I’ve used a lot of ink giving ropers a well-deserved hard time in my writings. Once in a great while I’ll give reference to what was once a “ladies only” event in rodeo, barrel racing. While there are no longer any gender barriers in either competition, I do want to share a few timeless facts.
Truly it is a horse race of a different kind. Through the ages barrel racing, the clover-leaf pattern around three barrels, was heralded as the “beauty event” of rodeo.
While indeed the competitors represent the prettier side of the sport, they are no less committed to their event than those that pay big-buck entry fees to throw their rope in the dirt or have their head stuck in the same by a bull or bronc.
What appears to be hard-lined independence in these women is actually, more accurately, necessary capability. It takes a fair measure of intimidating grit to maintain the pace to keep self, horse and rodeo rig ready for the road.
While young boys were riding stick horses and wearing pot-metal pistols planning to be the Lone Ranger, girls in braces and braids dreamed of being a barrel racer. That included pretty clothes, fast horses and a cheering crowd as she raced through her pattern, riding hard to be the champion.
That dream grew to the reality that included a drained checking account, a four-legged sorrel standing in the corral eating a hole in her wallet with feed bills, vet bills and assorted expenses such as tack, a horseshoer and entry fees.
It has never been a secret to any barrel racer that barrel horses plot 24/7 to find a way to ruin your day. Winning the world in the practice pen on Friday can become dashed hopes the next day when that prize equine comes completely untrained at the rodeo.
When the champ runs by the first barrel like he doesn’t see it, all that is left to do is begin your best rodeo queen wave as you loop the arena before making an exit out the gate.
Even though it is a highly frustrating sport because so much of the ability lies with the horse, barrel racing has done nothing but grow in numbers and popularity. That happened in great proportions when a place for them to compete as a stand-alone sport was created. Barrel racers have never had the reputation of playing well with others.
Veterinarians and farriers are privy to the most demanding side of “can chasers.” Vets will attest to the need for a degree in equine pediatrics as there isn’t a horse in the world that gets babied more than barrel horse.
Paranoia lives at the same address as every barrel racer. She can spot a limp, a cough, a twitch or a belly rumble in her horse before it even happens. And she lives in constant fear it will—just before she’s supposed to be at a “big one” 500 miles away.
Ask any farrier who has put iron on a barrel horse how much “retraining” he received from the owner. When things go wrong in the arena, he’s at top of the list to get the blame and the first phone call.
Every barrel racer carries with her on the road a complete veterinary pharmacy to ward off any possible ache, pain or ailment in her steed. To find where she parked at the rodeo, one needs only to smell the air for a whiff of an assortment of liniments and secret concoctions surely cooked up in a cauldron.
On a more serious side, decades ago, Chris LeDoux recorded a song about barrel racers called “Round and Round She Goes.” In it he said, “Silver buckle dreams don’t leave time for standing still.”
The chorus summed up the spinning world of a down-the-road barrel racer.
Round and round and round she goes
Where she stops nobody knows.
The miles are getting longer,
The nights they never end.
Old rodeos and livestock shows
Keep the lady on the go.
Lord, she loves to run those barrels,
And it’s the only life she knows.
There isn’t a die-hard can chaser anywhere that doesn’t identify with the truth in the song, or with the final lines:
As she drove into the morning
It slowly dawned on me
How hard it is to tell a dream goodbye.
And so it is.
Julie is a recovered can-chaser after at least twice through a 12-step program.
Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at email@example.com.