After the 3 ½ hour car ride, I was ready to go. I didn’t come all this way to not get what I wanted, just one clean run. I know my horse has been out of commission for a couple months now, but I knew the past 2 weeks of training multiple hours of a day would hopefully soon pay off. I looked around the trailer parking lot, examining all the other competitors. Looking at all their fancy tack, rhinestone head stalls, money winning saddles, tens of thousands of dollar trailers, and then you look at me. Coming to a race in my old ‘92 ford F250, the family trailer we’ve had for over ten years, old worn out tack, I didn’t feel like I fit in. Economy now-a-days had been tight for me. Invested all my money in my $20,000 dollar horse. I love my horse, and even though I didn’t have all the fancy gear everyone else had, I just thought to myself; I don’t need that. I have everything that I need right in my reach. I just couldn’t wait to see everybody’s faces when they saw us fly.
Walking down the center aisle, strong horse shoes clatter on the cement. Listening closely, muffled neighs came from the stalls. As we step out of the barn into the cold, cloudy night, the loud roaring of the crowd came from inside the arena. As I make my way across the gravel road, I stop to think, blocking out everything but my own thoughts. The roaring soon turned into tiny whispers like small mice in a wall. The neighing from the barn became trapped inside the individual stalls. I stopped to focus on what was about to come.
A first glance at barrel racing, one may think nothing of the sport. But if you take a deeper look, you will discover a whole new world. To the inexperienced eye, barrel racing will present only as pretty horses running around barrels. But of course, all those pretty horses are bred and raised for barrel racing; An event of speed, precision and teamwork. Barrel racing has been competed in rodeos all over the world since 1948, originally an event for woman while men were off working cattle. Barrel racing is a rodeo event where the fastest time is what matters the most. But it’s not only the horse that does the work, it’s a combination of horse and rider, a special bond that takes years of training and competing to make it to the top. In competitions, money is usually on the line. With that in mind, finding a good horse is very important to the competitors. A top of the line barrel horse can cost around $50,000. Competitors don’t just go around and buy any horse they want, they have to make sure that horse and rider work together and are able to excel in the sport.
It’s all about speed and perfect timing of your turns. 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 added onto their total time. Leaving the barrels standing and ripping through the course is every barrel racer’s goal. For the 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. 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.
I think to myself. Playing the situation in my head. Run in as fast as I can, spot the first barrel, get aligned at a 45 degree angle. Tapping the side of my horse with my inside leg, I keep steady with the outside rein. Inside rein up, outside leg tap, and turn. Looking to the next barrel, I switch my body position and make my horse do a quick lead change. Approaching the 2nd barrel, inside leg tap, outside rein steady. Inside rein up, outside rein, turn. One more time. Looking strait, advancing to the last barrel, same amount of leg, same amount of rein, turn. Looking home, run. Just run.
I popped back into the world, all sounds rushing back into my ears. Focused and ready. As I continue to the arena, looking forward I spot something shiny on the ground. It didn’t seem like anything special, but something good enough to check out. When I got a closer look, it appeared to be a small piece of ribbon, twinkling gold and about 8 inches in length. Dropping to my knees getting a closer look, I reach to the ground and pick it up. Thinking to myself, I walk to the side of my horse and tie it somewhat loosely onto my saddle horn, thinking that it could bring me some kind of luck. Any luck I could get was much appreciated.
I spotted the warm up arena and kept moving forward. Light beamed down on me once i stepped in, watching where I walk and dodging oncoming riders. I stop and throw the reins over my horse’s head. Running my hands down my horses warm neck, I look into her eyes, recalling everything we have been through over the years. Early mornings feeding hay, late nights practicing in the arena, summers one the farm, its been a good life for the both of us. She slowly moved both ears forward and nudged her nose into my chest. She knew we were ready. Grasping the reins and horn in one hand, other hand on the back of the saddle, slipped my left foot into the stirrup, pulled my body weight up and swung my right leg over the her back, took a deep breath, and relaxed.
After warming up for about a half an hour, I heard the announcer announce my name. My adrenaline kicks in and I’m ready to go. One of the workers came up to me and confirmed my name and walk me into the tunnel. I stopped and took a look down and noticed the ribbon I tied onto my saddle horn earlier, and smiled. Looking back up, I could barely see anything. The tunnel was nothing but darkness. Looking closer I could see the light and the open arena ahead. Hard country music blaring through the stadium, I knew it was time. The worker okay-ed me to start. I take a deep breath, look forward, and kicked. Running as fast as we could through the tunnel, light finally bursts out and my eyes locked onto the first barrel. Aimed towards the barrel, I could feel my horse’s long, eager strides. Repeating the earlier situation in my mind, leg, rein, sliding smoothly through the turn. First turn complete success. The smile comes back across my face. Second barrel ready, Repeat all the steps, and done. Another good turn. 6 seconds on the clock, ready for the last barrel. The last turn that can either make or break everything. 10 feet from the barrel, fast approaching, 5 feet, inside leg, steady outside rein. Initiating my turn, I can feel the barrel graze across my leg. Complete fear comes over me as I know almost for a fact that I am going to knock it down. I continue the process, inside rein, outside rein, and run. Still fearful, I look home. Kicking with all my force. Long strides, crossing the finish line. The crowd screams with excitement. Confused and disappointed in myself, I take one more look back at the pattern. And what I notice right then and there, the last barrel, still standing. I jump in my saddle with enthusiasm knowing that I accomplished my goal. Bending down and giving my horse a good pat on the shoulder. I can feel her long hard breaths beneath me.
Walking back towards the tunnel, I hear the announcer. “Well look what we have here. Our new leader at 13.893!” I stopped right where I was. Astounded and speechless, Great joy comes upon me. I get to the end of the tunnel and dismount my horse, threw my arms around her and giving her a big hug around her neck. I come back up and looked into her eyes and whisper, we did it.
This story was an essay my 15 year old Barrel Racing Daughter wrote for her english class.
Here she is . Now I know she has two talents, riding and writing.
I hope you enjoyed it!