Best Horses for Barrel Racing

Angela Vuckovic
by Angela Vuckovic
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To truly master the world of equestrian olympics, a horse needs to have a balanced set of traits and characteristics. The horse needs to have agility, speed, intelligence, obedience, and good proportions. Of course, a good rider is important as well. With all these traits combined, the barrel racing track will be no match for the pair. However, not all breeds can boast such a variety of excellent traits. After all, not all breeds are meant for racing and sports, right? So, to make things easier for all future barrel racers, we have compiled a list of the ten best horses for barrel racing. These are the breeds that excel in athleticism and have all the needed traits to become true champions. Read on! 

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#1 Quarter Horse

The Quarter Horse is one of those iconic, all-American equine breeds that excel in a variety of sports disciplines. They are a breed renowned for their agility, elegance, speed, and all-out sport spirit that is often difficult to match. As such, the Quarter horse is often seen in equestrian sports, and they can be perfect for barrel racing. These horses are fast learners and have an attitude that is eager to please and also bent on victory. But most importantly – they are fast. Some of the fastest recorded horse runs were made by Quarters. And in barrel racing, speed is key. So, you can count on your mount – they will combine their light weight, agility, and blistering speed in order to secure the fastest time on the track and gain you the victory. Just remember that such a good mount needs an equally good rider!


#2 Thoroughbred

Everybody heard of the Thoroughbred. These equines are speed incarnate – they excel at high-speed runs at short distances, and are prime horses for track racing. Of course, when properly trained, they will be ideal for any equine sport, barrel racing included. These horses are light, muscular, tall, and agile, and all this combined is ideal for those tight twists and turns on the track of a barrel race. One of the advantages that this breed boasts is their famed stamina: they will have more energy on the track when compared to some similar breeds. Of course, a thoroughbred horse can often be spirited and hot-blooded and will need a steady and confident rider, good training, and a proper horse-rider relationship. But once all this is set, you can be certain that victory on the track is a distinct possibility for you and your horse. 


#3 American Paint Horse

Here is another one of those iconic and recognizable American horse breeds. A horse with a lengthy history, the Paint horse has been bred as a dependable mount that is able to complete work tasks and excels as a fast and agile animal. Over time, however, it evolved into an exceptional sport horse. Renowned for its unique appearance and coloration, this breed has quite a bit of Morgan Horse blood in its pedigree. This makes it agile, speedy, and hardy as well. All that it needs to triumph at barrel racing. They are great at high-speed runs at short distances. But more importantly, these animals are very smart and quickly pick up new tricks and tasks. With proper training, they can easily become masters at the barrel racing track. 

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#4 Arabian Horse

We all know that Arabian horses have that reputation of hot-blooded and spirited temperament that can be hard to tame and put under control. In a way, this can be true – some Arabian stallions are very fierce and require the steadiest, most commanding of hands. But this is not always so. With selective breeding, such traits are minimal. Arabian horse geldings are intelligent, energetic, eager to learn and please, and superbly fast. Their hot temper was transferred to their athleticism, agility, and eagerness to win at the track. So, with proper training, an Arabian horse can stand shoulder to shoulder with all the renowned American horse breeds, and achieve impressive results on the track. Be it racing, jumping, or something else, these horses can do it. 

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#5 Crossbreed

Not all triumphant horses have to be of the purest stock and pedigree. In fact, sometimes it's the crossing of purebred breeds that provides the most ideal traits in a horse. This is the case with several crossbreed horse types: they can have Morgan, Quarter, Thoroughbred, Clydesdale, or Mustang blood in them, taking their ideal traits to a whole new level. Crossbred horses are usually cheaper than purebreds, but that does not make them any less capable of victory. With proper training and a good rider, these horses can achieve great results. They are most often Thoroughbred crossbreeds, and as such, they are agile, superbly fast, elegant, and smart. So, it is wrong to shy away from these animals just because they lack a certain pedigree. After all, it is not all about the parentage – but about the results!


#6 Mustang

The Mustang is a horse breed that has great symbolism in American culture. Synonymous with speed, it lends its name to the popular brand of superfast cars. And with a reason. The Mustang is a fast, agile, and powerful animal. However, it is generally considered a wild horse breed, living unburdened in the open plains. Of course, the Mustang can be tamed and trained, and many have done it with no issues. Their character adapts well to new environments, and they can be highly trainable horses. Whoever completes this process will find themselves in possession of a smart, agile, and very swift horse, ideal for the rugged and fast tempo of the barrel racing track. 


