The History of Barrel Racing
Barrel racing is a rodeo event that combines the horse’s athletic ability with the horsemanship skills of the rider to safely and successfully manoeuvre through a clover leaf pattern around three barrels, (typically fifty-five gallon metal or plastic drums), placed in a triangle in the centre of an arena. In this extremely competitive sport, speed is of the essence, and electronic “eyes” are used to time each run to the thousandth of a second.
The timer begins when horse and rider cross the start line, and ends when the barrel pattern has been successfully executed and horse and rider cross the finish line. The rider’s time depends on several factors, most commonly the horse’s physical and mental condition, the rider’s horsemanship abilities, and the type of ground or footing (the quality, depth, content, etc. of the sand or dirt in the arena).
The Origins of Barrel Racing and Rodeo
Barrel racing’s origins, unlike cattle roping or cutting, are not directly traced to ranch work. Instead, the event evolved from the timed relay races that were added to traveling Wild West shows. Wild West show entrepreneurs may have gotten the idea for events such as barrel racing from an older equestrian tradition called gymkhana. Gymkhana evolved from military cavalry training, in which riders demonstrated their skills on horseback while performing various tasks, such as weaving through poles, picking up pegs, or racing around and jumping over obstacles. These exercises were designed to sharpen the riders’ horsemanship skills in preparation for battle.
But while it began as an exhibition sport, the combination of explosively fast horses and superb riding that barrel racing requires has made its popularity grow until it is now considered one of the most popular competitive rodeo sports among spectators, second only to bull riding.
Cowgirls were the first Barrel Racers
An important reason for barrel racing’s popularity is the fact that it is open to female participation. Before rodeo became highly organized and regulated, many women participated in–and excelled–in bull riding and other events, but women were eventually discouraged or banned from many such events due due to the perceived danger involved.
The turn of the twentieth century was a sort of golden age for women in rodeo. From the late 1890s through the 1920s, cowgirls participated in North America’s most important rodeo competitions, like the Calgary Stampede (in Calgary, Alberta, Canada), the Pendleton Round-Up (in Pendleton, Oregon), and the World Series Rodeo in New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Barrel racing originally developed as an event for women. While the men roped or rode bulls and broncos, the women barrel raced. In the beginning, the barrel pattern alternated between a figure-eight and a cloverleaf but the figure-eight pattern was eventually dropped in favour of the more-difficult cloverleaf. It is believed that Barrel Racing first saw competitive light in the state of Texas, as part of the WPRA, (Women’s Professional Rodeo Association).In 1948, with the founding of the Girls’ Rodeo Association (GRA). This group successfully pushed for rodeo committees and producers to hold all-women rodeos, with barrel racing being the most commonly produced event. The GRA evolved into the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA), which today has more than 2,000 members and sanctions 800 barrel races a year in conjunction with the rodeos of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA). The WPRA’s sister organization, the Professional Women’s Rodeo Association (PWRA) sanctions all-women rodeos across the United States and holds an annual world championship. The events include bareback and bull riding and calf roping.
The WPRA was the first rodeo organization developed for women where they could compete in any rodeo event they wanted to. To this day, the WPRA allows women to compete in various rodeo events as they like, but barrel racing remains the most popular and has branched out into thousands of organizations all over the world.
While barrel racing was initially a sport for cowgirls, the modern barrel racing is open to anyone who is willing and has the skills to manoeuvre horses around the barrels in times to beat the clock.
Gastric Ulcers in Horses
Barrel racing is a very intense event and training can be very demanding for both horse and rider. In a discipline such as barrel racing the horse is constantly being transported to competition events all across the country and we know how stressful this can be on a horse. The expectations on the horse’s physical capabilities can also contribute to stress. Stress in these events can lead to gastric ulcers in horses.
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