Fast times roll in Hayden

Pole bending, barrel racing series finals are Sunday

Kylie Hawes hears her name called over the loudspeaker. The 14-year-old digs her heels into her horse, and she's off. Three barrels are set up in a triangular formation about 20 yards apart. Rounding each barrel at a furious sprint, Hawes and her horse lean in a 45-degree angle to the ground.

It takes Hawes less than 20 seconds to ride around the obstacles and cross the laser-timed finish line, but she's always striving to go faster.

"For me, there's a lot that goes into a good run -- the mechanics, the speed," Hawes said. "So, it's very rewarding when you have a good run."

Hayes is one of several competitors in National Barrel Horse Association regional races held at Brooks Arena, 39565 Routt County Road 37, in Hayden.

Since November, rodeo riders from Routt County, Rifle, Parachute, Grand Junction, Baggs, Wyo., and beyond have practiced for and participated in a winter series of barrel racing and pole bending meets at the arena.

On Sunday, arena owners Kay and Brett Brooks will host the series-end finals at 1 p.m., in which 30 or more riders will compete. Exhibition runs will begin at 11:30 a.m. for those who don't want to race, but would like to see how their times compare to the competition.

There will be two competitive divisions: open and youth (17 and younger). The winner of the open competition will receive a new saddle and one of 12 belt buckles by Gist Silversmiths. Buckles also will be awarded to other placing riders in both divisions.

Between Brett Brooks' status as a professional bronc rider with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and Kay Brooks' status as regional diretor of the NBHA, buying the arena and hosting their own events was a natural decision.

"We just bought the arena a year ago, so we're really excited about the turnout we've had this year," Kay Brooks said. "We expect to have more rodeo events here soon."

The events at Brooks Arena often are advertised or featured in The Wrangler rodeo magazine, and it has attracted several professional rodeo stars, including Sammie Bessert, who holds the arena record time for a barrel race with 15.209 seconds.

About 25 people come to the arena Thursdays to practice roping. Every Wednesday, about 10 practice barrel racing and pole bending.

Pole bending is a lot like barrel racing. Riders steer their horses sharply around obstacles, but poles rather than barrels, and slaloming rather than racing a cloverleaf pattern. Contestants begin with a running start, straight alongside the poles. Then they turn at the last pole to slalom back, weaving through six poles, turn and do it again, and race straight back across the finish line.

Kacey Snowden, 17, of Craig has competed in barrel racing and pole bending events since she was able to ride a horse. Rodeo is a tradition in her family, and as she has progressed in the sport, she figured out why.

"It's such an adrenaline rush," Snowden said. "Even if you hit a barrel, it's just so fun going fast. When your horse is sprinting as fast as he can, your adrenaline pumps and it's really exciting."

Hawes admits when riding a horse so fast, things can get scary.

"(Fear) is something everybody has in the back of their minds," Hawes said. "But I'm more concerned about my horse, because if we fall, I can get fixed, the horse can't. But if you fall off going that fast, you're going to break something."

The barrel racing and pole bending competitions this weekend will be judged in a three-division format in the junior and open classes. The divisions handicap riders' scores so that all can compete on the same level.

"It's better than age groups, because the high school kids can kick our butt," Kay Brooks said.

The Brooks Arena will host a summer series of barrel racing and pole bending, as well as jackpot team roping, in which entry fee money will be awarded to the winners.

Snowden said she doesn't try to think about winning when she's riding, but knowing the prize money that comes with being a successful professional, she can't help thinking about it sometimes.

"This weekend is pretty big," she said. "People take it seriously. It's like professional football. People live off of this, so it's important to give it all you've got."

-- To reach Nick Foster call 871-4204

or e-mail nfoster@steamboatpilot.com

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