Love of competition, need for speed and control, a sense of community. These are the backbone of barrel racing, a Women’s Pro Rodeo sanctioned event dating back to Texas rodeos in the 1930s.
This summer, Carbondale’s own five-year-old Teagan Rice has competed in three Junior Barrel Racing events at the Carbondale Wild West Rodeo atop her trusted steed, Waffles. “She says she wants to be a professional barrel racer when she grows up,” says mom Lindsey Rice, a fierce competitor in both Carbondale and Snowmass rodeos during her heyday. “I keep it fun and safe for her, I want her to have a positive experience.” Lindsey loves passing her knowledge and passion on to her daughter.Five year old local Teagan Rice is all smiles as she crosses the finish line of her third barrel racing competition. Photo by Paula Mayer.
The Rice family believes kids who grow up around livestock are fortunate. “They learn a good work ethic, hard lessons, kindness toward animals, creating a bond with things and memories,” continues Lindsey. “My dad always told me it’s expensive to have horses, but it’s more expensive not to, because having that responsibility keeps kids out of trouble.”
“When I saw kids in the arena, I wanted to do it too,” exclaims Rice. Photo by Paula Mayer.
You might be thinking, how hard can barrel racing be? You hop on a horse and ride as fast as you can around three 55 gallon oil cans in a cloverleaf pattern. While they make it look easy, the women who compete put in long hours training and preparing both themselves and their equine partners. Winning times are in the sixteen second range and contestants can be separated by 1/100th of a second, necessitating the use of an electronic eye.
RaeLynn Rinaldo, a seasoned barrel racer, has as much passion for the sport today as she did at Teagan’s age. “Anything you can do on your horse is better than anything else.” “Horses know when they do well, when they’ve had a good run,” says Rinaldo. Photo by Paula Mayer.
RaeLynn spends summers in Carbondale and winters in Wickenburg, Arizona, allowing her to compete year-round. “Going fast is the name of our game, but the focus needs to be on learning to ride, learning to ride well and staying in control. Control of you and your horse.” RaeLynn explains in more detail: “It’s not a motorcycle. This is an animal. An animal with a brain, with past experiences, that has been trained to do a job. Horses have good days and bad days, just like people do. They react to certain things. A motorcycle will go as fast as you tell it to go and when you lay off the gas it’s going to quit. A horse will do whatever it has to do to protect itself.”
Robert M. Miller, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, in his book “Understanding the Ancient Secrets of the Mind of the Horse”, credits a horse’s primary survival tactic as being that of flight. “To understand horses, above all else, the natural instinct of this species to flee from real or imagined danger must be appreciated.” An arena filled with supportive fans, blaring music and stadium lights sounds like it hits the trifecta for real or imagined danger.
“If you love something enough, you’ll find a way to do it,” says Shannon Weeks, hailing from Upstate, New York. As a kid, she spent summers in Carbondale with her aunt Diane Teague, whom Shannon credits with teaching her everything she knows about horses, riding, rodeo and competition. “If you love something enough. you will find a way to do it,” says Weeks. Photo by Paula Mayer.
As a teenager, Shannon knew that she had to be part of this lifestyle. She worked hard every step of the journey to realize her dream. Like many rodeo contestants, Shannon understands first hand the grit and sand it takes to get back on a horse once you’ve come off. “The first rodeo I entered was the Snowmass Rodeo at age 13. I’m making my first rodeo run and fall off going toward the third barrel. It was a learning curve – I trusted him, but my horse had never run toward a crowd before. Unexpected things happen all the time. I trust you but I need to pay attention at the same time.”“I don’t breathe during the run. I come out of the arena huffing and puffing for air,” explains Weeks. Photo by Paula Mayer.
The competitive nature of these athletes is channeled toward how well she and her horse can perform on their next run. As a group, they cheer each other on, celebrate personal bests and help the next generation of young girls realize their dreams.