Best Horse Breeds for Barrel Racing
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Best Horse Breeds for Barrel Racing [5 top breeds with pictures]

The best horse breeds for barrel racing are athletic, fast, and intelligent, which include the Quarter Horse, the Appaloosa, the Thoroughbred, the Paint Horse, the Arabian, and some other breeds. Barrel horses need a unique blend of traits to be a champion.

Keep reading to learn a little more about each of these horse breeds and why they are so good at Barrel racing.

history of barrel racing
History of Barrel Racing

What is Barrel Racing?

Barrel racing is a horse show or rodeo competition event where a rider and horse rapidly make their way about a course that has three barrels in a cloverleaf pattern.

What is Barrel Racing
What is Barrel Racing

This is a timed race and the fastest time through the course wins. Style is not a factor but a rider will be given a five-second penalty if they knock over a barrel.

Agility in the turns and rapid acceleration to full speed is the key to being a successful barrel racer.

So the horse breed has to be agile, have good balance in tight turns and they must possess great acceleration ability.

Barrel racing is one of the most popular events at rodeos.

Some say that barrel racing initially started as a rodeo even for women.

Barrel Race Course Diagram

The diagram below gives you an idea of the course the racers follow.

barrel racing course diagram
Image of Barrel Racing Course Via Public Domain Wiki Commons

Best Horse Breeds for Barrel Racing

Barrel racing breeds all have some basic things in common. The horse must be smart, fast to accelerate, agile, and strong. 

Here is a list of the top barrel racing horse breeds.

Quarter Horse

American Quarter Horses are by far the most well-known and perhaps the best horses for barrel racing.

Quarter Horse
Quarter Horse

The Quarter Horse is fast and even holds the world’s record as the fastest horse ever in the quarter mile with a top speed of 55 miles per hour! 

Quarter Horses are strong and muscular, they can accelerate very quickly and are very agile horses so they can turn on a dime. 

Quarter horses are known as the world’s most versatile horse and they are the perfect horse breed for barrel racing!

Quarter Horse Characteristics

The Quarter Horse breed originated in the United States of America

Athletic Build: Quarter Horses have a compact and muscular build, with a short back and strong legs that allow them to run fast, accelerate rapidly, and turn quickly.

Size: Quarter horses are medium size horses and typically stand between 14 and 16 hands high (56-64 inches at the shoulder, a ‘hand’ is about four inches) and weigh between 950 and 1,200 pounds.

Jack of All Trades: The American Quarter Horse is widely viewed as probably the most versatile horse breed on the planet. 

Quarter Horses are utilized in a wide variety of equestrian disciplines as well excelling as work animals on farms and ranches.

It is not unusual to see them doing ranch work, barrel racing, cutting, reining, trail riding, and even as show jumpers and English-style dressage horses.

Speed: Quarter Horses are famous for their great speed over short distances, particularly over a quarter-mile, which, by the way, is exactly how the Quarter Horse gets its name!

Calm Temperament: The Quarter Horse has a calm demeanor and personality. Because of their gentleness and intelligence, they are fairly easy to train.

These traits make them one of the most popular breeds of horses for both novice and experienced riders of all ages.

Quarter Horses are also known for their willingness to please and for being highly intelligent.

Coat Colors: Quarter Horses come in a wide variety of colors. This includes solid colors like sorrel, bay, and black (the most common). They can also have white markings on their face and legs.

Hardworking: Quarter Horses are known for their strong work ethic and are often used for ranch work, such as herding cattle, due to their agility, speed, and power.

The Quarter Horse is most famous as a western-style horse.

What is an Appendix Quarter Horse?

An appendix quarter horse is a first-generation mix of a Quarter Horse and a Thoroughbred horse. These horses also make good barrel racers.

You can learn more about the Quarter Horse at the American Quarter Horse Association  website.


The Appaloosa horse is another great breed for barrel racing due to its speed, strength, and agility. 

If you have seen an Appaloosa horse you will remember it as its distinctive spotted coat pattern can’t be missed! 

Appaloosas can be a variety of colors including leopard, snowflake, blanket, and varnish roan. 

You will know it’s an Appaloosa when you see one!

Appaloosa Characteristics

The Appaloosa originated in the United States (particularly the Pacific Northwest).

Muscular Build: Appaloosas have a strong, muscular build, with a broad chest and powerful legs.

Appaloosa Characteristics
Appaloosa Characteristics

They are known for their endurance and agility, which makes them excellent trail and endurance horses in addition to being great show or rodeo horses.

Mottled Skin: Appaloosas have skin that is often mottled (marked with spots or color smears) or speckled, particularly around their nostrils, eyes, and genitals.

White Sclera Eyes: Appaloosas have a unique eye coloring, with a white sclera that surrounds their iris, making their eyes stand out and appear larger. You will notice this!

Calm Temperament: Appaloosas are known for their calm and docile temperament, which makes them good horses for riders of all skill levels.

Strong Work Ethic: Appaloosas have a strong work ethic and are willing to work hard, which makes them excellent horses for farm or ranch work and other physically demanding tasks.

Versatile: Appaloosas are highly versatile horses. They excel in a wide range of areas such as dressage, jumping, trail riding, and rodeo events like barrel racing and roping.


Thoroughbred horses are best known for being race horses and the fastest horse breed on a race track. You see Thoroughbreds in famous horse races such as the Kentucky Derby.

This warm-blooded horse is very versatile also can excel at many other activities including show jumping, dressage, and even barrel racing! 

The Thoroughbred is highly intelligent and relatively easy to train. Well, that makes sense that agile, smart, athletic horses will be good barrel racing horses!

