Welcome back to our series of articles on Barrel Racing. Last week we talked about Exercises To Take You To The Next Level. If you missed that article, you can find it in our articles and blogs section or use this link HERE.

The modern-day barrel racing sport we see and may even participate in has a rich history filled with the cowgirls and cowboys of days past. When did the sport begin? What were the first patterns like? Find out in this article! We are going to take a walk back in time and discover all the historical roots of the barrel racing event.

The sport of barrel racing is traditionally considered a women’s-only rodeo event. The horse and rider team runs a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels that are measured out to a specific distance. The winner is decided based on who has the quickest time. In current barrel racing, anyone can race, but in collegiate and most professional divisions, it is still a women’s only sport.”- Horsemanship 101: Barrel Racing book series, By: Augustus M Walton.


Barrels in the early days before regulations and associations

Barrel racing has a mysterious beginning. To this day, no one can exactly tell you when barrel racing started. Many believe that barrel racing has taken place since the early 1800s, but people began to recognize and appreciate the sport in the 1900s in Texas. In the 1940s, barrel racing became a judged and timed event. They started out judging the cowgirl based on her speed and even offered prize money to the winning woman instead of just feminine gifts. From this point on, barrel racing began to take off in more ways than one. Spectators would flock to see these cowgirls perform on their horses at different rodeos, and because of this, the sport grew in people’s hearts. Faye Blackstone, a famous rodeo cowgirl, and trick rider was always known to say that barrel racing was most definitely seen first in Texas and then grew like wildfire from there. Women have been competing in rodeo events in many different ways since roughly around 1880. During this time, Buffalo Bill Cody hired the esteemed Annie Oakley to perform in his “Wild West Shows.” People from far and wide would journey to see Annie perform. She was well-known to be the best gun handler of her days, even when compared to men. She would perform unbelievable feats that most people would never dare to try. 


Many rodeo historians believe that the very first barrels event was actually held in Texas in the 1930s. Barrel racing was not judged until 1949, the year after a group of Texan women formed the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association, also known as WPRA. In its early days, the WPRA was called the Girl’s Rodeo Association or GRA. The GRA started out with only 74 members and a handful of events. The Girls Rodeo Association officially changed its name in 1981 to what is currently known as the women’s professional Rodeo Association.”- Horsemanship 101: Barrel Racing book series, By Augustus M. Walton.


1931 was a revolutionary year when it came to women in rodeos. The Stamford, Texas’ “Cowboy Reunion” weekend rodeo accepted select girls who were age 16+ to lead the parades, participate in multiple rodeo events, and dance with the Cowboys. These ladies represented their community and were even sponsored by local businesses. In 1932 these same ladies were given awards such as “The most attractive riding apparel,” “The best horsemanship,” and “best mount.” These ladies were judged on their horsemanship by riding in a specific figure-eight style pattern. Riding in a pattern demonstrated their ability to maneuver their horse and ability to control and handle their horses as well. It wasn’t until 1935 rolled around that the modern pattern we see today was implemented. In 1949 they started judging barrel racing on speed and not just horsemanship abilities. During World War II, there were many “all-girl rodeo” events held. As you can imagine, they were extremely popular. When the war ended and the men came back home, the rodeo industry returned to the way it had been previously, meaning fewer competitive events available for the women who grew to love rodeoing. 


Now that we have some of the histories down, let’s learn a bit about some of the amazing women who made Rodeo… Rodeo! These women were impressively brave and extremely talented. Rivaling the best of the best in any of the men they competed with or against. We are going to start out with the women who ruled the west in the 1800s-1900s and trail into the modern barrel stars we can see when we go to the top rodeo events today. 


Famous Cowgirls of the WILD West


Annie Oakley

Annie Oakley is one of the best-known and most loved of all times cowgirls that ever walked the planet. Technically, she was classified as a sharpshooter but trick rode horses with unbelievable abilities. At the young age of 15, Annie won a sharp shooting contest, defeating an experienced marksman named Frank E. Butler. Annie and Frank married in 1876 and joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in 1885. Annie performed what would be just short of miraculous feats, such as shooting a cigar out of her husband’s mouth or splitting a card from 30 paces away. She was one of the greatest inspirations to many cowgirls that came after her. It is said she taught well over 15,000 women to shoot and ride. 


Goldie Griffith Cameron

Goldie was considered the very last of the true wild west cowgirls. She didn’t even know how to ride when she became a member of Buffalo Bill’s wild west show. One thing that people remembered about Goldie was that she never let anything stop her. She worked with a team of show cowgirls and even handled breaking wild broncs for Buffalo Bill. She was also famous for working as a stunt rider and cowgirl in western-themed movies that were being filmed around that time. In the middle of a Buffalo Bill show in front of a crowd of over 8,000 souls, she aimed her gun at her then-husband and shot him. It isn’t clear if he survived the incident or not. She retired from a life of stunts and fame to a ranch where she trained dogs for the war and opened a chain of restaurants.  

