Barrel racing youth championships gallop into Perry

PERRY -- It’s an equestrian rodeo sport dominated mostly by girls in sparkle belts and Western shirts. And when it comes to barrel racing, the thrill of quickly looping three barrels in a cloverleaf shape excites, not scares, these young daredevils.

An experienced rider like 11-year-old Jamie Parker and her horse, which is named Hope Is On The Rise, can speed through a barrel race in under 16 seconds.

“You either have to be faster on the turns or fast in between the turns, but the real fast horses are fast (on) both,” said Jamie, who attends Mount de Sales Academy in Macon.

Race preparation begins at least a year in advance for an event like the National Barrel Horse Association Youth World Championships in Perry.

Competitors under 13 years old and teens up to 19 have been running their horses in competition shows since last summer to snag a qualifying spot for the 2015 world championships that will be held at Reaves Arena in the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter.

Barrel horse riders will be traveling from about 40 states and seven countries outside the U.S. to compete for money and prizes. A total of about 2,000 horses will be competing over the next week in Perry.

Seventy percent of entry fees go toward the pile of prize money that the top riders from each of the five divisions take home in the final round.

“We would be anticipating the total purse to be approximately $225,000,” said Rick Hardy, membership director with the national association.

Other money gets added to the jackpot from charges, such as stall fees, which every registered rider must pay for each horse that qualifies. One rider may qualify up to five horses in each of the five divisions.

JoBeth Jones, Jamie’s mother, said it’s not a cheap sport.

“And we’re just going down the road,” she said. “Obviously it’s a lot more involved for someone coming from California or Wyoming.”

Even though they have to pay for horse stalls at the arena, the majority of riders from Middle Georgia will be taking the horses home to roam in pastures, Jones said.

The stalls with concrete floors are stuffy, she said, and can cause the horse’s legs to swell.

“We’re all pretty lucky that we can spring them out of jail and bring them home,” she said.

Registration begins Saturday while “Go Rounds” -- the two chances each qualified rider-horse pair has to make it to the final round -- will last until the following Saturday when the finals will take place.

Jamie, who’s competing in the youth category, has been randomly assigned the draw number 491 that determines when she races. She will get her chances to qualify for finals Sunday evening and Wednesday afternoon.

“What’s nice about barrel racing is it’s you against the clock, where a lot of other horse disciplines are judged,” Jones said.

Barrel-racer Britney Evans, 14, from Cochran, said it takes patience to bring your time down.

“Like running a marathon, you got to work for it,” she said.

Also racing in the teen category, Beth Langston, 17, from Elko, said she has fallen off her horse, had horses fall on top of her and fractured her tailbone, but she still thinks everyone should try barrel racing.

“You can go as fast as you want: walk, trot, slow run, lope. It don’t matter. Either way, to me it’s fun,” she said.

Horse was even one of her first words, Beth said.

Jennifer Langston, Beth’s mom, said taking care of horses teach young people discipline.

“If you’re in a bad mood, you better not get on that horse in a bad mood because that horse is going to feel it,” she said. “And you might go for a ride.”

Jones said young people also learn responsibility. She compared horses to a “bunch of toddlers.”

“At the end of the night, the horses have got to get fed before they get fed,” she said.

Despite all the hard work, Evans said she never realized how much she could bond with an animal before she started riding horses.

“My mare is one of my very best friends,” she said. “(Horses) always are there for you.”

To contact writer Conner Wood, call 744-4489.