Written by Breanne Hill published in the October 2009 issue of Barrel Horse News
If you were to ask a member of the general public, “Who competes in barrel racing?” nine out of 10 people would answer, “Girls.” Rodeo, and in particular the National Finals Rodeo , is often the only contact a non-horse industry spectator has with barrel racing, so the idea that the event is strictly for women continues to be perpetuated – even if it is not accurate.
A closer look at the sport, and all its different competitive divisions, tells a different story. Open and 4D races, as well as breed association shows, usually have a healthy number of boys and men riding in them. And the futurity circuit? Well, the fact that Equi-Stat’s top five money-earning riders of the last decade are men is a testament to how strong the male faction is on that playing field.
With successful riders such as Troy Crumrine, Cody Bauserman, Talmadge Green, Chris Coffey and Brett Monroe to look up to, young men who enjoy the thrill of barrel racing have their own answer to the question, “Who competes in barrel racing?” Than answer is, “Anyone who has the guts to do it.”
Kent Manor, of Benton, Miss., who is 13, Ty Marks, of Bismark, Mo., who is 15, William Ball of Paint Lick, Ky., who is 16, and Lane Smith of Ward, Ark., who is 18, have all rocked the barrel pattern from boyhood through to their teenage years – and won more than a few titles along the way. Below, they offer their unique perspectives on the modern barrel racing industry and give sound advice for any little boy who is competing or who would like to compete in the sport.
Barrel Horse News: How did you become involved in barrel racing?
Lane Smith: I’ve been barrel racing since I started riding when I was 5. Both of my parents [Doug and Kelly] had always competed in it in Quarter Horse and some smaller shows.
I had a choice whether or not to barrel race, but my parents were strong influences on my wanting to do it.
Kent Manor: I’ve been riding since my dad [Kevin] could hold me up on a horse and lead me around. When I was like, 3 or 4, my dad would put me on a pony and lead me around the barrels at horse shows. Then, when I was about 5 or 6, I got a little faster pony than the one my dad was leading me around on.
My dad is a great barrel racer, so I think he wanted me to be a barrel racer, too.
Ty Marks: I’ve been riding since I was 1 year old, and I stated barrel racing when I was about 8, I think.
My whole family has barrel raced for a while. My mom [Tammy] used to ride all the time, and so did my grandma and grandpa. My mom got out of it whenever she had kids, so it’s just me and my grandma and grandpa now doing it. I guess I was born into it.
William Ball: My mom [Rachel] has run barrels pretty much her whole life. I just grew up doing it. I can’t remember not riding.
BHN: What did you like about barrel racing?
Kent: Going fast. When I was little, I always thought my pony was going really fast.
Ty: I like the rush you get. Going down the alley is exciting, and then you get to go really fast.
William: I like horses, and I’m pretty competitive. I like to go fast. I like everything about it.
Lane: I really liked the atmosphere and the people I got to meet. It always seemed like I was the youngest kid around, so I thought it was really cool to get to hang out with the older people.
BHN: Do you have more girl or guy friends in the sport?
William: Probably more girls. I’m not going to say I don’t enjoy that.
Ty: I hang out with just as many girls as I do boys.
Lane: I have more girl friends than guy friends, because there’s such a higher ratio of girls to guys.
Kent: I have girl and guy friends, but I mostly hang out with my guy friends. Keith Hollis and Brian Wheeler are mostly the ones I hang out with.
BHN: Did the fact that there were more girls around than guys ever bother you? Do you consider barrel racing to be a women’s sport?
Kent: I never really thought about there being a lot of girls around. I’ve never really thought of barrel racing as a women’s sport either, because I’ve always seen so many good men doing it. I’ve been around men who barrel race my entire life, especially in our area of the country. I’ve never been kidded about being a boy in barrel racing.
Lane: Having more girls around has never bothered me. My friends that didn’t compete in the sport, they’d give me a hard time about competing against girls, but it’s never bothered me. The girls are just as good and work just as hard at it as the guys. I have a lot of respect for them.
