Barrel Racing: Top 8 Horse Breeds


When it comes to any sort of equine sport or competition, having the right training and experience is important, but so is having the right type of horse!

There are many different horse breeds, each one with its own traits and proficiencies, and although you could train most horses for almost any activity, certain horse breeds will be a lot more capable due to their natural skills. 

Just like how thoroughbred horses are the elite athletes of horse racing, barrel racing is where the quarter horse becomes the star.

But that’s not the only horse breed good for barrel racing…In fact, there are quite a few horse breeds that have the perfect skills for this sort of competition, and some of them might even surprise you! 

So to enlighten you, and put some other horse breeds in the spotlight for barrel racing, we’ve compiled a list of the top 8 horse breeds that have the perfect natural skills and traits to be absolute champions at this sport. Let’s get right into it! 

What Is Barrel Racing?

Before we get into the top horse breeds for barrel racing, we thought it would be a good idea to quickly explain exactly what barrel racing is, just in case there are some newbies to the equine world reading this! 

So, barrel racing is a rodeo event, typical of Western riding, and incredibly popular in Southern areas of the USA. In fact, it is believed to have originated in Texas!

In this race, the horse and rider have to run a cloverleaf pattern around barrels, as fast as they possibly can. This requires athletic abilities from the horse, and excellent horsemanship skills from the rider in order to maneuver around the obstacles in record time while staying on. 

The sport was originally developed for women, and women continue to be the stars of the show, along with the quarter horse, which is the iconic horse breed most popularly used in this event. 

We could tell you much more, but that’s pretty much the main information you need to know about barrel racing. So…let’s move on to the horse breeds!

The 8 Best Horse Breeds for Barrel Racing

Here is a list of the top 8 best horse breeds for barrel racing, chosen for their natural skills and capabilities, as well as their general character, and because they are proven to be amazing at this sort of challenge and event. 

The horse breeds are in no particular order (we just went with alphabetical order to make it easier), except for the quarter horse, which we simply had to place at the top because it is the most iconic and well-known horse breed within the world of barrel racing. 

That being said…let’s move on to the horse breeds! 

Quarter Horse

  • Height: Between 56 inches and 64 inches tall, as a general rule. (However, some quarter horses can reach up to around 68 inches tall!) 
  • Color: Sorrel and other browns are the most common, but quarter horses can come in any color. 
  • Country Of Origin: USA
  • Character Summary: Quarter horses are calm and friendly, energetic, and extremely easy to train

About The Quarter Horse

As we’ve mentioned, the quarter horse is the absolute champion of barrel racing, mainly because it has an unpaired ability to turn quickly and accelerate. This breed was originally bred by English settlers during the 17th century, in New England.

For fun, they would race them through the village streets, and the roads back then would usually be a quarter of a mile in distance, hence the name the breed became known by! 

Quarter Horse Fun Facts

  • Quarter horses are the best at springing into action, which is why there is a saying that describes them as “sleepy little critters that can unwind like lightning”. 
  • One of the most famous barrel racers of all time was a quarter horse named Scamper. He won 10 world championships in 10 years, earning over a million dollars! 
  • The result of breeding a quarter horse with a thoroughbred horse is the Appendix Quarter horse, excellent at both barrel racing and horse racing.
  • Quarter horses can reach speeds of up to 55mph in very short sprints over a short distance, making them great at barrel racing!

Appaloosa

  • Height: Between 57 inches and 64 inches, as a general rule, although some can reach 68 inches. 
  • Color: Appaloosa horses are very easy to identify, as they have a very unique appearance. They are known for their spotted pattern, which can combine any sort of color. They also have striped hooves and have white around the outside of the eye area. Their eyes are also often called human eyes, as they are very similar to ours. 
  • Country Of Origin: USA
  • Character Summary: Appaloosa horses are generally very calm and friendly, making for great family horses as they are good with both adults and children alike. They are also famous for their versatility, and for their endurance. 

About The Appaloosa

Many people believe that the Appaloosa breed is simply a unique color pattern, but Appaloosa horses have plenty of special traits other than their appearance.

The truth is, that originally they descended from a mixture of Russian Don horses and Spanish Conquistadors, but they went almost extinct, so in order to bring the breed back they were mixed with Quarter horses. And yup…it’s that Quarter horse blood that gives them all the traits perfect for barrel racing. 

