Divisional Barrel Races vs. Rodeos

From the outside looking in, running at a divisional barrel race versus running at a rodeo has little difference other than name. However, this could not be further away from the truth. Sure, you run around three barrels at both events in the hopes that you have the fastest time. But that’s about where the similarities end. If you are contemplating where to enter your horse, I encourage you to read on to help in your decision.

Divisional Barrel Races

In my post about barrel racing, I discussed what a divisional barrel race is. However, for those of you who do not have time to read two articles today, I will give a brief overview here. Divisional barrel races are set up as a way of sort of handicapping the barrel race. They give those with horses that are a bit slower the chance to still be in the money.


How does it work? At a typical divisional barrel race there will be five divisions, called D’s, for short. There will be the 1D, 2D, 3D, 4D and 5D. Where each division will fall will depend on the speeds at each individual barrel race. The best way to show you how this work is to look at an example.

Barrel Races

Let’s say that there was a divisional barrel race over the weekend that was a 5D with a half second split and paid five places in each division. The quickest time was a 17.00. This time will be first in the 1D. The next fastest time, a 17.04, will get second in the 1D. Placings will continue until five places are awarded or the 2D time is hit.


In this example, the 2D starts at 17.50. If there are only three girls that were faster than this time, then there will only be three people who place in the 1D. There may not be someone who exactly runs a 17.50. In that case, the time closest to this will be first in the 2D. Let’s say that the closest in the example is a 17.62.


Again, the placings in the 2D will be awarded as they were in the 1D or until the 3D is hit. This continues on for all five divisions.


In our example, the split was half a second. This is not consistent at all barrel races and the split may be larger or smaller depending on the barrel race, the association it is being run by and the competitiveness of the event.


Rodeos are a different beast all entirely. At rodeos, the fastest time wins. That’s all there is to it. There’s no room for someone who is running a full second off the pace. If you aren’t clocking, you aren’t going to make the pay window.


Depending on the rodeo you go to, the format may be slightly different. At the most basic rodeo, it is one day and the fastest time wins. Several placings will also be paid with decreasing pay cheques.


From there, we get a bit more complicated with rodeos that run over multiple days. Some rodeos, for example, will have long goes. Every one will run – perhaps over multiple days. Then, those that meet certain criteria, such as the fastest five from each day, will come back for the short go. This would be a sort of finale. Again, the fastest time wins.


Rodeos will also often award an average. If you look at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, for example, day money is paid each day over the ten days. However, in addition to this, the average will also pay competitors at the end of the event. If you have the fastest aggregate time over the course of ten days, you will win the average, which is a hefty pay cheque at the NFR.

Who are Divisional Barrel Races for?

Slower Horses
Divisional barrel races are great for everyone. Perhaps the greatest advantage of divisional barrel races is that they level the playing field. In our example above, the girl who ran a 17.00 would still ultimately win first but the girl who runs 19.00 can still walk away with a cheque.

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Let’s be honest. Not everyone can afford a 1D barrel horse. Divisional barrel races, luckily, allow for horses that aren’t 1D caliber to still make the pay window. This is great for those who still want to enjoy the sport without spending their entire children’s college education fund.


Young Horses
Divisional barrel races are also great for training young horses. Why? Just like some horses aren’t 1D horses, most horses are not going to be fast when they are just learning. Divisional barrel races are a great place to get them used to the process. Divisional barrel races are, as a general rule, quieter and a bit more of a gentler environment to introduce a young one to competitions.

Advantages of Divisional Barrel Races

When asked what advantage divisional barrel races have over rodeos, the first answer given will likely be ground conditions. At most divisional barrel races, the hosts will work very hard to ensure that the ground is as good as possible. This helps to ensure that horses do not get hurt and that the best possible runs can be made. If you want good ground, go to a divisional barrel race. Don’t even consider rodeos if ground is your concern.


Another advantage of divisional barrel races is that they tend to be a lot lower key. While these races may still have an announcer and music, they will likely be much, much quieter. Additionally, the crowds at a divisional barrel race are often much smaller and quieter. If you have been to both a divisional barrel race and a rodeo, you will know exactly what I mean. The stands are often vacant at divisional barrel races, which is in contrast to the grandstands at rodeo performances that can be overflowing with fans.


Furthermore, as a whole, the experience of a divisional barrel race is much more subdued than a rodeo. At a rodeo you might have rides, screaming children, fireworks, bulls, and bucking horses, among many other things, that could cause a lot of stress and anxiety for a horse and rider. None of this would be at your divisional barrel race.


Finally, as noted above, divisional barrel races level the playing field and allow for more than just the fastest girls to place. This is great for slower horses, young horses, and people new to the sport. It allows those who are not as competitive to still have a good time and potentially win.

Advantages of Rodeo

While it may seem like I prefer divisional barrel races over rodeos, that is not necessarily the case. Yes, rodeos can have, at times, terrible ground. And, yes, there can be a lot of stimulation for a horse to handle, especially one who is not used to that sort of thing. But there are many, many advantages to rodeos that you need to consider before deciding what path you would like to take.


First off: the NFR. The National Finals Rodeo is, as the name implies, a rodeo. And the only way one can compete at the NFR is by competing in rodeos. A lot of rodeos. Every barrel racer dreams of running down the alley at the Thomas and Mack Center, including myself. Want to get there? Rodeos are the only way.


Another advantage of rodeos is that they are a lot more mainstream than divisional barrel races. Despite divisional barrel races gaining in popularity, the majority of people not involved in the sport have no idea what they are. Not so with rodeos. Everyone knows what a rodeo is. Why is this an advantage? If you are an aspiring top professional barrel racer looking to catch the eye of sponsors, running at rodeos is the best way to do this.


What some people consider a disadvantage of rodeos, others consider an advantage. That is, rodeos are loud and exciting. There is nothing like the energy of a Saturday night rodeo to get your blood pumping to make an amazing run. For those who tend to be more timid riders, this sort of energy is exactly what they need.

Where do I Compete?

When I first started out in barrel racing, I entered the divisional barrel races in my area. Not only was it a quieter and less intimidating environment but there were also a lot less people watching in the event that I screwed up! I spent a whole winter going to these events before entering my first amateur rodeo in May of the following year. Even after I started entering rodeos I still continued to go to the divisional barrel races – particularly in the winter when rodeos weren’t going on.


To be honest, in a lot of cases, I preferred going to the divisional barrel races. The biggest reason? The ground. Let’s be honest, as a general rule, rodeo ground sucks. In some pens it’s hard. Other places it’s rocky. Yes, there are some places where the ground is good but, generally it’s not. That’s not to say that the ground at divisional barrel races is perfect, either. The ground can be bad at those events, too. It’s a matter of what you are willing to put your horse through at the end of the day.

Finish Line Thoughts

Whether you compete in rodeos or divisional barrel races will be determined by a number of things, including your experience, your horse’s experience, your preferences and the events going on within your driving range. To be honest, I wouldn’t tout one event over the other. You can have a great time at either type of event and, as such, I encourage you to try out both, if you get the chance.


And remember it’s always a #gooddaytoride.


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