#7 Pony of the Americas

This rather unique breed of horse is becoming increasingly popular in North America, and for all the right reasons. A tall, powerful, and fast breed of horse, the Pony of the Americas boasts a unique coloration and a good temperament. It has all the prerequisites to excel, whether in work or in equine sports. Thanks to its impressive height but still medium overall dimensions, this breed can be surprisingly athletic when trained the right way. With just a bit of work, they can become the true masters of barrel racing. The tight turns and the need for speed will prove to be a small challenge for these animals. Of course, the Pony of the Americas is a breed that we are still getting to know in all the details – it can prove to be a truly marvelous breed of horse, versatile and athletic!

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#8 Appaloosa

Back in history, the Appaloosa horses were highly sought after by Native Americans – and for all the right reasons. Firstly, they have a very unique appearance, with all the tiny dots and spots, and different color combinations. But more importantly, they are a large, athletic, and fast breed with great stamina and a good disposition. They are quite agile for their size, and this means that they excel at equine sports, especially barrel racing. Today, besides the Quarter horses, the Appaloosas are amongst the most common at barrel racing events. Just keep in mind that the Appaloosa will need a rider with skill and confidence, in order to truly excel in this sport. 


#9 Connemara Pony

From America, we’re moving across the seas and into Ireland. After all, barrel racing is nowadays a global equine sport, and all sorts of horse breeds can be trained to excel at it. The Connemara pony is one such breed – a distinctly Irish horse that was originally bred for field and farm work. However, they proved to be capable of much greater things and soon began to excel in racing, equine sports, and obstacle courses. Agile, enduring, and very smart, these animals can be trained to master the barrel racing tracks. They are lower than the average breed, a bit stockier too – but they have the needed agility for those tight twists and turns, as well as the speed. It is a winning combination in barrel racing and can put the Connemara Pony one serious step ahead of the competition. All that is needed is some proper training.

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#10 Morgan Horse

The Morgan Horse is an iconic equine of the old American west. A breed that was developed to become the perfect equine: an ideal cavalry mount, a swift racer, and a capable worker. This is a true jack of all trades, a versatile and dependable horse. Over time, however, its roles narrowed down, and it is nowadays a true racehorse, excelling at dressage, barrel racing, and horse olympics. Today, they are one of the breeds that are most common to race tracks across the world, and with just a bit of adapting, they can master barrel racing as well. The Morgan horse is slim, athletic, agile, swift, and ever so elegant. Simply put, it has all that a true barrel racing horse needs. 

Which Qualities are Important in Barrel Racing?

It should not come as a surprise to know that barrel racing isn’t everyone's cup of tea. The horse – and the rider – have to have a distinct set of abilities and traits in order to triumph in this sport. After all, it is a bit more demanding than simple and straightforward racing, or dressage and the like. Barrel racing involves tight twists and turns, high speeds, and a need for a lot of agility. So, in order for a horse to triumph in this demanding competition, it needs to have all of the pieces of the puzzle in place. Read on to learn what they are!

  • Agility

In any equine sport, agility is the ideal way toward victory. Without it, the horse simply won’t be able to perform and conquer the many obstacles and turns. Of course, not all horse breeds are equally agile and nimble. For example, the heavy and robust Clydesdale or Draft horse, bred for pulling the plow, won’t be even close to as nimble as the swift and slim Thoroughbred. That is why choosing the appropriate breed is essential, and our list can guide you in the right direction. 

  • Speed

Barrel racing is all about speed. The winning horse is the one with the best time on the track, and for that, speed is of the essence. Again, the same rule applies – certain breeds are simply bred for speed and motion. The swiftest of horses are those with a good balance of height and light weight, as they can be superbly fast and have incredible stamina. Amongst the fastest are Thoroughbreds, Morgan horses, Arabians, Quarters, and European warm-bloods. Such breeds are best suited for equine sports, and, naturally, can be a bit steeply priced. But, when you are bent on victory, nothing should be an obstacle. 

  • Size

A horse’s size should never be underestimated, especially when barrel racing is considered. Since this sport is all about twists and turns, horses with a lower height and a lower center of gravity are bound to achieve better and faster results. That is why breeds such as the Connemara Pony, the Mustang, and the Pony of the Americas all found their way on our list – they are a tad bit shorter than your regular racing horse, and thus bound to fit into barrel racing prerequisites. Of course, Thoroughbreds and similar breeds are considerably higher, but they have the needed speed to even things out.  

  • Rider

Last but not least, is the rider. In the end, a horse without a skilled rider does not amount to much. A rider is responsible for training, maneuvering, tempo, attitude – and the road toward the win. A horse and rider duo is a perfect symbiosis: one cannot triumph without the other. That is why you need to be a confident, agile, nimble, and determined rider. Once you set your mind on the win and transfer that to your mount, victory is bound to happen!  

Angela Vuckovic
Angela Vuckovic

A proud mama to seven dogs and ten cats, Angela spends her days writing for her fellow pet parents and pampering her furballs, all of whom are rescues. When she's not gushing over her adorable cats or playing with her dogs, she can be found curled up with a good fantasy book.

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