11 Best Horse Breeds for Barrel Racing

Let’s get straight to the point – If you are partaking in a professional barrel race, Quarter Horses are the way to go!

But if you are planning to compete at a local barrel race, you might be surprised to find out that there are many horse breeds that can perform fantastic in barrel racing when trained properly.

In this post, we’ll discuss 11 best horses for barrel racing. Read on to find out which horses you should choose from for your next barrel racing competition!

What is Barrel Racing?

What is Barrel Racing

The rider and the horse try to run a cloverleaf pattern around the barrels during the barrel racing. The three barrels are placed at the corners of a triangular shape. The goal is to make tight circles around the barrel without knocking down the barrel.

In this equine sport, the one who completes the game in the shortest time wins, and if the horse knocks down the barrel, five seconds of penalty time is added to their total time. But if the rider or the horse touches the barrel or the barrel tips, no penalty is given to the team.

Though usually a women’s event, the competition is held for both success and at both levels, amateur and youth. The race is intense, and frankly, the sport is expensive. So, one ought to do all they can to secure their win. And the breed or the type of horse they team up with surely matters.

The agility and the ability of the horse to take tight turns is essential factor for you to consider. Having said that, since even a thousandth of seconds matters in this sport, having the best horse in the competition is not the only winning criteria as even a small mistake can cost you heavily.

Top 11 Best Horses For Barrel Racing

Now that we know what barrel racing is let us look at some of the horse breeds that are considered best for barrel racing. Let’s start our list with the ruler of barrel racing, the Quarter Horses.

1. Quarter Horse

Quarter Horse

Quarter Horses are easily the top choice for barrel racing. The fastest horses of all, Quarter Horses, can run up to 55 miles per hour. On the other hand, an average horse speed is found to be only 27 miles per hour. So, to say Quarter Horses dominate any barrel races would be an understatement.

These rulers of barrel races are incredibly agile and can make tight turns with ease. These athletic horses have short and compact bodies with good muscles and strong and powerful hindquarters. They are also considered to have a calm temperament, which makes them very easy to train and work with.

The crosses between a Quarter Horse and Thoroughbreds are registered as Appendix Quarter Horse. The mix of two powerful barrel racing horses breeds, Appendix Quarter Horses are also fantastic barrel racers.

2. Appaloosa


Appaloosa horses have much more to offer than their stunning appearance, i.e., their spotted coat patterns. To prevent the breed from being extinct, Appaloosa was crossed with Quarter horses at the end of the nineteenth century.

The barrel racing characteristics from the Quarter horse combined with the versatility of Appaloosa are a perfect combo for a barrel racing horse. This makes Appaloosas a top choice amongst many when it comes to barrel racing.

One interesting fact about Appaloosas is that no two horses have the same body coat print. Just like human fingerprints, these prints are unique to each horse. These agile and athletic horses also display kind and friendly characteristics and thus are considered a great horse breed for kids.

3. Thoroughbred


Tall, lean, and athletic Thoroughbreds are famous for their speed and stamina. In fact, many breeds of athletics barrel racing horses can be traced back to the Thoroughbreds.

With an average height of around 64 inches, Thoroughbred horses are hot-blood, and thus, can be difficult for inexperienced riders to handle. When handled by an experienced rider, these horses can be extremely hardworking and excellent for barrel races.

The founding stallions are considered to be Arabians. On the other hand, the founding mares are said to be a mixture of European breeds and Oriental horses.

4. Arabian


Arabians are naturally good racers. What’s more, their light frames help them make turns quickly, which is one of the essential characteristics of barrel horses. This breed of horses races with speed and have impressively high endurance.

With an average height of 57 inches, Arabians are also considered to be intelligent animals. Though they have a reputation of being hot-headed, that is not always the case. Arabians are also kind and receptive horses that can be trained with ease.

One interesting fact about Arabians is that they have one less rib, one less lumbar vertebrae, and one less tail bone than the rest of the breeds

5. Mustang


Mustang might not come to your mind when you think of barrel racing horses. These feral horses display many traits beneficial for barrel racing. Though small, weighing less than 1000 pounds, these horses are swift and agile.

Mustang horses display a friendly temperament and are highly trainable. So, with proper training, these horses can be great choices for barrel racing.

6. Australian Stock Horse

Australian Stock Horse

Australian Stock Horses and Quarter Horses both had European stock ancestors. Both these breeds have high endurance, are agile, and have calm and highly trainable temperaments. In fact, Australian Stock Horses are often referred to as Australian Quarter Horses.

In order to improve their stamina and agility, Quarter Horse blood was introduced to Australian Stock Horses during the 1900s. These horses stand from about 56 inches to 66 inches tall.

7. Paint Horse

Paint Horse

The name ‘Paint Horse’ was thoughtfully given. These horses indeed are as aesthetic as a painting. Besides the coat color patterns of these horses that many Native Americans prize, Paint Horses are also famous for their intelligence.

Paint horses were also crossbred with Quarter Horses. They can easily pick up high speeds in a short duration. Paint horses can be easily trained not only for barrel races but for many other disciplines as well. This horse breed is also famous for pleasure riding and ranch works.

8. Pony of the Americas

Pony of the Americas

With an average height of around 51 inches, Pony of the Americas are fast racers with impressive stamina. This breed was accidentally created when Shetland Pony stallion and Appaloosa mare were bred.

Following that, Appaloosa was also crossbred with Arabians to create this breed. Shortly, breeders stopped using Shetland Pony in order to increase the height of the Pony of the Americas.

Given their smaller size, Pony of the Americas is often used by aspiring barrel riders and thus is popular among the teens and riders with shorter heights.

9. Grade Horses

Grade Horses

Many equine sports allow only purebreds to participate. Well, luckily, that is not the case for barrel racing. Grade Horses do not have distinctive parentage and thus could have the blood of just about any breed flowing through their vein.

If you’re lucky, you might find Grade Horses with parentage of best barrel racers and, thus, with traits suitable for barrel racing horses. So, in the case of Grade Horses, it isn’t a sure shot that the horse will perform well in barrel races, but rather a hit or miss case scenario.

10. Friesian


With long flowy manes and tails, Friesian undoubtedly is one of the most beautiful horse breeds. But their beauty isn’t the only thing they are renowned for. Friesian horses are highly intelligent and display impressive will to learn, making them a great choice to train for barrel races.

Moreover, these horses have thick muscles covering their body, which makes them more resilient to vigorous training and injuries. So, though small, Friesian horses can be an amazing choice for barrel racing.

11. Clydesdale


Clydesdale falls under the heavier side when it comes to barrel racers. They stand between 65 and 72 inches tall. Despite their size, these workhorses are fast and make amazing barrel racers. They are gentle, intelligent, and willing to learn, making them easy to train and work with.

Descendents of European heavy breeds, Clydesdale horses are versatile, kind, and easy to trust around with children.

What is the Best Age for a Barrel Racing Horse?

Equine sports can be too demanding. So, the rider must make sure that the horse can go through rigorous training and the race.

The optimal age for a barrel racing horse is considered to be around 15-16 years. One must make sure that the horse is trained enough and also are physically ready to participate in the barrel race.


Natural traits such as speed and the ability to make tight turns around the barrel are essential. But your barrel racing teammate should also be friendly, willing to be trained, and work hard.

We hope to have helped you select the best horse to partner with for your next barrel race. We’d love to know in the comments some of your barrel racing experiences and your opinions when it comes to the horses!

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