From ages 9 to nearly 90, barrel racers never seem to hang up their spurs at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo. While the professionals compete inside the AT&T Center for PRCA titles, inside the Expo Horse Show Arena, the amateurs hit the dirt at a bit slower speed but with as much excitement.
Nine-year-old Carson Daniels from McKinney is a veteran, having competed since she was 4. Aboard her horse Muffin, she is ready to go head to head with the adults.
Daniels says she loves her horse because “she wins a lot and she runs fast.” She also admits Muffin will bite.
It’s that kind of unconditional love of horses that starts early and lasts a lifetime. Joyce Easley of Moore has been competing since she was 22, and is proudly riding in the San Antonio Rodeo at the ripe age of 73. She says it keeps her young, but it’s addicting. “It is... just like dope,” she joked.
One thing that most of these horses have in common is a sense of style. Many of the manes are braided in pigtails, in part out of necessity. In the 16 seconds or so they are motoring around the barrels in a cloverleaf pattern, the reins need to stay clear of obstructions. Then there’s the bling thing.
Alison Kearney from Kentucky has a saddle, bridle and breastplate on her horse Bou bedazzled with crystals. “Swarovsky crystals all over. We earned this. We spent a whole summer barrel racing to earn all this stuff. It was fun," she said.
It’s just one of the things that has evolved in the sport in the decades many of these women have competed. It certainly doesn’t make them turn a barrel faster, but it makes a dazzling spectacle. Karen Schladoer of Fredericksburg is one of those addicted to the sport, and to her horses. Her children are all grown up, and this is her life.
"I don't know if I can do anything else. I've done it for so long, my husband is like, 'What if you quit?' I was like, 'I don't know what I would do," she joked.