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Can Arabian Horses Barrel Race?

The Arabian horse has been around for thousands of years. They carried warriors throughout the Middle East as far as North Africa, Spain, and China. Ghengis Khan, Alexander the Great, Napoleon, and George Washington all rode Arabians. Racing is also in the heart and soul of the Arabian. They are the original racehorse, after all. But can Arabian horses barrel race?

Arabian horses can barrel race. They might not be the first breed that comes to mind when thinking of a barrel racer, but they are often used to compete in barrel racing. Their speed, stamina, and ability to turn quickly, due to their light built, make them ideal for negotiating the barrels.

There are many reasons Arabian horses are used for all kinds of horse sports; below, I will further explore this exquisite horse breed.

Why Arabian horses are good for barrel racing

Generally, the American Quarter horse is used for barrel racing, but other breeds of horses can compete too. Any horse can race if they have the heart, speed, and training to do so. And yes, Arabian horses are one of those breeds. Though the Arabian is not initially bred for barrel racing, it can excel at this sport with proper training.

Here are a few reasons why they can do well in barrel racing:

  • Temperament. They have a calm temperament which is great for the arena where there are often loud noises of cheers ongoing while competing. Their kind, calm temperament also makes them ideal horses for children and beginner barrel racers.
  • Intelligence. Arabian horses are highly intelligent and learn quickly, which is one reason they are used in barrel racing. They are often thought of as being too smart for their own good.
  • Quick footed. They are quick-footed and can cope with the short sharp turns of the barrel racing scene.
  • Versatility. The Arabian horse breed is versatile and is used in many equestrian sports these days.
  • Loyalty. The Arabian horse is known for its loyalty.

Brief history of the Arabian horse breed

Bred by Bedouin tribes in the desert as war mounts in the Arabian Peninsula, the Arabian evolved in incredible harsh desert conditions.  They have a large lung capacity and great endurance ability.

What is barrel racing?

Barrel racing is a high-speed competition where a horse and rider have to circle three barrels placed in a triangular pattern in an arena. This has to be achieved in the shortest amount of time. The rider with the shortest time wins. Speed and agility are what this sport is all about.

The riders must ride hard and fast while creating a cloverleaf pattern without touching or knocking down any of the three placed barrels.  This all happens against the clock. Winners are often decided by a hundredth of a second.  This is a highly competitive sport and hard on the rider’s body.

Barrel racing is a great sport for horses, something they love made into a game of fun.  The average time for a barrel race to be completed is between fifteen and thirty seconds.  Knocking a barrel over earns you a five-second penalty.  It takes years of training and practice to make a top-notch barrel horse and rider team.

Brief history of barrel racing

Barrel racing originally evolved from relay races in the old Wild West shows. Started in the 1940s, it is one of the rodeo’s most exciting events. This sport is true teamwork between horse and rider—a western sport with mostly female riders that usually take place at a rodeo.

What other breeds of horses are being used for Barrel racing?

Here are some of the horse breeds typically used in barrel racing:

  • Quarter Horses. Barrel horses are athletic, smart, and fast. The breed most often used for this sport is known as the Quarter horse. A good Quater horse needs to be fast to get to each barrel quickly.  Agility is needed to bend around the barrels and then speed up explosively out of the turns.  Quarter horses are built for short sprints, and they are the most common horse breed used for barrel racing and other western riding sports.
  • Thoroughbred horses. Thoroughbred horses have been used in barrel racing since the start of the sport.  This breed is often known or perceived as hot-tempered and difficult to handle.  Truthfully with the right training in hand, any thoroughbred can achieve great things, and barrel racing is one of them.  It is not a fragile breed.  They were used for centuries to carry soldiers in battle and even working on farms.  These days they are more commonly used for flat racing.
  • Appaloosa. The Appaloosa breed is also widely used in barrel racing and a preferred breed for this sport.  With its spotted hind quarter skin markings, this American breed makes them a sought-after breed that stands out.
  • Paint Horse. The Paint horse is a type of breed from a quarter horse but with more colorful markings. They are the same as a quarter horse and therefore have the same qualities. Quick, agile, and beautiful to look at.
  • Appendix Quarter horses. Appendix Quarter horses are a cross between a registered Quarter horse and a registered Thoroughbred horse.  This cross of breeds gives you a calmer, more athletic horse that does great in barrel racing.

What other equestrian sports are the Arabian horse used for?

Endurance and competitive trail riding are two of the most popular equestrian sports where Arabians are the preferred mount.  Distance or endurance riding is the ultimate test of a horse’s stamina and physical ability.

Races are run up to 120 kilometers.  The horses run laps of 30 kilometers at a time.  Veterinary checks are performed at every stop.  Horses that don’t meet the veterinary check standard will be eliminated at the checkpoint.  They can run up to 40 km per hour for around eight hours.

To be able to compete in these events, a horse has to be in top physical fitness. Rigorous veterinary checks are performed during and after each race. At each checkpoint, the horses are doused with water, and a veterinarian checks their heart rates. A team of veterinarians thoroughly checks the horses before they are allowed to continue racing.  Only the fittest horse and rider will complete this grueling race of willpower and stamina.

Arabian horses compete in flat racing, dressage, jumping, carriage driving, pleasure driving, eventing, and working hunter.  This is a versatile breed capable to do anything you ask of it. 

Which other disciplines do Arabian horses excel in?

  • Halter. The discipline of halter is a handler showing an Arabian horse with a show halter in an arena where horses are being judged for breeding suitability, movement, conformation, and beauty. Halter classes are divided by sex and age.

    Native costumes are worn as they would have been in the days of the Bedouin while charging across the desert towards their enemies.  Riders and their horses are dressed in colorful heritage costumes while shown in walk, canter, and gallop. This is one of the most colorful and popular disciplines that the Arabian horse competes in.
  • English Show Hack. English show hack is a discipline that combines the precision of dressage with the Arabian breed’s beauty. Started in the 1800s, this discipline shows the elegance, style, and classical movements of the extended and collected gaits.  This discipline allows the Arabian horse to show off its elegance and versatility.
  • Ladies Side Saddle. Ladies side saddle discipline has its origins from an earlier age.  Ladies ride their horses while sitting on a side-saddle while wearing long coats to round off this elegant look.
  • Pleasure Driving. Pleasure driving is a discipline that requires skill.  A driver has to maneuver his horse through all the gaits.  The fluid motion of the Arabian horse and his beautifully decorated cart is a crowd favorite.
  • Showjumping. Jumping involves a horse and rider to clear a course of jumps set in an arena.  Riders are not judged on form but on the ability to clear all jumps within a specific time frame.
  • Working Hunter. Working hunter classes are made up of two jumping sessions and then judged under saddle.
  • Trail Riding. In Trail riding, both horse and rider have to negotiate natural obstacles that simulate real hazards in everyday life.  The horse has to get through the course without hesitation in a timely manner.  Arabians are excellent for this discipline due to their intelligence, stamina, and confidence.


The Arabian horse will capture your heart with its beauty, intelligence, loyalty, gentleness, and nobility of spirit.  To look at the Arabian horse is to realize how this breed contributed to the history of nations. Almost all Arabian pedigrees can be traced back in history to a historical event or figure.

Arabian horses are some of the most versatile horses, and they excel in almost any disciple that is asked of them to perform.  Barrel racing is but just one of the many disciplines that this breed can master with the proper training.

Anrie Diedericks

I've been around horses since I was 6 years old and started competing at the age of 9. Horses are my greatest passion and I am thrilled to be able to share my 23 (and counting) years of experience and knowledge with you.

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