SOUTH DAKOTA HORSE
By South Dakota Horse Ambassador, Jesselyn Seaton
The sport of barrel racing in South Dakota is alive and well. I’ve been involved in barrel racing since I was 10 years old in my local 4-H horse club. I grew as a rider, competing in 4-H rodeo, local jackpots; continuing with barrel racing as part of the South Dakota State University Rodeo Team. As an adult, I’ve continued my competitive drive by participating in a number of jackpots locally and regionally each year with my now 12-yr-old Quarter Horse mare, Lexi. I also enjoy riding and caring for a few other horses as well, including cow horses Sonny and Houston, retired race/barrel horse Louie, and show horse Jagger.
If I were to describe running barrels to someone who has never done it before, I would say that barrel racing isn’t just about the 15-second sprint that happens at a competition. In fact, it’s actually more like a marathon.
Barrel racing is a daily commitment to care for your horse and to practice your own horsemanship skills. Participating in this sport requires many hours in the saddle working to develop a relationship and understanding between the horse and the rider. You must also care for your horse diligently. Our horses are athletes. A barrel horse must be in great physical condition before participating in a barrel race to avoid injury to the horse, rider, or both.
A lot of time and effort goes into properly conditioning and caring for a barrel horse at home. The rider must be knowledgeable of nutrition, anatomy, prevention of illness and injury, and general maintenance that horses require in addition to being able to properly ride and handle one. If you’ve put in the work at home, you are much more likely to have a successful run at a barrel race.
What initially drew me to barrel racing was the speed involved. If you want to feel like you truly have wings, then get on the back of a fast horse. The intelligence, power, and agility of these animals is truly amazing and unparalleled. When running a barrel pattern, obviously your goal is to get through as quickly as possible without making mistakes and knocking down barrels.
Sprinting a horse as fast as you can up to a barrel only to turn sharply around it and run off in the opposite direction can be both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time! There are so many intricacies that go into turning correctly without losing too much time and so many details that must fall into place. The ability of a horse and a rider to make a smooth and correct run always fascinates me. Again, if you have put in your work at home, you will trust your horse enough to carry you safely around the turns and across the finish line.
I also love the competition aspect of barrel racing; not just against other competitors, but the daily competitions I have against myself to continuously improve. There’s no better feeling than having all of the hard work you put in at home come together at a barrel race. Being successful in this sport simply means trying your best and having fun!
Sprinting a horse as fast as you can up to a barrel only to turn sharply around it and run off in the opposite direction can be both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time!
Watch Jesselyn in action in this short video!
There are so many ways to get involved in barrel racing in South Dakota. Local 4-H clubs usually have speed events at their county shows each summer. Participating at the county level can qualify you to participate in South Dakota’s State 4-H Horse Show, which is held each July at the fairgrounds in Huron. 4-Hers can also compete in 4-H Rodeo, which involves traveling to different rodeos throughout the season to compete against other 4-H members in the various rodeo events, one of which is barrel racing. 4-H is a wonderful place to start for a child who is interested in learning about horses and competing with them. Contact your local extension office and they will be able to connect you with the right people!
South Dakota also has various rodeo associations for all age groups and levels of riders. One such organization is Little Britches Rodeo, a national organization that holds many rodeos for youth riders across South Dakota. Junior High/Middle School and High School Rodeo are also popular organizations, with many high schools across the state having rodeo teams that travel to compete at regional rodeos. The top competitors in each event can qualify to participate at the national level as well. If a school does not have a rodeo program, participating as an individual member of the organization is also an option. Many colleges also have their own rodeo teams that travel around the region to compete during the fall and spring semesters.
Watch for part 2 next week!