The popularity of women's barrel racing can't be understated.

The rodeo event is widely considered the second-most- popular at the rodeo, behind bull riding.

"But, if you ask a barrel racer," said Skyla Teel, a barrel racer and former Tucson Rodeo queen, "we'll say it's the most popular event."

Barrel racing is a timed event in which three barrels - at La Fiesta de los Vaqueros, they look like cans of Coors Light - are set up at different locations, and the riders must quickly round each barrel in a cloverleaf pattern.

"It's definitely a speed event," said Marana's Erin Parsons, who completed her run in 17.61 seconds Saturday, the third-best time of the day.

Like any rodeo event, though, a lot goes into a barrel race:

The horse

Barrel racing takes speed, agility and good timing, and most of that comes from the horse.

"You have to be a good rider," Parsons said, "but your horse is everything. You have to be in tune with your horse."

Every cowgirl, Teel says, cues her horse differently.

"Each has a different bit in their horse's mouth," Teel said. "Some of them have a tie-down holding their heads down, some of them use a whip, some of them don't. That changes almost daily."

The barrel

The three barrels are made of steel, at least in professional rodeos.

They're big, but, as you can imagine, fall easy when a horse running at full speed bumps into them.

"It's not like the wind is gonna blow it over," Teel said, "but it doesn't take much to tip one."

If the rider does tip one, though, a five-second penalty is added onto her time.

The rider is allowed to bring the barrel back up as they are riding, though that isn't easy.

Parsons pulled that off on Saturday, bringing the second barrel back up in stride.

"You can touch it, you just can't knock it down," Teel said. "You've got to be right there. She [Parsons] knew that barrel was coming down, but it's a matter of seconds."

The cowgirls

It's entertaining, it's fast, and it's fun to watch. But why is it so popular?

Well, for one, the cowgirls themselves.

"I think people like to watch girls on horses," Teel said. "The athletic ability from a horse and a rider, so much goes into it.

"It's just something about pretty girls on fast horses," she said with a smile.

On StarNet: See more photos from the rodeo at