Barrel Racing Saddles Guide

Barrel racing saddles are designed to enhance seat and balanceLike every equestrian sport, barrel racing requires the right equipment. An important first step is to understand how barrel racing saddles actually assist and protect both horse and rider.

Is the saddle you use really all that important? You bet. A barrel horse must be able to totally use their body with unhampered freedom in order to perform.

Your saddle should enhance your position, and your horse’s ability, to reach and pull through tight turns and flat runs.

When you know what to look for, you can better select the best saddle for you and your horse, and stay within your budget.

Top Quality Barrel Saddle Brands

Where can you find the best barrel saddles for the money? Take a look at the quality brands used by pros and amateurs alike.

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How Barrel Racing Saddles (and the Sport Itself) have Evolved

Some roots of barrel racing can be traced to women looking for an entertaining challenge to enjoy following men’s roping, ranch and rodeo events. What historically began as a simple pastime has evolved today into a highly specialized contest, offering multiple skill levels for both horses and riders with some serious prize money and awards. From 4-H to WPRA, the sport of barrel racing is backed by fine equestrian organizations.

As barrel racers’ needs changed over time, a certain type of saddle was developed to address particular issues and enhance their performance. Those advances led to today’s barrel racing saddle designs.

Years of modification paved the way forward to the distinct differences that separate modern barrel racing saddles from saddles used for other riding disciplines. Today’s barrel racers and their equine partners make use of some distinct features built into the saddle that enhance performance and showcase their skills. Whether you compete in barrels or other gaming classes as a professional, amateur or beginner, you no doubt know that every second counts!

Subtle saddle changes can make a substantial difference in how you and your horse work in concert with each other as you run the pattern against the clock.

The Need for Speed

Barrel saddles by Martin SaddleryAchieving speed is the number one consideration in the configuration of a barrel saddle. The design lends itself to quick acceleration and maximum maneuverability of the horse. To facilitate a fast run, the saddle is one of the most undersized and lightest weight of all the western saddles. In order to “lighten the load” many manufacturers of barrel racing saddles use a fiberglass and wood tree. Some designs are “treeless.”

Despite the fact that this type of saddle doesn’t weigh much, it is no “lightweight” when it comes to strength. It must be strong enough to absorb the shock from sudden stops, turns, and accelerations while at the same time being flexible enough to not interfere with the horse and rider executing the fast movements that most gaming patterns require.

Another way that saddle producers subtract weight off the saddle and minimize interference with the horse’s flanks is by rounding off the skirts. Even if a barrel saddle sports a square skirt, it will be undersized when compared to a traditional western saddle in order to minimize bulk.

Barrel Racing Saddles Built to Enhance Seat and Balance

The second major area that requires thoughtful attention from saddle makers is the way the saddle helps secure the rider in their seat and assists them in maintaining balance control — while still allowing the horse complete freedom of movement, staying in harmony with the rider.A barrel saddle doesn't weigh much - but it's no "lightweight"

In order to make a good barrel turn, the horse reaches for the ground with his front legs, and plants his inside pivot foot under his body. In these seconds the horse has to push outwards which results in an inwardly directed force at the ground and concurrent acceleration. We’re talking real teamwork here between human and equine athletes.

This is aided by designing the barrel racing saddle to position the rider in the “pocket” which is the part of the saddle seat that is the deepest. This favorable position is assisted in several ways:

  1. A relatively high back or cantle and a very deep seat built into the barrel saddle are two distinct features that aid in position and seat security.
  2. Stirrup leathers are thinner than normal. The thinning of the leathers allows for greater free movement or “swing” of the rider’s legs. The stirrups are also forward hung in order to aid in positioning and help the rider to ride in front of the motion versus riding behind the motion of the horse.
  3. Barrel saddle makers also help the competitor stay in the saddle by using different finishes on the seat and the jockey. By using suede or rough-out coverings the passenger is “glued” to the saddle better during the run. Some riders prefer a suede seat covering which allows for the use of padding for comfort and grip, while others opt for a one-piece rough-out design that has no padding, allowing a “closer ride” to the horse – which in turn promotes a better “feel” of the horse.
    In addition to the better feel, the rough-out design typically offers a single piece of leather which translates into no seams at the jockeys. Some riders opt for a hybrid of the previous two options which consists of a padded suede seat in combination with rough-out jockeys and fenders.
  4. Most barrel racing saddles sport an extremely pronounced saddle horn that is made to be thinner and taller than a normal saddle horn. This arrangement makes the horn easy to grasp during acceleration on straight lines, or to push into during a turn or sudden stop. Some barrel racers also use this high-rise horn to facilitate locking their arm into their hip during sharp turns for added stability.
  5. The front end of the barrel saddle is often made in a pushed-back form in conjunction with wide swells on the saddle. This configuration enables a rider to lock their thighs into the front of the saddle for additional position security.

Check out this video from 3-Time World Champion Barrel Racer Sherry Cervi, explaining the use of shims and proper saddle placement. Demonstrated is a Martin barrel saddle.

More Ideas When Shopping for Barrel Racing Saddles

To have the right equipment for the job, the purchase of a new or used barrel saddle and tack is largely a matter of personal choice. If you’re new to the sport, you might also think about the following:

What Size Seat Do You Need on Your Barrel Saddle?

Some barrel racers prefer to use a smaller seat size for their barrel saddle versus what they would typically use for their pleasure riding saddle. They feel that the smaller size facilitates them in keeping their balance and position in the saddle in relation to the sudden movements of their horse when they execute that money turn or gaming pattern. Just remember, even if a smaller sized seat might be your choice, still allow for some “wiggle room” while riding.

Quality of Materials

Circle Y Treeless Barrel SaddleAnother important feature to think about when saddle shopping is the type of materials used to construct the saddle. As a general rule, always buy the best quality saddle that you can afford. There are several different grades of leather offered in saddles. A quality made saddle will tend to last longer, handle more abuse, and hold resale value better than a bargain basement saddle.

You might want to explore the idea of a handmade saddle for a more custom fit for you and your horse. Also keep in mind if you use certain materials for aesthetics, for example different colored leathers, you might have to reach deeper into your pocket for additional costs.

Rigging – Stirrups – Saddle Tree – Seat Coverings

No matter what brands of barrel racing saddles you try out, you’ll also have additional choices to make such as: type of rigging, the style and size of the stirrups, the composition and size of the tree, and the type of seat coverings you require.

There are several choices in rigging available, but bear in mind that the strongest rigging will be attached tSlanted stirrups are often used with barrel racing saddleso the tree of the saddle.

Most barrel competitors prefer stirrups that are narrow for foot placement. Choices include slanted stirrups, where the outside of the stirrup is longer than the inside, intended to relieve pressure from your knees, ankles, and hips.

The type of tree that the saddle is built around will most likely depend on the breed and body type of your horse. Saddle trees are available in several different sizes. Does your horse need full Quarter horse bars, semi Quarter horse bars, an Arabian tree, or do you and your mount prefer to go treeless?

You’ll also consider the conformation of your horse. Does your horse have high withers, mutton withers, a wide back, or a narrow back? Your answer to that question will play a large role in the size of the gullet your saddle should have.

When it comes to style, the sky is the limit on the “wow” factor! Due to the fact that most barrel racers are female, there are a multitude of decorative choices represented in today’s barrel racing saddles and tack. Get some bling on and go ride!

By investing some time and research into your saddle purchase, you will be able to narrow your search to the perfect barrel saddle to fit both you and your horse’s needs. Happy Saddle Shopping!