Basically, Appaloosa horses were already fast and versatile, but then the acceleration and turning capabilities of the quarter horse were added, so it’s a perfect mix! Plus, they always stand out!

Appaloosa Fun Facts

  • Every single Appaloosa horse has a unique pattern, with no two horses being exactly the same! 
  • Appaloosa horses weren’t actually known as “Appaloosa” until 1938 when the horse registry was established. Up until then, they were simply known as the Palousey, which refers to their homeland in the Palouse region, in Idaho and Washington. 
  • Not all Appaloosa horses have spots! Some can be a single solid color. However, they all have mottled skin around the eyes and muzzle, as well as striped hooves. 
  • Appaloosa horses can change their colors and pattern as they grow older, so you can’t predict their final color at birth! 

Arabian

  • Height: They have an average height of around 57 inches (shorter than most other breeds), but some can reach 64 inches in height. 
  • Color: They can be any color, with black, brown, chestnut, and grey being the most popular
  • Country Of Origin: The Arabian Peninsula
  • Character Summary: Arabian horses are known for being very hot-headed, highly energetic, and hard to handle. However, they love being active and thrive in competitions. 

About The Arabian

Arabian horses are famous all throughout the world, both for their fiery nature, and for their distinctive appearance, with a chiseled head, dished face, long arching neck, and high tail.

Although the consensus is that Arabian horses originate from the Arabian peninsula, there is no specific knowledge of where exactly they come from. And, of course, this has led to many myths! 

The most popular myth is that the prophet Mohammad created them. The story goes that he kept a herd of horses without water for a week, and then released them. They charged into the water, and when he called them back only five returned. Those five were then used to create the Arabian breed. 

It is no wonder that this breed can be excellent at barrel racing, as they are renowned for their speed, agility, and overall athletic capabilities.

Arabian Fun Facts

  • Arabian horses have been depicted in cave paintings that are over 3500 years old! This means this breed has been around for an insane amount of time. 
  • Arabian horses have one less rib, one less lumbar vertebrae, and one less tail bone as other horse breeds!
  • It is said that three Arabian horses (Darley Arabian, Godolphin Arabian, and Byerley Turk) were founding stallions when the Thoroughbred breed was created. So perhaps some of the Thoroughbred’s famed qualities come from the Arabian!

Australian Stock Horse

  • Height: Between 56 inches and 66 inches, on average. 
  • Color: This breed comes in all colors
  • Country Of Origin: Australia
  • Character Summary: Australian Stock horses are known for being very calm and chill, easy to train, and friendly. They are also very courageous and loyal, and also boast of having a lot of stamina and endurance. 

About The Australian Stock Horse

Before anything else, you should know that the Australian Stock is also commonly known as the Australian Quarter Horse…so it’s really no surprise that it’s a great breed for barrel racing.

They are agile and fast, with great stamina and amazing temperament, easy to train, and ideal for this sort of sport. This breed descends from the horses that got to Australia in 1788, onboard the First Fleet, from England. 

Australian Stock horses have always had to adapt to different environments, making them tough and hardy. And this has helped them become a courageous breed, as they will assess danger rather than run away from it straight away! 

Australian Stock Horse Fun Facts

  • Australian Stock Horses are also commonly known as the Australian Quarter Horse, and as a matter of fact, during the 1900s Quarter Horses were mixed into the breed, to further improve speed and agility!
  • Australian Stock Horses are often confused with the Waler, as they are very similar breeds. 
  • Australian Stock Horses are still used to round up cattle in Australia, especially in remote and rural locations. So they’re proper Australian cowboy horses!
  • Australia is very proud of this breed, and the opening Olympics ceremony of 2000, in Sydney, had a tribute to them! (They basically had 120 Australian Stock Horses performing a routine in time with the music.) 

Clydesdale

  • Height: Between 65 and 72 inches tall, on average. 
  • Color: They can be any color, with bay being the most common. They also tend to have white markings around the face, legs, and underside. 
  • Country Of Origin: United Kingdom
  • Character Summary: Clydesdale horses are known for being extremely easy to train, as they are very willing to learn. They are also great with children, due to their gentle and caring nature. 

About The Clydesdale

Clydesdales are draft horses and are therefore bigger and chunkier than most horses on this list. However, they’re still very fast, and they make for excellent horses in barrel racing. The name comes from its origin, a place in Scotland that is now actually known as Lanarkshire.

