Atop her chocolate-brown horse, Hank, Regan Zaremba faced the obstacle course of the barrel ride at the Douglas County Fair Friday night. The 15-year-old rode Hank to the right of the course around the the first barrel, then across the oval and around the second barrel. She finished up galloping around the third barrel, in the required cloverleaf pattern, in under 17 seconds—a good time.
But there was bad news: Regan and Hank had knocked over the second barrel. Her time was disallowed.
“A blink of an eye can determine if you win or lose,” said Regan's mom, Darby.
Regan and Darby, the barrel racing coordinator for the Douglas County Fair, both competed in the fair's Jackpot Barrel Racing Competition Friday night. Alas, Darby, like her daughter, also knocked over a barrel.
A fourth-generation rider, Regan learned all she knows about horses from her mother—including how to barrel race.
“We go to weekend barrel races together, and it’s fun to spend that quality time together,” Darby said.
Barrel racing is a perennial event at a fair like Douglas County, a test of the skill and ability of horse and rider to race quickly around the three barrels in a cloverleaf pattern--right-right-left or left-left-right. Riders are timed to a thousandth of a second. The fastest riders get a share of the jackpot, gathered up from entry fees and divided into three categories of entrants—Pee Wee for ages eight and younger, youth for 18 and younger and an open category for any age.
Darby said that the horses and the riders are athletes. Conditioning is just as important for these horses as it is for any person who plays a sport. They have to be ridden regularly, they have to be fed properly and they have to be in the best shape possible.
Because barrel racing takes devotion to training and caring for the horses, Regan and Darby use the sport as a way to bond.
“There’s times when it’s trying, but it’s always good to spend time with her,” Darby said. “How many teens want to be with their mom? And it’s nice that she wants to be with me.”
Darby has been barrel racing for 15 years and Regan has been racing almost as long — as long as she can remember.
Darby isn’t just a mom cheering for Regan on the sidelines; she’s her coach. “Sometimes I don’t always want her to help me," Regan said, "but she’s good at it and she’s been doing it longer than I have, so I have someone to go to."
Despite her disappointment in Friday night's barrel race, Regan will get another chance to compete at the fair on Saturday, in the 4-H Horse Show.
Because she grew up with horses, she says, riding them is just like riding a bike. “It’s just in my blood,” Regan said. “I love competing.”