Barrel Racing in the Pacific Northwest

In the small town of Sulkum, WA there lies a gem to sport many people may not know. This sport includes some amazing sprinters working to push their limits to claim the fastest lap. These athletes are strong, finicky, and full of passion to run. Coupled with a rider who pushes them to be their best. It’s a sight to behold for all in attendance. I’m talking about Barrel Riding.

Rocky Top Arena and it’s owner Vicky Friedrich have been a staple of the horse riding community for decades. Located in Sulkum, WA, off of Hwy 12, you’ll find a beatiful property dedicated to all things horses. From riding lessons to top-tier racing. The operation at Rocky Top Arena has been a family affair giving riders of all ages, and abilities a place to learn and grow their riding skills. I was fortunate enough to be invited to come to a barrel race to take some photos and expereicne first hand this electic sport.

What is barrel racing? It consists of a rider, horse, and three barells. The layout from start to finish resembles a diamond shape. Horse and rider careen out of the start gunning for a barrel on either the right or left side of the arena. From there they must do a figure 8 to the opposite side of the arena, turn towards the far end of the arena before bolting back to the start/finish line. Knock over a barrel, any barrel, and you’re disqualified.

Each horse gets one run and one time to make their mark against the competition. That’s it! There’s big money on the line for some of these events. At a recent competition held at Rocky Top’s Show Me the Money event saw 600 riders competing over three days to claim the top prize. There’s a lot on the line for horse and rider.

As someone who had never been to a barrel race, and spent very little time around horses I was astouded at what these racers could do. As a sports photographer I reveled in the challenge of getting one chance to get the right shots of each rider. A far cry from other sporting events where you will likely get multiple attempts at competitors. As a sport fan, I found this very enjoyable to watch. You could tell when a horse was having a fast run, and found myself wanting to help push them faster to the finish line.

If you get a chance I highly encourage you to check out a race in your local area, or, if you get the chance, make the drive out to Rocky Top Arena to cheer these riders on, and experiecne it first hand.


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