Traditionally used as workhouses, the Clydesdale was used for pulling heavy weights and working on the farm. But as we’ve said, they’re also incredibly fast and easy to train, so they are great breeds for competitions! 

Clydesdale Fun Facts

  • Compared to other heavy draft horses, Clydesdales have a higher leg action, so they don’t drag their feet when they move. This could be the reason why they are faster than expected! 
  • Clydesdales are one of the biggest breeds of horses in the world, with most of them being over 72 inches in height. They are also incredibly heavy, weighing around 2000lbs! (You really don’t want this horse accidentally falling on you, that’s for sure!) 
  • The Household Cavalry of the British Army is Clydesdale horses, which are also used as drum horses during important events. 
  • As a working horse breed, the Clydesdale drastically dropped in numbers during the industrial revolution, but they have been brought back into popularity as riding horses. 

Paint Horse

  • Height: As a general rule, they are between 56 inches and 64 inches, although some can be even bigger. 
  • Color: Paint Horses are always a combination of white and one other color, with three main patterns: tobiano, overo, and tovero. 
  • Country Of Origin: USA
  • Character Summary: Paint Horses are known for being highly intelligent and are therefore very easy to train. They are also highly elegant and athletic and are capable in many ways. 

About The Paint Horse

Paint Horses were brought over to America with the Spanish Conquistadors, with many of them breaking loose and becoming wild.

Over time, people in the Wild West domesticated them again, and they were mixed with Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds to improve their agility and speed. In fact, a lot of Paint Horses are registered twice, so that they are also part of the American Quarter Horse Association, due to the similarities! 

Paint Horses have great stamina, are hardy, and are incredibly intelligent. They can be trained with ease, and as such, they are very capable in a wide range of disciplines, activities, and types of competitions.

They’re popular as ranch horses, as pleasure riding horses, and also in barrel racing! You can basically think of them as a more unique-looking Quarter Horse. 

Paint Horse Fun Facts

  • Paint Horses have been around for a very long time, much longer than most people think. There have been cave paintings, dates from 4500 BC, in which horses with the same coat patterns have been depicted. 
  • Native American Indians were the first to breed Paint Horses, and they believed that the more unique the coat patterns were, the more magical the horse was, and they held them in great esteem. 
  • In order to register a Paint Horse, the sire and dam (mum and dad of the horse) need to have previously been registered with the American Paint Horse Association, the American Quarter Horse Association, or the Jockey Club as a Thoroughbred.

Pony Of The Americas

  • Height: As a general rule, they will be between 46 and 56 inches tall, shorter than the average on this list of horse breeds. 
  • Color: Spotted patterns of all colors. They are very similar to the Appaloosa (but the Pony of the Americas is like the “mini-version”). 
  • Country Of Origin: USA
  • Character Summary: The Pony of the Americas is known for being fast and relentless, willing to go as far as necessary, and with the stamina to back them up. They are also generally very gentle in their nature, which makes them great companions. 

About The Pony Of The Americas

The Pony of the Americas originates from a bit of an accident, as an Appaloosa mare got with a Shetland Pony stallion, and once pregnant, she was offered to Les Boomhower, a horse breeder.

The foal was the first of its kind: the Pony of the Americas! Over time, they bred other horses into the mix in order to make the pony slightly taller and bigger, and they were trained to become utility horses, for pleasure riding, and more. 

This breed is pretty fast and agile, and they’re full of spirit, making them lively competitors in events such as the barrel race!

Pony Of The Americas Fun Facts

  • Boomhower, the original breeder of Pony of the Americas, wanted this horse to be like an in-between horse for children that had outgrown ponies but were still too small for big horses. Hence the end result on the size! Both adults and children can ride this breed perfectly. 
  • The Pony of the Americas has a lot of stamina, and as proof of this, a pony called Apache Wampum completed 600 miles from Columbus Junction (located in Iowa) to Cheyenne (located in Wyoming). 
  • When the registry for horses was first put in place, in 1955, there were only 12 Pony of the Americas. However, nowadays there are over 50,000 registered ones! They really have grown in popularity in a short period of time!
  • Extra fun fact, the founding stallion of the original Pony of the Americas was called Black Hand, because he had a black smudge on the back that sort of looked like a handprint. 

