PERRY -- Eighteen-year-old Gerardo Ortega of Panama is among more than 2,000 youth competiting in the 2014 National Barrel Horse Association’s Youth World Championships.
His coach and trainer, Maria Christina Bornegales, interpreted for him.
“He said it’s his passion and he loves the adrenaline that barrel racing gives him,” said Bornegales, who’s from the Texas-based Los Saltos Ranch.
Ortega is competiting with one of Bornegales' gray quarter horses named Purple.
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Sunday was the first day of the week-long event. It also marks the third time the championships have been held at the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter in Perry.
Ortega, who’s been barrel racing for three years, was joined by 15-year-old Maria Fernanda Di Filippo of Venezuela in the teen competition.
Bornegales, who’s also a native of Venezuela, coaches them both.
Headquartered in Augusta, the NBHA bills itself as the largest barrel organization in the world. It has more than 30,000 members across five continents, said Sherry Fulmer, NBHA executive director.
“We’re say we’re No. 1 in barrel racing and we are,” Fulmer said.
In addition to about a dozen foreign countries, competitors came from all over the nation, including Houma, La.; Bohemia, New York and Phoenix, Ariz. Some contestants, such as Brooke Paddock, 17, of California, raised money to make the trip to compete. She’d raised about $2,860 of $4,500 requested at last report on her online fund-raising site.
Middle Georgia also has a strong showing of more than 20 youth and teen contestants. Those competing in the youth competition include Rachel Bartlett of Perry; Abby Gray of Macon, Hunter Hughes of Fort Valley; Skylar Hutchinson of Byron; Logan Owens of Kathleen; Elyce Potts of Eastman; and Jaley Smith of Cochran.
In the teen division, those representing the region include Mac Buffer of Monticello; Anna Cowart of Albany; Casey Elias of Monticello; Macy Hughes of Perry; Taylor Hunnicut of Macon; Beth Langston of Elko; Krista Mercer of Monticello; Alyssa Nawrocki of Byron; Karin Newberry of Byron; and Kalie Rutledge of Warner Robins.
“If you’re not familiar with barrel racing, what you need to know is it is a family event,” Fulmer said. “It’s easy to understand. There’s a new rider coming out of that chute every 25, 30 seconds. It’s fun. It’s fast.”
In 1992, NBHA changed the barrel racing industry by adding a divisional format, which allows riders of all skill levels to compete for money and prizes, she said.
“Early on, we realized that when barrel racing was going on, that only the people with the top horses were walking away with all the money,” Fulmer said.
“So we put divisions in barrel racing, just like you might have in golf. Some people do it for the weekends. Some people are professionals ... We found a way to push the money down so that you didn’t have to be a professional but you could be a champion of your division and you could win money and prizes,” she said.
A parent’s perspective
Rikki Rohaley of Arcadia, Fla., was busy Sunday snapping photographs of girls competiting from her hometown. Her 16-year-old daughter, Kaitlin Rohaley, competes later in the week.
Her daughter, who has a form of autism, has been riding and barrel racing since she was six.
Rikki Rohaley said she she’s watched her daughter blossom through the love of a horse.
“We do barrel racing for the simple fact that I believe it’s completely therapeutic for any child or any human being,” Rikki Rohaley said. “It’s great experience and she looks forward to doing it. It’s really changed her life.”
She noted that riding is also beneficial for children who are wheel-chair bound, offering physical therapy as the horse is walked with a trainer.
“Those children ... are moving every muscle in their body and they’re getting more good physical therapy on a horse than they would in rehab in my opinion,” Rohaley said.
Also, the NBHA is a good environment for all children, she said.
“It keeps them out of trouble, keeps them busy,” Rohaley said. “They’re lovable to the animals, loyal. They know the responsibility of taking care of the animals.”
The championship barrel racing gears up at 8 a.m. daily. The cost is $10 but children 6 and under are admitted free. The event is being broadcast live at http://barrelhorsenews.com/bhn-webcast/ on the Internet.
Staff writer Angela Woolen contributed to this story. To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.