Roni Anderson of Stevensville comes around the third barrel at the 4D Barrel Race in Hamilton on Saturday. Jean Schurman photo
Mesa Strain of Hamilton makes a clean ride around the second barrel. She is 11 years old. Jean Schurman photo
If you saw a large number of horse trailers and pickup trucks headed to Hamilton on Saturday, chances are, the occupants were headed to the Ravalli County Fairgrounds for a barrel race. Once limited to rodeos and gymkhanas, barrel racing is gaining ground here in the valley and across the Northwest.
The reason for the growing number of barrel racers is the 4D barrel racing format. This allows barrel racers of similar abilities to race against each other and even win money. It also allows those training young horses a chance to compete and improve. All the riders compete in the same barrel race. The four divisions (4D) are then determined by times. The fastest time sets the time brackets for the event. The racers with the fastest times are in the first division. The second division includes all racers that ran the pattern a half a second slower than the overall fastest time. The third division are those barrel racers who ran the course one second slower than the overall time. The fourth division is made up of those who ran either a second and a half or two seconds slower than the overall fastest time. Each race determines that division. The time brackets may be adjusted but the format remains the same for each 4D race. The top times in each division receive points and prize money. There are also youth and senior events.
Saturday’s event was sanctioned by the BRN4D association. This organization is primarily in the Northwest but does include California as well. The 2011 BRN4D championships will be held in Pasco, Washington over Labor Day Weekend and many of the racers that competed Saturday will be attending that event.
This format not only allows barrel racers to compete against those of the same level but also is a way to train and season a young barrel horse. Sommer Strain, a Hamilton area horse trainer, ran one horse for the first time in competition on Saturday. Because the horse was young, her goal was a clean run with no mistakes and nothing happening to upset the horse. It’s important for horses to not be stressed when they run and associate having a pleasant experience in the arena. Strain said she was pleased with how her horse ran after the event.
Before this format came along, there was sometimes confusion as to whether a horse was a novice or a rider was a novice or beginner. A novice rider could be mounted on a well-seasoned horse and win lots in the novice division. Now, the points stay with the horse so there is no question of the level of the horse. Besides, even the fastest horses have ‘off’ days and with the time brackets, their time could be the best in the third division.
Roni Anderson of Stevensville is another barrel racer and trainer who has competed for many years in both rodeos and in the 4D events. She said the 4D format has been great for the horse industry because of the exposure horses get in front of potential buyers.
“It’s easy for locals, kids, even seniors, to compete,” said Anderson as she cheered on her daughter Jaimie Harberts.
The event is a family affair with mothers and daughters competing as well as sisters and friends. Although men are allowed to compete, there were none at Saturday’s event.
Kelsie Trexler of Corvallis posted the winning time but no other results were available at press time.