I have solved one of AQHA's dilemmas. OK, I didn't exactly solve it but I know what the answer is.
AQHA (that would be American Quarter Horse Association to the uninitiated) has been wondering where all of its youth riders went. Well, this weekend I found a bunch of them not too far from Westminster.
They were up at Sunset Valley Farm run by Jessica Millard & Ricky Fultz just outside of Union Bridge. Ricky is the current president of the Carroll County Western Circuit which is where I met him a couple of weeks ago. He confirmed for me that barrel racing is indeed a very big deal these days and I went up to Sunset Valley to see for myself.
Boy, was he right!
There were not only youth age riders but also adults. Barrel racing has become a sport for both males and females. It was not all that long ago that the ladies had a corner on the barrel racing market but that is now a thing of the past. I guess the money got so good that the men just couldn't resist it anymore.
And there is money in the market, believe me. Rodeo keeps points by keeping track of dollars won and it is a very precise way, indeed, to find out just who is whom and how good they play the game. Barrel racing is right on the rodeo track.
What I got to see was a training session followed by a show. I was told by Jessica (very nice lady to talk to is Jessica, by the way), that "the training rides started at 10 a.m. and that they would be over by somewhere near 1 pm. Then the actual show would start." Each rider pays a little to go into the ring and train in the same situation that a horse would get at a "real" show which is a very nifty way for riders to give their green horses a leg up on showing circumstances.
When I got there around noon, it looked enough like a "real show" to impress the dickens out of me. One entire field was completely filled with large, very large, rigs that had not only room for lots of horses but also living quarters for people.
The country rock was playing through the loudspeakers in between the announced riders and their respective times. This is important for a horse to get used to for real world showing ... I mean, what if he prefers classical music at home? This is all-country, all the time and that horse should get to like a little twang with his fiddles, you know? I like it that way myself.
There were bunches of families there, too. Lots of lawn chairs, lots of little kids. Lots of pretty girls with Levi-type bling jeans on. Lots of good-looking cowboy types, too. It seems to run that way, doesn't it?
The most important thing was that in the ring there were people making rides with green horses one horse at a time, just as though they were going to run for the money. There were green horses that needed to go in and just walk or trot the barrels, green horses that needed to run a bit and then quit on it and take time to calm down and walk around the next barrel.
There were horses that spooked a little at a barrel and needed time to stop and get their wits together and go on. They were given the time and it was working for them. You could see it. There were a few horses that needed a fast trip around the barrels to get ready for the afternoon's show and they got that too.
There were kids riding bareback around the grounds and they were pretty good little riders on right nice horses too. Some of them were two to a horse and the horse appeared to be having a good time doing this. Go find that at your Quarter Horse show, or at your hunter/jumper venue, I double-dog dare you. Won't happen.
When I left at around 4 in the evening the training rides were almost done. The show hadn't started and it was going to probably run until 7 or 8 that night. I had a date with a steak on the barbie and I wasn't going to stay but I met a lot of really nice people and they seemed to be having fun.
By the way, the judges at a barrel race are electric timers. It is impossible to be "political" with an electric timer.
A timer doesn't care who your trainer is or how much your outfit cost or who you know. All it cares about is time. Timers are nice that way.