Thoroughbred Characteristics

Country of Origin: England

Height and Weight: Thoroughbreds stand about 15 and 17 hands (60-68 inches) tall at the shoulder and weigh around 900 to 1200 pounds making them a good size horse.

Thoroughbred Characteristics
Thoroughbred Characteristics

Muscular Build: Thoroughbreds are known for their muscular build, particularly in their hindquarters. This will help them accelerate quickly which is a requirement for racing barrels.

Thoroughbreds have a deep chest, a short back, and relatively long legs making them excellent for running at high speeds. This also helps them get around a barrel racing course at a fast pace.

Great Athletes: Thoroughbreds are highly athletic and have excellent endurance, making them also good at long-distance races.

Did you know? Thoroughbreds are bred for racing! They are known as the fastest horse breed and can run over 40 miles per hour.

Temperament: Thoroughbreds are generally intelligent, sensitive, and trainable however they can be a bit high-strung! Due to these traits, a Thoroughbred requires an experienced rider.

Coat Colors: Thoroughbreds come in a variety of coat colors, including bay, chestnut, black, and gray. They are beautiful horses!

Average Thoroughbred lifespan is usually 20 to 30 years but will vary based on the horse and the type of care they get.

American Paint Horse

Often called the American Paint Horse, this breed is a popular choice for barrel racers for a variety of reasons. First, they are strong, agile, and fast horses that can perform the task well.

But Paint Horses also have a look that many people relate to the old west. Their white and brown or white and black markings are beautiful and make them stand out at a rodeo or other event. 

So most barrel racers will love the extra attention that a paint horse will attract just with their looks in addition to their great athletic abilities on the race course. 

American Paint Horse Characteristics

Country of Origin: The American Paint Horse originated in North America

Strong Horse: The American Paint Horse is a muscular breed, similar to the Quarter Horse, and with a balanced conformation.

Paint Horse Characteristics
Paint Horse Characteristics

They have broad chests, strong shoulders, and powerful hindquarters which makes them great for barrel racing.

Height and Weight: American Paint Horses typically stand between 14 and 16 hands (56 to 64 inches) tall and weigh between 900 and 1,200 pounds. This is very similar to the Quarter Horse.

Temperament: American Paint Horses are usually a joy to work with and are well known for their calm, gentle, and intelligent temperament. 

Paint Horses are famous for being easy to train and having a strong work ethic.

Markings: This characteristic is where the American Paint Horse truly shows how special it is! They have a variety of markings and coat colors, including overo, tobiano, and tovero.

Overo horses have irregular, scattered patches of color, while tobiano horses have distinct, solid-colored areas that usually cross the back.

Tovero horses have a combination of overo and tobiano markings. No matter their colors, the American Paint Horse has a special look that you will never forget once you see one.


Much like the Thoroughbred horse, the Arabian can be good at barrel racing. 

Well, this makes sense because it is said that ALL Thoroughbred horses in existence today have their origins tied back to just three stallions that had Arabian genes in their blood!

Arabian Horse Characteristic

The Arabian horse comes from the Arabian Peninsula. This includes countries such as Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Yemen.

Body Type: Arabian horses have a unique body type with a dished profile, arched neck, and high-set tail. 

Arabian Horse Characteristic
Arabian Horse Characteristic

These distinctive-looking horses have compact bodies with short backs, broad chests, and strong legs. Oh yea, that makes them good for barrel racing! Go figure!

Height and Weight: Arabian horses are typically a little smaller than some of the other breeds on this list. 

Arabians tend to be about 14 to 15 hands (57 to 61 inches) tall and weigh between 800 and 1,000 pounds making them a small to medium-sized horse.

Maybe being a smaller horse helps them be more agile at barrel racing than a larger horse.

Temperament: Arabian horses are very smart, they are sensitive and loyal. Highly trainable horses are best for racing barrels and the Arabian fits the bill well!

Related Barrel Racing Questions

How long has horse barrel racing been in existence?

Most agree that the sport of barrel racing originated in Texas, somewhere in the late 1920s or early 1930s as an unorganized sport.

But it is more agreed upon that competitive barrel racing officially started as an organized event in the 1940s.

Were three barrels always used for the barrel racing course?

No, most agree that barrel racing started with just two barrels and the racing went in a figure-eight pattern. It does seem that the “three-barrel” course adds excitement to the event.

Who are the most famous barrel racers?

Most agree that Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, Sherry Cervi, and Hailey Kinsel are the most accomplished barrel racers. 

They all have multiple titles and have earned millions of dollars racing the sport.

What horse is the greatest barrel racer ever?

Gills Bay Boy, a Quarter Horse, holds an amazing ten Women’s Professional Rodeo Association World Barrel Racing Championships! Wow! 

Gills Bay Boy was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame and died at the old age of 35 in 2012.

A horse named Dash Ta Fame is often credited with having sired more champion barrel racing horses than any other stud.

It is claimed that his offspring have won around $20 million dollars in barrel racing prize money and related earnings.

Do barrel racing events require horses to be purebreds?

No, any horse can run in a barrel race. At local rodeos, you will often see a wide mix of horse breeds running the barrels.

What is a Grade Horse?

Grade horses are simply non-purebred horses. They are usually a mixed breed and not registered with any horse associations that are breed specific.

Are Mustang horses good barrel racers?

Yes, Mustangs can be good barrel racing horses but they are usually not the first choice for riders due to their smaller size and that they probably will require extensive training.

Barrel racing is an exciting event for horses and riders as well as rodeo enthusiasts and horse lovers around the world. 

If you have a chance to go see a barrel race it will be a lifetime memory you will cherish. Of all the types of horse racing, barrel racing is one of the most exciting for spectators.

Best Horse Breeds for Barrel Racing

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