Details of Barrel Racing study

Does aggressive riding behavior of youth barrel racers influence competition time or undesirable horse behaviors

K. Waite, C.  Heleski, and M. Ewing

Michigan State University


The purpose of this study was to quantify aggressive riding behaviors among youth riders in a timed Cloverleaf Barrel Race, as well as specific horse behaviors.  The first hypothesis stated there is a positive correlation between aggressive rider behaviors and performance time.  The second hypothesis asserted a positive correlation exists between aggressive rider behaviors and horse behaviors.  Study participants included 64 horse and rider teams competing in a state level 4-H Horse Show in the Cloverleaf Barrel Race class.  This class was chosen because it allows for recording of individual runs of horse and rider pairs.   Patterns were of the same measured distance, in the same arena, with the same footing conditions. Each horse and rider combination was videotaped from the time they approached the gate to the time they dismounted following their run.  Three trained observers separately assessed horse and rider behaviors, and behaviors were counted utilizing an ethogram developed from a prior competition.   Those behaviors that did not demonstrate inter-observer reliability of .68 or greater were removed from the analysis. Criterion for inter-observer reliability of trained personnel ranged from .68 to .97, and only evasion was removed from analysis.   Aggressive riding did not enhance competition time (r= -.197, p=.118).  There was a small but significant positive relationship between mean Gate and Whip scores (r=.247, P<.05), i.e. horses whipped more during the run were more likely to react poorly to entering the arena.   Similarly, there was a small but significant correlation between mean Kick and Pop-up scores (r=.298, P<.05), i.e. horses kicked more frequently by the rider were more likely to perform small rears.  Finally, mean Tail lashing and Pop-up score were significantly correlated (r=.357, P<.003). These data suggest that rider behavior does influence horse behavior in Cloverleaf Barrel Racing, and provide supporting evidence for future youth education programs.

Lay Person’s Message: There appears to be no relationship between the use of the whip, leg, or reins and the final run time of Cloverleaf Barrel Race patterns.   A small but significant relationship was found between some rider and horse behaviors, suggesting that rider behavior may influence horse behavior in Cloverleaf Barrel racing.

Key words: Horse, Behavior, Rider behavior, welfare, gymkhana