LUMBERTON — A bunch of young people spent the weekend horsing — with the approval and under the watchful eye of the adults.
More than 250 barrel racers ages 19 and under herded up at the Southeastern North Carolina Agricultural Events Center to see who could steer their horse around a course of barrels the best.
According to C.H. Kelly, the All Youth Barrel Bash that he started three years ago, was ranked by Equistat, which keeps records of equestrian shows and individual rider statistics, the seventh largest youth barrel racing event in the United States during 2016. He said the event was also ranked third in 2016 for “added prize money.”
Kelly said he started the Bash three years ago to offer young barrel racers in the Southeast a chance to show their skills and earn some prize money.
“Before this, they had to go to places like Waco, Texas, or Jackson, Mississippi, to compete,” said Kelly, who lives in Clayton. “This event is all about the youth.”
Kelly said that each year more riders compete in the Bash, more races are offered, and the amount of prize money grows. This year, he said, about $40,000 in prize money was presented.
Participants in the event that ran from Friday through Sunday came from Robeson County and across the state, but also from South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Tennessee.
“If there were more stalls available we could have had more participants from other areas,” said Beth Herndon, a barrel racer and real estate appraiser from Lumberton who assisted Kelly in setting up and operating the three-day event. “We had racers wanting to come from Texas and Louisiana, but we couldn’t guarantee them a stall.”
There are 100 stalls available on the grounds of the Southeastern North Carolina Events Center, with 200 more under construction.
Katie Brown, 16, from Pine Tops, said she has been running barrels since the age of 4 or 5, and about once a month does so in Lumberton.
“I love it,” she said. “People don’t realize there’s so much more to barrel racing than just racing around three barrels. You have to teach the horse what to do. I know it sounds like something a horse should know, but you actually have to teach it how to run. You have to teach it where to put its feet. You have to teach it to sit on its back end while its front is moving forward … . It’s a lot of work and at times can be frustrating when a horse can’t do everything you want.”
Carli Cardone, 19, of Battleboro, won second place in her division, and a “substantial amount” of prize money.
“I started out riding in English jumping events,” she said. “But I found jumping boring and changed to barrel racing. I like the speed and adrenalin of barrel racing.”
Most barrel racers start at a young age, and many come from families that have been involved in equestrian and other rodeo-related events for years.
Cheyenne Mundy, 13, of Elm City, said she has been riding horses since she was old enough to mount one. She said she had her first pony when she was about 2 years old. Her father, Mark Mundy, wrestled steers for more than 30 years.
“I retired when Cheyenne became interested in barrel racing. With what it costs to keep up with her I could have bought a nice place in the mountains,” Mundy said with a laugh. “But she loves it and rides every day.”
Raylee Roper, 12, from Appomattox, Virginia, won a third place Friday. Her father is a horse trainer.
“Barrel racing is a hobby for me,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”
Herndon described barrel racing as a family get-together.
“There’s not one event you can go to anywhere and not know someone,” she said. “We take care of each other. We are one big family.”
Herndon said that during a previous event the racers had raised money to help a Robeson County family who lost their home during Hurricane Matthew, and an auction was held during this weekend’s Bash to raise money to help wildfire victims.
Kelly said that except for the lack of stalls, that the events center is the perfect site to hold his annual event.
“Unless something changes my mind, I plan to be back next year,” he said. “I’ve already tentatively scheduled use of the center for the weekend of April 13.”
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.