Thoroughbred

  • Height: Between 61 inches and 68 inches, approximately. 
  • Color: Any solid colors, but brown, bay, and chestnut are the most common. 
  • Country Of Origin: The United Kingdom
  • Character Summary: Thoroughbred horses are the elite of horse racing, known to be spirited and hot-blooded, full of energy and raring to go. In speed, no other horse breed can match them. They are also highly intelligent but can be a bit of a handful for less experienced riders. 

About The Thoroughbred

Thoroughbred horses were originally developed during the 18th century so that they would be the ultimate horse racing horses, capable of running well over a mile at a constant speed of 40mph.

They are, as mentioned, the elite athletes of the equine world. But speed is not the only thing they’re good at, they are also incredibly intelligent, highly agile, and are good at quick turns.

Therefore…they are excellent for barrel racing! In fact, they are highly popular and make the competition tough against Quarter Horses. 

The main downside is that Thoroughbred horses can be very hard to train, especially as they are very spirited and strong-willed.

So it takes an experienced rider to get them to their full potential! They are versatile, good at almost any riding discipline they are presented with, and are always a favorite within competitions of any sort. 

Thoroughbred Fun Facts

  • The name of the breed comes from “thro-bred”, which refers to the breeding back in 1713, as they were thoroughly bred. 
  • There are many famous Thoroughbred horses, all of them racehorses, with some of them even having movies based on their lives and careers! We recommend you watch “Secretariat”, one of the best racehorses in history, which was considered to be the perfect horse, due to its dimensions and stride. 
  • Thoroughbred horses are the only breed in the world that isn’t allowed to be bred through artificial insemination. This is to make sure the wrong parentage isn’t assigned, as the parentage has a very big impact on the genetics and potential of a racehorse! 

What Horse Breed Should You Choose For Barrel Racing?

Now that we’ve talked a bit about the top 8 best horse breeds for barrel racing, you might have a better understanding of the kind of horse that is suited to this type of event and competition.

However, out of the 8 horse breeds, which one should you choose? Or in other words, which one is the best? Is it just the Quarter Horse? 

Well, the truth is that there is no “best horse breed” for barrel racing. Sure, the Quarter Horse is the most popular and iconic for the sporting event, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best, and there are plenty of non-Quarter Horse champions. 

At the end of the day, you should choose a horse that fits well with you, and then it’s all about improving through training and experience so that your horse might reach its full potential, taking into account the natural talents and skills that it already possesses. 

If you really want to search for the best possible horse, then we recommend you take into account the following factors:

Your Experience As A Rider

Not all riders are suitable for all breeds of horses. Some horses are considered to be more hot-blooded and spirited, as a general rule, and this makes them harder to train and to control.

So in order to work well together, and in order to achieve the full potential, a more experienced rider is required, with a firm hand to guide the horse. 

You also need to take into account your age and your size, so that you are well-paired with the horse that you end up with! 

Speed And Acceleration

Barrel racing is unique in that you have to go through a course with different obstacles (mainly barrels), with fast turns. But above all, it is a race, and that means you need to be going as fast as possible.

Therefore, speed is a vital trait to look for in a potential barrel racing horse. And not just speed, but fast acceleration, as horses in barrel racing have to be able to pick up speed in the small straight lines within the course, and then slow down slightly for the sharp turns before picking up speed again. 

Fast Turns

In barrel racing, the key is being able to make those sharp turns around the barrel in record time, so that you aren’t losing out on any precious seconds that might cost you the race. This can be trained over time, but some horse breeds are more capable than others. 

Agility

In barrel racing and most rodeo events, agility is a must. You want your horse to be fast and agile, athletic and eager to give it all that it has. 

Endurance

Barrel races tend to be quite short, so endurance isn’t usually a high priority for most people. But the truth is, having good stamina is always incredibly beneficial, especially if you’re going to be running quite a few rounds on the same day!

Plus, endurance means that your horse will be able to keep up the speed until the end, without slowing down!

Summary

In conclusion, in order to be good at barrel racing, horses must be fast, agile, athletic, easy to train and be able to turn impressively fast in order to get around the barrels of the course.

The most iconic barrel racing breed is the Quarter Horse, a true American cowboy horse originating from Texas, present at all rodeos and ranches. However, there are many other amazing horse breeds that have great potential in events such as barrel racing competitions. 

Apart from the Quarter Horse, our list of top 8 horse breeds for barrel racing also include the Appaloosa, the Arabian, the Australian Stock Horse, the Clydesdale, the Paint Horse, the Pony of the Americas, and the Thoroughbred. 

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