Barrel racing is a timed rodeo event, where the fastest time is what matters most. Cowgirls compete in the arena against each other and the clock.
For the barrel racing event, the arena is cleared and three barrels are set up at different marked locations. The riders then enter the arena at full speed, quickly rounding each barrel in a cloverleaf pattern and then exiting where they entered. A stopwatch or timer is used registering down to a hundredth of a second.
The timer begins when horse and rider cross the start line, and ends when the barrel pattern has been successfully executed and horse and rider cross the finish line. The rider's time depends on several factors, most commonly the horse's physical and mental condition, the rider's horsemanship abilities, and the type of ground or footing of the sand or dirt in the arena.
Speed is what it is all about in this event. The riders steer their horses as close as they can to the barrels trying to shave precious seconds off the clock. For each barrel they knock over (which happens sometimes) a 5 second penalty is assessed to their total time. Leaving the barrels standing and ripping through the course is every barrel racers goal.
13 to 14 seconds is generally a winning time in this event, but this will vary according to the size of the arena, as all rodeo arenas are not created equal.