FAIR: 55 years of barrel racing

When Jim Anderson saw his first barrel race at age 23, he knew there was no turning back. Now 78, he’s been competing ever since.

The Wellington resident immediately bought a horse for $150 and named her Brateberry. The mare had never seen a barrel in her life.

From the grandstands at the Lorain County Fair, where we talked to Anderson, the event seems simple. A horse and rider run through the starting line, follow a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels, and then dash across the finish line.

What is not seen are the years of practice required to train that horse to run the pattern at top speed, he said.

His advice? “Ride it, ride it, ride it,” he said. “You can walk a horse and trot a horse around the barrels a hundred times a day, but if you run him five times a day, you’re going to sour him.”

In a sport where the winner can be determined by thousandths of a second, the relationship between the rider and horse is crucial, Anderson said.

The rider with the fastest time is awarded between $1,000 to $250,000.

Barrel racing is not technically an occupation, and many racers earn a living in other ways. Many use their prize money to pay off the high price tag of purebred horses.

Bloodlines are held in near-biblical reverence in the world of equine sports, said Anderson. He once met a racer who paid $17,000 for a two-year-old barrel racing bred horse. Riders pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a foal with the right parentage, proved by owners who keep elaborate family tree records.

For Anderson, it’s not always about the money.

“I’m in it because I love the sport,” he said. “It’s just like getting on drugs, the rush. I know when I’m running, you have to be really good to beat me. And when they open the gate, the horse knows it too.”

Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.

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