Riding Tips

5 Best Horse Breeds for Barrel Racing in the Money

best horse breeds for barrel racing
Written by Kim H.

Bred for Speed. Born to run.

If you have ever watched barrel racing, then you know what an exciting equestrian discipline it is. The horses are lightning fast and it is easy to see why barrel racing is an event at most major rodeos. If you might be wondering what breeds of horses are best suited for the sport of barrel racing, we’ve got answers.

Certain breeds excel at the exciting sport of barrel racing. Keep reading to learn more about the best horse breeds for barrel racing, what makes them excel at the sport, and why certain breeds might perform better than others.

Barrel Racing: An Overview

Barrel racing is considered a rodeo event and involves a horse and rider team running a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels in the fastest time possible. Knocking over a barrel results in a time fault.

Not only must the horse carry a lot of speed, but they need to be able to tightly turn around each barrel without knocking it over. 

barrel racing

source: canva

What Makes a Good Barrel Horse?

The best breeds of horses for barrel racing are dependent upon several factors. There are certain characteristics that someone competing in barrel racing may look for when finding the right horse.

Characteristics of breeds successful in this sport:

  • Trainability
  • Speed
  • Endurance
  • Agility
  • Bravery
Barrel Racing 3

Photo Cred: Canva

Do horses have to be registered to compete in barrel racing?

Per the National Barrel Horse Association, a horse does not have to be a registered breed to run in recognized barrel racing events.

Horses would need to be registered to compete at a breed-specific event.

For example, only registered Quarter Horses can compete in barrel racing at the All American Quarter Horse Congress.

Best Breeds for Barrel Racing

Breed Description Pros Cons
Quarter Horse An American breed of horse that typically excels at sprinting short distances.
  • Trainable
  • Agile
  • Calm temperament
Some quarter horses may be too calm
Thoroughbred The Thoroughbred is a popular breed in horse racing and tends to have a hot temperament. 
  • Fast speed
  • Intelligent and easy to train
Can be hot tempered
Paint A popular breed that is known to have a gentle temperament and beautiful coloring.
  • Good at sprinting short distances
  • Easy to train
  • Flashy coloring
Some paint horses may not like to run as they are also bred to be used in disciplines such as western pleasure.
Appaloosa This beautiful breed of horse has a unique coat pattern and is crossed with the Quarter Horse.
  • Has the spring speed of the Quarter Horse
  • Versatile breed
The breed itself is prone to eye problems, which can be an issue with barrel racing.
Arabian A beautiful breed of horse that is small and petite.
  • Small size makes it easy to perform tight turns
  • Naturally good at speed events
  • Good endurance
Might be too small for some riders.

Quarter Horse

The Quarter Horse is a versatile breed that originated in the United States, and it’s still arguably the most popular breed in the country.

Quarter horses are used in a wide range of events and many of the top barrel racing horses are Quarter Horses due to their ability to easily sprint short distances.

  • Average Size: 14.3-16.0 hands
  • Top Speed: 55 mph
  • Fun Fact: Quarter Horses can run a quarter mile faster than any other horse breed.


The Thoroughbred is famously known as the breed of horse that runs in major horse races like the Kentucky Derby. They are bred to run and tend to be larger in size.

Thoroughbreds can have a hot temper, so it is important that they are handled and trained by someone experienced.

  • Average Size: 16.0 hands
  • Top Speed: 44 mph
  • Fun Fact: Many Thoroughbreds share the same birthday per the Jockey Club. All horses age on January 1st for racing purposes.


The Paint Horse is a striking breed that is known for the beautiful and unique white splotches that can occur in their coloring. The Paint Horse is a versatile breed and can compete in almost any event.

They are known to be easily trainable and have a laid-back temperament, which makes them a great choice for any level of rider.

  • Average Size: 14.0 – 16.0 hands
  • Top Speed: 55 mph
  • Fun Fact: Not every horse that has white spots is a Paint Horse, but all are Pintos. A true Paint Horse must have Quarter Horse, Paint, or Thoroughbred in their breeding. Want to learn more about Paints vs. Pintos? Check out this article!


The Appaloosa is known for their unique coat patterns. Since their breeding includes that of the Quarter Horse, it should be no surprise that they are also an excellent breed for barrel racing. The Appaloosa is known to be versatile and trainable.

The combination of Appaloosa characteristics with the speed of the Quarter Horse have created a wonderful horse to compete with in barrel racing.

  • Average Size: 14.2-16.0 hands
  • Top Speed: 41 mph
  • Fun Fact: The Appaloosa is the state horse of Idaho.


The Arabian is known for their petite stature and beautiful dished heads. They make excellent endurance horses and also can carry a great deal of speed.

The Arabian is a great breed for barrel racing and can make an excellent horse for any level of rider.

  • Average size: 14.1-15.1 hands
  • Top Speed: 40 mph
  • Fun Fact: The Arabian breed is over 5,000 years old and is known to be one of the oldest horse breeds.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What breed is used to barrel race?

There are multiple breeds of horses that are used to barrel race.

Any horse can technically barrel race, but there are certain breeds such as the Quarter Horse, Paint Horse, Thoroughbred, Appaloosa, and Arabian that are better suited for barrel racing.

Q: Are mustang horses good for barrel racing?

If properly trained, mustang horses can make great barrel racing horses. They tend to be quite small, so they are best suited for a smaller rider, but their size allows them to be quick and agile.

Q: Are tall horses good for barrel racing?

Any size of horse can be used for barrel racing. Tall horses can be just as successful as smaller horses in the sport of barrel racing.

Tall horses may be faster on the straightaways, while shorter horses, with their low center of gravity, may have an advantage going around the barrel.

Q: What is the best barrel racing horse bloodline?

The all-time leading barrel horse stallion is Dash Ta Fame. With his offspring earning over two million dollars, he is at the top of the list for barrel racing horse bloodlines.

Q: Are mares or geldings better for barrel racing?

Both mares and geldings have been equally as successful at barrel racing. There is nothing that shows one or the other is better at the sport.

Parting Thoughts

Many breeds can excel at the exciting sport of barrel racing. Look for a horse that has the desire to run combined with agility and responsiveness.

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About the author


Kim H.

She began riding at eight years old and now has over twenty years of horse experience. She grew up showing at local horse shows and moved on to riding and showing paint horses on the paint horse show circuit throughout the state of California. She then went on to show at the APHA World Show. She has two OTTBs and is training them for hunter/jumper shows.