Barrel Racing vs Show Jumping

Equestrians the world over will argue until the cows come home which is the best sport and which is the most dangerous. Chances are which one you think is the best will depend on which side of the metaphorical fence you fall (pardon the pun), Western or English. But when you take a discipline from the Western camp and one from the English camp and compare them you’ll be surprised at the similarities, even in two completely opposite sports which is why I thought it would be interesting to compare barrel racing and show jumping.

What is barrel racing?

Barrel racing is a super-high-speed rodeo event where the horse and rider and have to complete a pattern around a set of barrels as fast as they possibly can. Unlike pretty much every other equestrian discipline only women can compete at a professional level, although at youth and local levels both men and women can compete together. To successfully complete the course the horse and rider will have to work together, combining the horse’s athleticism with the rider’s skill.

The course

The size of the arena will vary but the course will always consist of three barrels placed in a triangle in the center of the arena. The third barrel is placed in a straight line from where the rider starts with the other two forming the other points of the triangle. The rider will then enter the arena at a full gallop and negotiated the course, riding an imaginary three-leafed clover.

Camas Prairie Stump Racecourse

The Camas Prairie Stump Race is an Appaloosa Horse Club race that is run as a head-to-head match race but isn’t timed. It’s thought to have originated from the traditional Nez Percé (North American indigenous people who inhabited the Northwest region of the United States) competition where two riders compete on identical courses at the same time. The winner is the rider who finishes first.

Camas Prairie Stump Racecourse
Camas Prairie Stump Racecourse


The size of the arena will play a big part in how quickly a race can be completed but anything between 15 – 20 seconds is considered to be a good time. The arena record was set in 2011 at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo by Carlee Pierce who completed the course with her horse Dillion in an astonishing 13.46 seconds.


Each race is split into up to four divisions, called 1D, 2D, 3D, and 4D, that are separated by times. The fastest time (1D) is then used to set the times for the other divisions with .5 seconds added to the time for 2D and then 1 second for 3D and 2 for 4D. For example, if the fastest time is 14 seconds then you can use the table below to work out what times are expected for the other divisions.

Division  Time from fastest in seconds Actual time in seconds
1D 0 14.25
2D + .5 14.75
3D + 1 15.25
4D + 2 16.25

What is show jumping?

Sometimes called stadium jumping the idea of show jumping is for the horse and rider to jump a series of obstacles usually laid out in a specific course. The jumps can vary in height, width, and complexity with some including water and need to be cleared within a set time. It’s a test of the horse and rider’s athleticism as well as their accuracy and control.

Competition types

There is a range of different classes or events that all have their own set of rules. The top-level is Grand Prix with novice being the beginner level.

  • Grand Prix – This is the top level of competition and involves a course with between 10 and 16 obstacles that can be up to 1.6m (5’ 3”) high and 2m (6’ 7”) wide. Both the Olympics and World Equestrian Games along with most other International competitions use the Grand Prix format.
  • Derby – A single round event with the idea of clearing the course as fast as possible. If there’s more than one clear round (A clear round is where the horse and rider complete the course without knocking any fences down) at the end then the fastest time wins.
  • Puissance – This is where the riders take it in turns to jump one fence with a rider being immediately eliminated if they knock the fence down. When every rider has jumped the fence its height is increased. This happens every time until there are either no riders left or the fence is too high, in this case the remaining riders will all draw. A puissance fence can easily reach over 2.1m (7’), but at pony club level puissance is known as Chase me Charlie.
  • Six-bar – The fences in six-bar events are placed in a straight line with them increasing in height as the horse and rider progress. These events work in a similar way the puissance class in that after each round the fences are raised until the remains riders either tie or only one rider is left.
  • Accumulator – Sometimes called gambler’s choice, riders competing in accumulator events can choose their own way around the course with points being awarded for the difficulty of each fence they clear. At the end, the points are added up and the rider with the most number of points is declared the winner. Unlike most other events you don’t lose points for knocking a fence down, you just collect points for every fence you clear.
  • Match race – Also known as double slalom this is similar to the Camas Prairie Stump Race in barrel racing where two riders compete at the same time on identical courses. Unlike the Camas Prairie Stump Race though match race events are normally timed with the fastest rider winning if both riders clear the course.
  • Touch class – The course layout and format are similar to regular jumping classes but instead of only getting faults if you know a fence down you’ll receive 4 faults if you even touch a fence.
  • Faults converted – These events are like normal classes but instead of collecting faults you collect time penalties. Each fault is 4 seconds and they’re added to your time at the end of the round.
  • Novice – These events are for horses with little or no experience in competitive jumping. There are three different levels to novice events depending on how many wins a horse already has.
    • One or fewer wins
    • Three or fewer wins
    • Six or fewer wins


There are a number of different fence types with the design of the fences themselves varying greatly within each type. They’re usually very colorful and can be extremely decorative and complex.

