Barrel Racing Warm Up Etiquette

A barrel racing warm up can better be called a swirling vortex of death. Crazy horses ridden by even crazier women are forced together in an often small enclosure, working out the quirks and kinks prior to making their runs. To anyone new to the sport it can be horribly intimidating. And, even if you have been around the sport for some time, it can be dangerous.


But it doesn’t have to be that way. Cutters warm up their horses in a very respectable and controlled manner. Why can’t a barrel racing warm up be the same?


If you are a barrel racer, please read on. There is no reason why we can’t emulate the cutting world. If everyone followed the below rules, the barrel racing warm up situation would be much safer and saner!

Warm Up Etiquette

Go with the Flow

While it would be great if everyone in a barrel racing warm up followed the rule of faster people to the outside and that everyone should be go the same direction, this isn’t always the case. As such, at the very least, go with the flow. If people who are loping are doing so in the middle and the slower horses are staying to the outside, then do the same. If everyone is going counterclockwise, do that, too.

Watch Where You Are Going

The most obvious piece of advice for someone going into a barrel racing warm up is to watch where you are going. Don’t look at your horse’s neck or your hands. Keep your head up,eyes and ears open. Things can happen in the blink of an eye and you need to be aware of your surroundings in order to respond.

Look Behind You Before You Stop

I don’t know how many times I have had someone faster pass me only to have them slam on the brakes moments later in a barrel racing warm up. In order to avoid this, please look behind you before asking your horse for a stop. Even if you are only slowing down a gait, check behind you.

Don’t Cut People Off

If you want to pass someone because your horse is going faster in the barrel racing warm up, that’s fine. However, do not immediately cut in front of them as soon as you are passed them. I know that it can be a congested area but, if room is that tight, slow down and wait until there is room to pass.
Exit the Warm up if you Want to Stop and Talk
Often times a barrel race can be an occasion for people to visit friends, which is great. That being said, the warm up pen is not the time to socialize. If you want to walk or stop and chat with your friends, take it out of the barrel racing warm up pen.

Stay Left Shoulder to Left Shoulder

When driving you go by oncoming traffic left side to left side. Ideally, you want to go by an oncoming horse in the a barrel racing warm up the same way. Move slightly to the right to give room for the oncoming horse.

No Ear Buds

I will be the first to admit that I wear my ear buds quite a bit when working with horses. However, I never wear ear buds when riding away from home or around other people. Part of being alert is being able to hear what is going around you. Put them away. You can listen to it on the drive home.

No Cell Phones

Unless you have someone about to give birth, keep your phone in your pocket or in the trailer. There is no reason you need it in a barrel racing warm up. It will still be there when you finish up.

Don’t Ride Right up Behind Someone

My biggest pet peeve in a barrel racing warm up is when other people ride right up behind my horse. I get it, there often isn’t a lot of space to ride but there is NO reason why you need to ride that close behind another horse, especially one that you do not know. Ideally, stay a horse length behind the horse in front of you.

Say Outside or Inside

In conjunction with not riding right up behind someone, I also encourage you to ride with caution when coming up behind someone to pass them. Give the rider a warning by saying inside or outside, depending on which side of them you will be passing them on. It’s just a nice gesture that a girl who is a bit nervous or who is on a spooky horse will definitely appreciate.

Don’t Hog Areas of the Arena

There is always one or two girls in the barrel racing warm up pen that feel the need to do rollbacks and whatever else in one part of the arena. Don’t be that girl when space is limited. Not only are you going against the flow of traffic, but you are simply hogging limited space.

Watch Out for Kids

The rules of etiquette in a barrel racing warm up apply to everyone, including kids. That being said, many young riders do not understand those rules. Often you will see them running around on their horse, stopped in the middle of traffic talking, etc. Just keep your head up. They often don’t pay attention to everything going on around them.


Speaking of kids…

Don’t Put Your Kids Out There Unsupervised

If you’re a parent, please don’t unleash your kid in the barrel racing warm up pen and then say, “Adios!” Watch them. And, more importantly, teach them the rules in this post. Just because they are young doesn’t mean they are exempt. Additionally, we don’t want to see them hurt, which can easily happen to an inexperienced rider in the swirling vortex of death.

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Smile and Say, “Hi”

We are all at the barrel race because we want to enjoy our horses. Despite this, it never ceases to amaze me how many people ride around not speaking a word to anyone and with a scowl on their face. You don’t have to become best friends with your fellow riders but I do encourage you to extend a smile and a brief hello. That would go a long way in making the whole situation seem a lot less intimidating to those new to the sport.

Don’t be Afraid to Ask to Switch Directions

The barrel racing warm up, now better known as the swirling vortex of death, often tends to only swirl in one direction. However, as I am sure you know, it is a good idea to warm up both directions on your horse before a run. If the vortex has been swirling clockwise for a while and you want to switch, don’t be afraid to yell out, “Reverse!” or ask “Can we switch directions, please?” I can guarantee there is someone else in that pen that will be thankful that you did.

Apologize if You Screw up

It is inevitable in such close quarters that at some point you are going to cut someone off, accidentally stop too close in front of someone, or otherwise piss them off. In the event that that happens, apologize. A quick sorry is all you need to acknowledge that you made a mistake.

Finish Line Thoughts

During a barrel racing warm up, things can get intense. Hot horses are moving around in all sorts of directions with riders who may or may not have a good control over them. People get annoyed, horses get spooked. Unfortunately, this seems to be just the way it is. However, if more barrel racers can abide by what I have discussed above, we will be in much better shape. At the very least, ask yourself if what you are about to do is going to piss off the person near you. If so, don’t do it.


Be courteous. Be safe. And don’t show off.


And remember, it’s always a #gooddaytoride.


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