fun part of this equestrian sport. In addition to daily care, which can include feeding, mucking stalls and turning horses in and out, riders often need to do their own grooming and saddling — all before the actual riding begins!

To get a sense of the commitment of a professional barrel racing athlete, consider Kinsel’s typical day at her farm: “I generally ride every horse, every day — about ten each day, give or take when they need a day off — and groom, saddle, exercise, unsaddle, wash or brush off, and put away each horse. That’s followed by chores and cleaning their pens, changing out waters, moving horses around from indoor to outdoor pens and back, and finally, feeding for the evening. I mix in running errands, vet trips, farrier visits, and hauling to close-to-home events when I can.”

Life on the road can be even more demanding during the rodeo circuit, with long travel hours, adapting to an irregular schedule and intense competition. Consider the expense, the labor and the time and it’s easy to see why rodeo is among the most demanding professional sports.

How Fast Is a Typical Barrel Racing Run?

Barrel racing’s fast-paced action makes it one of the most popular equestrian sports of the Western discipline. What’s considered a “fast barrel racing time” differs depending on the barrel racing arena size and the sanctioning body. For world-champion Kinsel, her fastest rodeo barrel racing time on a WPRA standard pattern is an incredible 16.56 seconds at the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) in Arlington, where she set the speed record. Kinsel also laid down an impressive 13.11-second run at the NFR in the Thomas & Mack Arena, setting another arena record.

Is Barrel Racing Just for Women?

At the top level of professional rodeo, barrel racing is exclusively a women’s event. This makes it an outlier among the male-dominated rodeo sport. At the lower level, however, barrel racing is open to both men and women as amateurs or youth riders. Kinsel says that the openness of the sport, letting men and women go head-to-head through a certain level, is one of the things she enjoys most about barrel racing.

How Does a Horseman Get Into Professional Barrel Racing?

Kinsel entered the sport looking up to her mom and other family and friends involved with horses. She encourages riders hoping to emulate her success to follow their dreams.

“Instead of trying to be like me, try to be your own best,” says Kinsel. “Let that take you wherever it may as you trust the process.”

We hope you’ve found everything you need to know about barrel racing. For more inspiration on the equestrian sport and Ariat’s incredible network of sponsored riders like Hailey Kinsel, follow @AriatLife on social media, stop into an Ariat Brand Shop or browse our complete collection online.