What Makes a Good Barrel Horse?
By Jess Hallas-Kilcoyne
Veterinarian Jerry B. Black, DVM, describes the typical conformation of the barrel racing horse as being of the “sprint horse” type, and explains that many competitive barrel racers come from the Quarter Horse race tracks. “Foot size, conformation, and balance are important due to the concussion placed on these athletes,” he continues.
Essentially, a barrel horse is a race horse with the athleticism, coordination, and agility to turn on a dime, and a good mind to boot.
Photo courtesy of Sandy Ridge Stallion Station
One of the most successful sires of barrel racing and rodeo winners in Canadian history, the now deceased Docs Paradise (above) represents a more old-fashioned type of barrel horse than Dee and Craig Butterfield’s Raisin the Moon (below). Nevertheless, the stallions share the common features of a deep girth, long, sloping shoulder, and good bone.
Photo courtesy of Butterfield Performance Quarter Horses
“We’re looking for speed, but we want them to be able to handle that speed mentally,” says Dee Butterfield, who, with her husband Craig, owns Butterfield Performance Horses in Ponoka, Alberta. “They need to have the desire to be a winner. There are a lot of horses that have the ability and the speed but they just don’t want to do the job.”
When it comes to speed, “You look at conformation, like short cannon bones, long underline, short topline, and low hocks,” says barrel rider Cranna Roberts, of Anchor R Ranch in Lacombe, Alberta. “You like their legs to be straight. You look for how athletic they are.”
“A barrel horse can be a tall, racier type or a shorter, starter type, but he needs to be conformationally correct,” Butterfield says. “It’s important to have correct conformation, good bone, and good feet for the size of horse and his body type so he can last. If your horse isn’t balanced and his legs aren’t correct, your chances of longevity lessen greatly. We’re really looking at the longevity, ability, and the mind and desire to do the job.”
Whether you’re looking to win in Western pleasure, rule the reining world, be crowned a champion cutter, or beat out the barrel racing competition, remember that form (conformation, movement, and athletic ability) should follow function (the physical and mental demands specific to your chosen discipline).
Main Article Photo: Courtesy of Butterfield Performance Quarter Horses - A barrel racing horse is essentially a race horse with the athleticism, coordination, and agility to turn on a dime at top speed.
This article originally appeared in the September 2012 issue of Canadian Horse Journal.