William: There are more girls, but I think we’re equal when it comes to riding ability.
Ty: There are so many men who do well in the futurities. You see a lot of boys at the futurities, so it’s not a woman’s sport to me.
I’ve never really been given a hard time or anything about barrel racing with the girls. Sometimes, when you go to a rodeo or something where there are a bunch of boys competing in other things, they’ll get after you a little bit, but really, everybody seems to be pretty nice about it.
BHN: Has the perception of boys in barrel racing changed since you first started? Or is it about the same?
Lane: I think there are more guys coming into than when I was little. But to me, it’s never been weird to have more girls in it than guys. Everybody hangs out together. It’s just not a weird thing.
Ty: I think it may be a little different, because there are so many boys at the futurities. I think sometimes boys are a little braver than the girls about riding ranker horses, so there are a lot more of them at the futurities.
Kent: I don’t think there is that much change. There might be more little boys coming in, but I don’t really pay that close attention.
William: I haven’t really noticed a big change since I was little. It’s gotten maybe a little more competitive overall in the Youth, both for the boys and girls. A lot of times, locally here, a Youth will win the Open. And it’s not just one person doing that. There are a lot of people doing it. So, I think the Youth has gotten to where it’s really competitive.
BHN: Who are your barrel racing heroes?
Kent: My dad, Mr. Paul Cooper, Clay Hughes and Talmadge Green.
William: I like Troy Crumrine, just because he’s own so much. I’d like to try to be better than him.
Lane: My dad. I’m also a big Jolene Stewart and Add Waddell fan.
Ty: My grandpa. He’s ridden for about 30 or 40 years. He’s had a lot of good horses. He’s kind of quit riding now and just helps me out whenever I need it, but he’s my hero because he’s always there for me and tells me what to do whenever I have a problem.
BHN: Do you have time for any other sports or hobbies outside of barrel racing?
Ty: I like fishing, golf and basketball, and I used to play baseball until I became home schooled.
My horses do take up a lot of my time – that’s why my family decided to home school me. My school had a policy where I was only able to miss five days. Well, just going to Oklahoma City for the BFA Futurity was five days, and I’m gone every weekend and that made it hard.
Lane: I used to do sports in school, but the horse stuff became overwhelming, so I don’t do it anymore. As far as horses go, I also run poles and stake races, and I used to do Western pleasure.
Kent: I play basketball and run track at school, and then I ride horses when I get home from school.
William: I don’t really like to concentrate on anything besides my riding. I run poles, too.
BHN: Do you see yourself continuing to barrel race as an adult?
William: Yes, I hope it ends up as a business for me. And I plan on going to farrier school. I hope my whole life, though, is barrel racing mostly.
Kent: Well, I’d like to win the Youth World first, and then I’d like to do well at the local shows and just keep that going.
Lane: Yes, I’ll stay in the Open shows and in the breed shows, and I’ll do a few futurities. I really like competing in the Fortune Five.
Ty: I believe I will continue, but I’m going to try to become a veterinarian when I get older, so I may have to try to keep it to the weekends for a while.
BHN: What would you say to younger boys who are just starting out in barrel racing or those who are thinking they might want to try their hand at the sport?
Kent: You might want to start out on a little pony, like I did. You don’t have to start out riding fast on a 1D or 2D horse right off the bat. You want an older horse that works the barrels in the 4D, and you’ll do pretty good on it and can go from there.
Ty: Don’t ever get discouraged. Whenever you’re down, you can always come back up. You can’t start out at the top. You’ve got to work your way up there.
Barrel racing has given me the opportunity to see big places and meet all these friends and go all over the place. I wouldn’t get to do that if I wasn’t in barrel racing.
William: Learn good basics. That will help you out in the long run.
You need a good horse, too.
A small kid, if they get a bad horse, they may want to quit.
Lane: There are a lot of great young guys out there you can look up to. Ty Marks, Heath Holland, they’re doing really well.
And you’ll make so many friends, besides your school friends, in barrel racing. When you get to see them at races, it’s fun because you’re not with them as often.
