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Pole Bending

Pole bending is a timed event seen at gymkhana shows, high school rodeos, 4-H shows, various equestrian events, and at American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) shows.


A rider and horse run past a timer line to the end of a line of six poles, then turn the end pole and weave down through the pattern, again turn at the last pole and weave back up, then run back home across the timer line. An electronic timer will be used, and the fastest time will win. A horse may start either to the right or to the left of the first pole and then run the remainder of the pattern accordingly.The horse has to not only have speed, but also the agility to switch leads between every pole at a full out run.

The pole pattern consists of plastic poles (PVC pipe) that are set 21 feet apart and the timer line 21 feet from the first pole. This is a universal pattern, which should always be the same no matter the arena. The poles are 6 feet high and the base is no more than 14 inches in diameter. Bases shall be rubber or plastic. Solid rubber bases are preferred, but hollow plastic bases shall be allowed only if filled completely to emulate a solid, weighted base. If a pole is knocked over, a 5-second penalty is assessed. Failure to follow the course shall cause disqualification.


At AQHA events, there are some additional rules that one must consider when showing. Rules that may apply include:

  • Dress Code (long sleeve collared shirt, cowboy hat or helmet)
  • Equipment(no bare metal, even if covered, on horse's head)
  • Number (must display correct number when competing)
  • Touching Poles (can be touched, but not intentionally alter course)
  • Drags (show must drag at least after every 7 horses) 
  •  RPH thoughts on THE GROUND  & TIMES

One thing many people that show horses do not always understand is how critical the arena footing can be as far as times are concerned in the sport of pole bending.

Pole bending differs from barrel racing in that once a horse turns, the horse doesn't just run or take off as fast as it can. The horse has to "think" or work, as it weaves through the set of poles. It is not until the very last turn that the horse can run full throttle without having to change leads or do a directional change. The horse must push off while it weaves, and then dig in, turn and accelerate out of each turn. Because of this, pole bending times can be greatly effected by different types of footing. This is of course assuming the pole pattern and timer were properly set; (see diagram) all 21ft. apart, with plenty of turning room at the end pole.

From deep sandy ground, wet - sticky clay type or even hard dirt, the footing can easily make a run seem slow or fast, based on the time. Think of a sprinter running on a sandy beach, a grassy field, concrete, or an all weather- track. The same performance would probably yield different times based on the footing the athlete is running on. It's the same for top notch pole bending horses. So, the same caliber of horse might run a low 19 second run in optimal footing, and a 20 second run in good conditions, it just varies. That being said, drags can also make a difference in times and performance. Being first after a drag, or "on top of the ground" might be better than being last in deep rutted, pushed out footing.  Whether it's a barrel race, or a pole bending, arena conditions due matter! However, no matter the type or texture of ground, one thing is for certain, the BEST type of footing, is SAFE footing.


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Pole Bending Pattern

Pole bending pattern

Miss N Fantasy & Brannon

Maggies Drawers & Kelly

Fast Ground, Fast Horses, & Skilled Riders!    

 It seems very hard to find reliable records of pole bending times, especially from different shows, arena's &  years past. Considering that, here are a few times that can be verified on the Ohio Quarter Horse Association website, under AAQHC, in the results section. These were at  AAQH Congress:

19.002 by Brannons Nonstop Jet & Chris Dodd in the 2nd go of the 2005 Pole Bending Swepstakes, and 19.115 the same year in Senior Poles.

19.105 by Lassie Lender & Darrell Logan in the 1st go of the 2003 Pole Bending Sweepstakes

19.162 by Miss N Fantasy & Brannon Riley in the     2005 Senior Poles

VWatch Miss N Fantasy Watch the 19.162 run

LIST of AQHA World Champions in Barrels and Poles from the years 1999 to 2011








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