Barrel racing is one of professional rodeo's most colorful and exciting events. The fast-paced contest teaming horse and rider is similar to a horse race, easy to understand and ranks just behind bull riding in crowd popularity.
Barrel racing began as a friendly challenge of horsemanship skills between cowgirls and has developed into a multi-million dollar professional sport. Matter of fact, in 1999, the world champion barrel racer took home the highest season earnings check of any professional rodeo athlete. Professional women's barrel races are run under the direction of the Women's Professional Rodeo Association. Formed in 1948 by a group of Texas women led by Blanch Altizer-Smith, sister of 1959 PRCA calf roping champion Jim Bob Altizer, the Girls Rodeo Association began as an effort to involve women in professional rodeo. There were 74 charter members and 60 approved events with a total payoff of $29,000 the first year. The GRA was renamed in 1982, and since, the WPRA has expanded its goals to include larger purses, bigger and better rodeos and greater public recognition of women's rodeo. Once considered a sideline event of traditional rodeos, barrel racing is now an integral part of most PRCA rodeos.
The lure and the thrill of barrel racing lies in the excitement of seeing equine athletes and their skilled trainers perform at their best. From the grandstands, the event seems simple. Horse and rider cross the start line at a run, follow a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels, then dash across the finish line. What is not seen are the years of practice required to train that horse to run barrels. The times of top riders are so close that electronic timing devices accurate to the hundredth of a second must be used.