Barrel racing is just a great sport. Besides, what guy wouldn’t want to be in a sport where there are five girls to one guy?
The Family Perspective
Selecting a hobby for your child isn’t always easy. Barrel racing, like any sport, comes with the pressure to win, the eagerness to please peers and the time and effort of practice and traveling.
So, how can you tell if barrel racing is the right fit for your son?
“With horses in the equation, it’s a lot of work to take care of your kids right,” says Kim Manor, Kent Manor’s mother. “It’s not something that you should go into thinking, ‘Oh, it will just be a weekend thing.’ It’s an every day thing to do it right.”
Kim and her husband, Kevin, both stress that when putting a kid into barrel racing, the most important ingredient is a good horse.
“I worried a lot about Kent when we started him because he just looked so little up there on top of that horse to me,” says Kim. “But, you know, my husband never put him on anything that we thought might hurt him. Kevin was really good about keeping him on something that was easy going. A lot of people don’t do that. We’ve seen it, and that can be dangerous.”
Like his son, Kevin grew up riding horses and competing in barrel racing, and he says the horse you select for your child not only matters for his safety, but also for his competitive mindset.
“Invest in a nice horse,” he says. “And I’m not saying you’re going to win every time, but a horse that at least has a shot at winning sometimes will keep your kid interested.
“You’d be surprised by how quickly a kid will give up when he realizes that he doesn’t have a chance at winning, because he doesn’t have a horse.”
Ty Marks’ grandmother, Brenda Chilton, who also produces Fortune Five barrel races, says that with boys, there also is sometimes a fearless streak that can come out, and parents have to learn to watch for it. She claims, however, that this is not necessarily a bad thing as they get older and have the opportunity to compete on the futurity level.
“I had two daughters, and now that I’ve got a grandson, I’ve learned that boys will get on any horse,” she says. “Girls tend to not want to get on anything too rank. Boys, they’ll want to do it. Maybe that’s why men end up sort of dominating the futurities.”
For the first time this year, Ty, 15, will ride one of his family’s 3-year-olds in the Barrel Futurities of America World Championship Futurity in Oklahoma City, Okla., in December. Chilton says she and her family have confidence that the riding foundation Ty has been given since he was a year old will help him handle his first big futurity with ease.
“We’re very excited about it,” she says. “He and his grandpa have got a nice colt going at this point. It could all fall apart before then, of course, but as of right now, we’re proud of our colt, and we think it will be nice.”
What Chilton knows, and what every barrel racing parent must eventually figure out, is that barrel racing is an unpredictable sport. This means that every child, especially one who is just beginning in the sport, can’t win every race, every time. According to Kevin, this is a factual nugget that some parents find hard to swallow.
“When kids start out, they’re learning,” he says, “so you put them on horses that won’t hurt them. Then, as they progress, they can rider faster horses.
“I’ve seen so many people, dads in particular, who don’t really understand that, and they get mad because their child isn’t winning. Well, your child can’t win all the time. You’d be surprised at the people who just don’t get that. Those people usually don’t last too long in barrel racing.”
Chilton also believes that putting too much emphasis on winning can take away from the most important lessons a young man can learn in barrel racing – courtesy and sportsmanship.
“Ty knows that he’s expected to be courteous and be a good sport,” says Chilton. “You always treat people the way you want to be treated. That ‘s the most important thing. As far as that’s concerned, barrel racing can be a great sport for kids to learn how to handle winning and losing gracefully – and that goes for both boys and girls.”
Of course, putting a boy in barrel racing can have the extra-added pressure of public perception. Most people think of barrel racing as a “girls sport,” and this can be a difficult thing for a young man to have to deal with – though it is not as much of a problem as it might once have been.
“My husband used to run all the time in what they’d call flag races,” says Chilton. “That’s what the men used to do, but now they’re barrel racing to the point where there are almost as many men as women.
“It’s changing all the time, and by the time Ty gets older, who’s to say there own’t be men on the rodeo side of things. You never know.”