When Amber Webber and her mother Verna Hultman began producing barrel races 14 years ago, they couldn’t have known their inaugural Race for the Roses event would serve as a springboard for multiple annual fundraising events and the formation of a charitable organization. They didn’t know the vastness of the impact their vision would have on families far and wide, or that the barrel racing community would band together to help them raise more than $200,000 across the span of a decade. They simply knew they wanted to make the world a little brighter, so they turned to the generous heartbeat of the barrel racing industry to help them fill the gaps in the most painful places.
Webber’s sister, Erin Welken-Chase, and her late husband, Steve Welken, produced the family’s first barrel racing event more than a decade ago. In 2012, the production business was turned over to Webber and Hultman, who added events in Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin. Webber’s other sister, Emily Honerbrink, works alongside the family as the events’ graphic designer. Although the landscape has changed over the years, one thing has remained constant — producing barrel races is always a family affair.
The idea of coupling a barrel race with a fundraising event was born when family friend Nathan Jensen was diagnosed with a rare but aggressive type of brain cancer known as diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma.
“We knew the majority of these types of cancer diagnoses were terminal,” Hultman recalled. “I remember saying, ‘This family is going to go through a really tough time.’ We wanted to find a way to be there for young Nathan and his family. That was the beginning.”
Around the time of Jensen’s diagnosis, fellow barrel racer and family friend Chloe Fruth discovered her childhood Leukemia had returned.
“We knew Chloe really well,” Hultman shared. “She passed away in 2012 at the age of 16. We wanted to do something in her honor, so we started donating the first $500 from the annual Race for the Roses in May. In 2019, [Chloe Fruth’s nonprofit] Chloe’s Courage Fund partnered with our Pro Elite World Challenge for the Sharptruck Challenge. Our goal was to raise $2,500 but with the help of our amazing sponsors, vendors and barrel racers, we were able to raise $42,000.”
Through the years, the events Webber and Hultman produce have touched lives inside and outside of the barrel racing community. Among those who have benefited from their efforts are the surviving members of a fatal shop accident victim, the family of a police officer who was diagnosed with stage IV cancer, Chloe’s Courage Fund, DIPG Research in memory of Nathan Jensen, Gillette Children’s Hospital, and multiple victims of farming and horse-related accidents.
In addition to their fundraising events, the family offers a scholarship program through their nonprofit, PEWC Foundation. The scholarship provides financial assistance to people of any age who are pursuing an educational certificate. Funds are raised through silent auctions as well as late fees that are donated back through their barrel races. They also routinely donate to Welken-Chase’s nonprofit, Young Widow Living.
“This year was our third year handing out scholarships, and we absolutely love it,” Hultman shared. “The program is designed to assist people of all ages who may not be interested in attending a traditional college. It’s really been a pleasure to see the impact these scholarships can have.”
Most recently, Webber, Hultman, and their kind-hearted community of barrel racers banded together to help a barrel racer who was injured during their Pro Elite World Challenge Finals in October.
“We had a young rider who was seriously injured while warming up her horse,” Webber explained. “She was found unconscious on the ground and had to be airlifted out. It was tough — we know the family and they’ve been coming to our events for years.”
True to form, Webber and Hultman sprang into instant action.
“The accident happened on Saturday night,” Webber shared. “On Sunday morning, several vendors and sponsors found items to auction and we did some raffles. Within a few hours, the PEWC Finals contestants helped us raise $4,000. After the Finals, I hosted an online auction. Within a week, our family of barrel racers collected an additional $18,000.”
For Webber and Hultman, seeing the barrel racing community come together to help people in need is one of the most rewarding parts of producing events.
“I’m always surprised by what barrel racers are able to do,” Hultman said. “We can produce these events and do fundraisers, but people have to be willing to show up and give. Our barrel racing family is amazing.”
Webber agrees, noting how important it is to continue to give back to the community of people who give so much.
“Our goal is to keep growing our core charity events while tripling the size of the scholarships we offer through PEWC Foundation,” Webber said. “We want to be here for people in their darkest hour because we know if anything happened to our family, they would do the same for us.”
For more information about the PEWC Foundation, please visit facebook.com/people/PEWC-Foundation/100064811048103/.
For more information about the the Pro Elite World Challenge, please visit proeliteworldchallenge.com.