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The "Cloverleaf" - We Ain't Talking Plants

Today's barrel racing horse needs to be not only fast, but strong, agile and intelligent.  The horse that has the ability to "hug" the barrels at top speed and can maneuver the course swiftly, while following the commands of its rider, will consistently be a winner.


Barrel racing is primarily a woman's rodeo event that combines both the horsemanship skills of the rider and her horse's athletic abilities.  Their goal is to complete a pattern consisting of 3 preset 50 gallon barrels placed in a triangle at the opposite end of the arena from where the horse enters.  The top of the triangle is the farthest away, and the pattern is shaped quite like a three-leaf cover; hence the name cloverleaf.


Horse and rider gallop into the arena and make an outside turn (turn to the outside) at either of the side barrels (rider's choice).  Rounding the barrel they cross the arena to the top side of the opposite barrel, thus making a figure eight in the middle of the arena.  Making another outside turn, they head up the middle, approaching the top barrel and rounding it in the same direction as the second barrel, counterclockwise (or clockwise).  They then race as fast as they can back to the starting line.  This is a timed event and the horse and rider with the fastest time wins.  Any barrels knocked over during the race count as a 5 second penalty.


A lightweight saddle with a high cantle and horn, along with forward strung stirrups can often make a big difference during a race.  Most riders typically choose a saddle that is a full size smaller than they would normally use for pleasure riding and sit deeply in the saddle with one hand on the horn while the other hand guides the horse through and around the barrel turn. But the really important thing is to make sure the saddle fits the horse properly.


Since there are no specific bits requred for barrel racing, the bit used can be determined by the needs of the horse.  Curb chains and nose bands can be used with the bit and most riders prefer a rein that is fully intact. Tie-downs can also be added to give the horse a sense of security when he turns or stops.


Apparel for competition includes boots, spurs, jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, and a cowboy hat.  But the most important thing is the horse.  Choose an animal with athletic ability, intelligence, drive and a willingness to please and you too can be a winner.


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