More than 100 riders gathered at the outdoor pen at the Lee Civic Center on Saturday for an opportunity to win thousands in prize money at the Battle of the Barrels.
Cowgirls (with a few cowboys sprinkled in) of all ages and abilities competed in the 4D barrel race, and they chose a beautiful day, at least at first, to converge, with a fast track on which to run.
The 4D events are run a little different from conventional barrel races you see at the rodeo in that there are four pools of money for the runners to go after according to the rider’s and horse’s ability.
“It allows riders of different calibers to compete with each other,” said Kevin Taylor, event organizer. “We pay eight spots each. Thirty-two riders will leave with money in hand.”
The 1D winner is the one with the fastest time overall (and usually gets the most money), the 2D winner is the rider who comes closest to a half-second behind the winner. The 3D winner is at least a second, and the 4D winner is closest to two seconds.
With 70 percent of each competitor’s entry fee going into the pot, plus another $2,000 added, the fastest rider stood to make hundreds, Taylor said, with the lowest money winners earning little more than expenses.
They even offered a second-chance ride where, for $20, a rider can re-enter his/her horse and re-ride in the event they knocked over a barrel or just didn’t like their time.
Fifteen riders took that offer, with one earning fourth-place overall as a result, and three resulting in no timers after knocking over a barrel.
The event featured an exhibition by the local Just Horsin’ Around drill team to open the show before all 111 riders and their horses maneuvered around three barrels in a cloverleaf pattern in hopes of getting the fastest time and putting some money in their pockets.
After every five riders they would drag the dirt so as to give everyone a fair shot, regardless if they were beginners or seasoned pros.
Like Caitlyn Ray, 17, who is home-schooled so she can ride full time and who came decked out in full rodeo garb.
“I go all over the state, but this was home, a lot of money at stake and the money added and I came,” Ray said, who has won more than 30 buckles in her short career. “I hope I win. Being first would be awesome.”
Some paid the $35 entry fee for the fun of it, some for the prospect of being paid, some (especially the younger ones) came to learn how to perform in front of crowds.
Another, Brittany Smith, came because she wanted to sell one of her horses and also got decked out in full rodeo garb herself to take photos.
“I didn’t dress up for my first run, but I wanted to look professional for this one,” Smith said, who earned expenses after placing in 4D.
Sonya Cornett, National Barrel Horse Association district director who also organized the event, puts on about 18 shows a year, plus fundraisers (which this event was) throughout the area, including the Posse Arena, Labelle, Clewiston and Naples.
Amy Stevens Walters and her horse Solo had the fastest time of 15.331 and won $335.
Bob Baberlandt, one of the few males in the female-rider dominated competition, race, won in 2D, Tia Bigi won 3D, and Elena Joanow used a second chance to take 4D.