The Douglas County Fair is off to a running start.
It began Friday evening with the Jackpot Barrel Race, which challenged riders of all ages to guide their horses around three barrels placed in a triangular formation. The contest took place at the Douglas County Fairgrounds community building, 2110 Harper Ave.
“It’s a cloverleaf pattern. The fastest time wins,” said Darby Zaremba, the event coordinator for the race. “You can win or lose the race by a thousandth of a second, so it gets pretty exciting.”
At top speed, communicating with your horse is the key to success, say barrel racing veterans. The idea is to guide the horse with smooth hand movements, letting it know what the rider wants it to do.
“Smooth hands is a fast ride,” said Katherine Jones, the mother of a contestant.
Jones is a former competitive rider herself, and this year her 9-year-old daughter Cassidy won the Pee-Wee Division atop Sonita, whom they call “Sony” for short.
“I like seeing how the other racers do,” Cassidy said. “And I like riding her fast.”
Cassidy began riding in November and now spends nearly every weekend at area competitions. In addition to barrel racing, she also competes in goat-tying and pole-bending events. She said she helps care for her horse at her Leavenworth County home, and saddles and cleans her off after competition.
Some of the youngest barrel racers had parents jogging alongside to help them guide their horses, but Cassidy and other youngsters raced unaided.
“It’s great for kids,” Jones said. “It teaches them discipline and respect.”
Though men are allowed to enter, by tradition it’s a competition dominated by women. This year was no different, with a nearly all-female contestant group. Division winners received about $200 in prize money.
“We have little kids that love it, we have older people that love it,” Zaremba said. “We just have a great time with it.”