  • Upright – Also called a vertical, upright jumps are single post jumps with any number of poles placed in a vertical line. There’s no width to uprights except for the width of the poles themself.
  • Spread – Also called an Oxer it comprises two upright fences that are combined to make a wider fence. There are a number of different spread fences depending on the height and direction of the uprights.
    • Square or Box – Both uprights are the same height.
    • Ascending or Ramped – The first upright is lower.
    • Descending or Offset – The second upright is lower.
    • Swedish – The poles span both uprights in the opposite direction and give the appearance of an ‘X’ with you’re facing the jump.
A square or box spread jump
A square or box spread jump
  • Triple – A single spread jump that has three poles at increasing height.
  • Hogsback – Similar to a triple but the highest fence is in the middle.
  • Wall – Regularly used in puissance classes the wall is a solid fence that you can’t see through and is made with lightweight ‘bricks’, giving the impression of a wall.
  • Combination – Between two and three jumps in a row with up to two strides between each. All of the jumps in a combination are classed as one fence so if you have a refusal at any of the fences you’ll have to jump them all again.
  • Water – A jump consisting of a ditch of water that can be combined with an upright or spread jump. If it’s combined with a jump then it’s called a Liverpool jump.
  • Brush – More common in eventing a brush jump is an upright fence that also has a brush or faux grass on top of it. Brush fences can also be wide as well as up to 1.5m (5’) high.


Some countries and federations have different rules but most follow the rules of the FEI (The Fédération Équestre Internationale (or International Federation for Equestrian Sports) is the international governing body for showjumping and all other equestrian sports) who have two types of penalties, jumping and time. 

For jumping penalties, 4 faults will be given if the horse refuses (or runs out of) a jump or if there’s a knockdown (A knockdown is classed as the horse or rider altering the height or width of a jump. If the top pole is knocked down then a fault is awarded but if the bottom pole is then no fault is awarded). Depending on where you’re competing and the level you’re competing at you can have two or three refusals before you’re automatically eliminated. Generally, competitions with fences over 1.15m (3’ 7”) will only allow two refusals.

For time penalties the rules have changed in the past decade so that instead of getting 1/4 of every second or fraction of a second you were over the time you’ll now pick 1 time penalty for every second or fraction of a second you’re over the allotted time.

What do barrel racing and show jumping have in common?

Having read about barrel racing and show jumping you might think that they couldn’t possibly have anything in common but you’d be wrong. While the objectives of both are very different they do both test the ability of the horse as well as the skill of the rider. While barrel racing is obviously much faster they’re are both, to some extent, about controlled speed and test the partnership between horse and rider.

While both barrel racers and show jumpers will argue their sport is better and more challenging there can be no doubt that barrel racing is the most dangerous while show jumping requires more input from the rider.

Can you use the same horse for barrel racing and show jumping?

There is a rule that says if a horse can be ridden then he can be ridden in any sport and while there is a lot of truth in that it doesn’t mean to say that just because a horse can barrel race or show jump he’ll be good at both. Yes, there are plenty of breeds such as the Appaloosa that are extremely versatile and can do both, if you’re intending to compete though then you ideally want a horse that excels in that particular discipline.

What’s the best horse for barrel racing?

An ideal horse for barrel racing is one that is built for speed and athleticism, they need to be able to turn on a dime while at full speed. The most popular breeds for barrel racing are:

  • Quarter Horse
  • Appaloosa
  • Grade Horse
  • Paint Horse
  • Thoroughbred

What’s the best horse for showing jumping?

While there are a lot of different breeds that can use used for show jumping the most popular breeds are warmbloods. This is largely because of their powerful jump and ability to ‘run’. The most popular breeds for show jumping are:

  • Hanoverian
  • Dutch Warmblood
  • Holsteiner
  • Selle Français
  • Westphalian
  • Irish Draught

I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.

Recommended products 

Over the years I have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.

  • Horse Knots by Reference Ready – If you’re like me and enjoy pocket reference guides then you’ll love this knot tying guide. These handy cards can easily fit in your pocket or attach to the saddle for quick reference. They’re waterproof, durable and are color coded to make them easy to follow.
  • Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them from getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
  • TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
  • Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
  • Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
  • Rectal thermometer – I know this isn’t glamourous at all but it’s vital for your horse’s well-being to be able to check their temperature and a rectal thermometer is the easiest way of doing this which is why I’ve added it to the list.

Shopping lists

I’ve also put together a few shopping lists of essential items that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve broken the lists down into different categories rather than put everything in one massive list 😉

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