Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned barrel racer, your success in competition will greatly depend on you choice of Barrel Horse. Barrel Racing Horses are almost as diverse as the human race itself and it is imperative that you consider many factors in making the final decision on a Barrel Racing team mate.
The first consideration is your target level of competition. Is it your desire to go out on Saturday afternoon and compete in the local play day? If your main ambition is play days then your choice of ideal horse will surely be different than if you compete weekly in a major organization such as NBHA. If you're just looking for a play day horse, an older, seasoned horse may be your best bet. Older horses are much calmer and can often be purchased at a significant discount from their younger brothers. If, on the other hand, you are looking to place in the 1D bracket on a weekly basis then you need to be prepared to pay considerably more for a well trained, proven Barrel Horse.
If you are a beginning barrel rider, and you feel you have the patience and skill set, it may be best for you to purchase an untrained horse and do the training yourself. Barrel Racing is a team sport. The team consists of one horse and one rider. What better way to become a great team than to learn the sport from the ground up. It is not difficult to train a barrel horse. There is plenty of information out there to help you be successful. But it will take time and patience. If you are wanting to compete immediately then a trained horse is certainly your best option.
When purchasing a barrel racing horse to train, you will probably be purchasing a horse that didn't quite work out at some other job. A reigning horse, cow horse, or race horse that for whatever reason didn't live up to their trainers expectations. That doesn't mean they won't be an excellent Barrel Racing Horse. The horse may not have been perfectly suited for the job they were being trained to do....or possibly the trainer did a poor job and fell short in the training department. The horse may still make you a great Barrel Racing team mate.
Purchasing a trained horse does not mean you can jump on, enter a barrel horse race and expect to place first in 1D, even if you have spent a great deal of money on a 1D horse. As stated earlier, barrel racing horses and riders are a team and as such need to know each other and work together. It will take some time for your new horse to learn your mannerisms, riding style, and signals. Once done, you will work together as a well oiled machine and rake in those prize checks and buckles, week in and week out.
The most popular barrel horse breed is the Quarter Horse. The quarter horse is followed by the Arabian. Although they are often good barrel horses, Arabians tend to be hard headed and difficult to manage.
When selecting your new Barrel Racing Horse, be sure he is trailer broke and loads and unloads without a great deal of fuss. Although some horses that have trailer issues can be "fixed", many have been traumatized by poor trailer experiences which may even include injury while being trailered. Often times these earlier experiences cannot be overcome and you will be purchasing a frustrating problem which you will need to deal with every time you load up to and from a race. This can completely ruin the experience of the sport for you. I speak from experience on this subject.
Once you have determined what your needs in a barrel horse are, you need to consider the important features of a good Barrel Racing Horse
Heart: Your horse must have heart....Want to. You should have to hold him back in the alley until you are ready because he knows his job and is eager to please you.
Athletic: Your Barrel Racing Horse needs to carry himself evenly with a minimum of wasted motion. He should keep his hocks, knees, and hoofs as close to the ground as possible.
Age: Older horses tend to be calmer and better suited to the inexperienced rider. Many barrel horses compete effectively well into their 20's.
Breeding: Just because a horse comes from champion blood does not automatically make him a champion. Be sure you are considering the horse you see in front of you and not just the horse you see in the paperwork. The horse in front of you is the reality.
This article has just skimmed the surface of Barrel Racing Horses, but hopefully the information I have offered will help you in the selection of a quality Barrel Racing Horse that suits your wants, needs, and goals.