Modern-day barrel stars

(I want to start by saying this is in NO way an all-inclusive list. Many phenomenal ladies aren’t on this list…This is just a sample of some great barrel racers you can check out and read up on. Many of these ladies started with very little and worked hard to create their dreams, just like we all should aspire to do! No matter where you start, you can accomplish anything with hard work and commitment. )


Tiany Schuster

Tiany and her partner Edwin Cameron have been a longstanding barrel racing couple for well over fifteen years. She has accomplished amazing feats, such as setting a 2017 WPRA earning record and earning $250,378. She has won more money than any contestant in any single event. Her most current 2020 highlights include winning at the Jerome County fair and Rodeo and also winning the Golden Spike Rodeo.


Horses she has owned:


Stevi Hillman

Stevi is well-known and loved by many aspiring barrel racers. Her stepdad trained horses and taught her that one of the most important things you can do is have a proper and good foundation on your horse. She didn’t have the money to buy good horses, so she worked hard to train young horses into competitive athletes. She is not only a barrel racer but also serves as a radiologic tech. Taking x-rays, CT scans, and even assisting in surgical procedures. One of the horses she is primarily associated with is Cuatro Fame. 


Some of her most recent highlights 


Nellie Miller

Nellie is well-known for being a World Champion Barrel racer. She won the 2017 NFR (National Finals Rodeo) This same year, her horse (Sister) even won the AQHA/ WPRA Barrel horse of the year award. Her father trained all of her horses for her and taught her many things along the way. 


Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi

Horses have always been in Brittany’s blood. Her parents bought her younger sister a horse to compete with, and after that horse ended up being too much for her sister, she ended up taking over and becoming very successful. She has a laundry list of wins starting back in 2003. She has been involved with Rodeo since 1995. Her father is the one who taught Brittany how to run barrels, and ever since then, she has been winning and competitive. Her most recent 2022 highlight is her winning (for the FIFTH TIME) The National Western Stock Show and Rodeo on three different mounts. 


Sherry Cervi

There isn’t anything Sherry has not won or done. She is a professional Rodeo Cowgirl with four world championships under her belt. (’95, ’99, ’10, and ’13) She was introduced to the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in 2018. Sherry was born into a family of equestrians who encouraged both her and her sister to ride and chase their dreams. She started competing when she was only six! Sherry has been through a lot in her life; amid her career, her first husband, Mike, was suddenly killed in a tragic plane crash on his way to compete in an event. Sherry pushed through this tragic event and kept reaching her goals. Some of her most famous horses include:


Charmayne James

Charmayne is a former pro Rodeo Cowgirl who is hard to dislike. From her riding abilities and the way she treats and trains her horses. She is an extremely talented barrel racer and trainer. She has won eleven women’s WPRA barrel racing world championship titles which are, to date, the most in rodeo history. From 1984-1993 she took home ten CONSECUTIVE world titles and her final in 2012. Then in ’84, ’86, ’87, ’89, ’90, and ’02, she won her seven NFR titles. The story of her horse, Gills Bay Boy (Scamper), inspires barrel racers all over the world. She purchased him for all of $1200 and made history with him. 

Both Scamper and Charmayne are in the ProRodeo hall of fame. She is also in the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame as of ’92. 


Lisa Lockhart

Lisa is a two-time NFR average champion who began riding at the age of six on her pony. She joined the WPRA in 1993. She is second to Charmayne and Sherry in qualifications for the NFR. She is married with three children whom she loves to spend time with when she isn’t in the saddle. 


Fallon Taylor

Fallon is one of the “barrels queens,” as many call them. She won the 2014 WPRA barrel championship and qualified seven different times for the NFR between ’95 and ’98 and ’13-15. 

BabyFlo, her favorite horse, was named the WPRA and AQHA barrel horse of the year in 2013. At the young age of seven, Fallon took an interest in barrel racing and decided that was what she wanted to do. With her loving family’s support, they moved to Texas and had her train with one of the top trainers in the industry since she had no previous riding experience. Her parents homeschooled her so that she could have every opportunity to succeed imaginably. Fallon had a tragic accident in 2009 where a gelding she was riding fractured her skull in four places, shattered bones in her face, her eye socket, and fractured vertebrae in her neck. Fallon was paralyzed for days, and with doctors only giving her a 2% chance of ever walking again, it had looked as if her days of riding were over. After a brutal and trying year and a half, she managed to walk again. Determined to ride again, she was successful! It took her over a year of basic riding and determination, but Fallon states that she’s a better rider now than ever before. 


These are some amazing stories of loss, hope, and encouragement. These ladies prove that you CAN reach your goals in whatever you do. 


Barrel racing has amazing roots and even more amazing men and women who compete in the event today. We hope that this information has been interesting and informative. If you would like to learn MORE about barrel racing, check out our book that covers everything about barrel racing, from its historical roots to the exercises you should be doing to step up your barrel game. 


Find our book series here: 

Horsemanship 101 Barrel racing training guide

Horsemanship 101: Barrel Racing Tips, Tricks, and How to Succeed

Horsemanship 101: Barrel Racing & Barrel Horse Training


Visit our website: Rafter3horsedevelopment.com

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Stay tuned for the next article!