August 22

liz story

Liz Walsh.

Sunday started early for some. At 5:30 this morning, a handful of pajama-clad barrel racers were gathered in front of Anderson Coliseum, blearily reading over the results of the second Open long-go, trying to see if they had made it back to the Finals.

Lorraine Bytheway, of Glen Mills, Pa., Senior 1D champion, won the second long-go on her horse, Panamas Charlie Harley, with a winning time of 14.753. She was accompanied to the winner’s circle by Debbie Hagan, Ned Cunningham and Jesse Hopper, who won the 2D, 3D and 4D, respectively. They shared in a total payout of $25,830.

Bytheway continued to shine in the Finals on Sunday afternoon, when she blew away the competition with a 14.735, also run on Panamas Charlie Harley. As the Open 1D champion, she won $2,941 and an additional trophy saddle, buckle and wildcard to go with those won in her Senior race.

Sheila Sirak, a fellow Pennsylvanian, won the 2D championship for a $1,998 payday aboard her horse, Stormin Agenda, with a 15.249. 3D champion Joylynn Leech, of Sussex, N.J., won $1,412 for her 15.758-second run on her horse, “Chase.” Conneticut cowgirl Cindy Brown and her horse, Kings Poco Reed, won the 4D championship and $1,119 with a 16.735. Each of these division Champions also received a saddle, buckle and wildcard.

The Youth race, which preceded the Open Finals, paid out $6,042, and also awarded a saddle, buckle and wildcard to each champion. Katie Bridgers, of New Bern, N.C., took home the 1D title and $443 for a 15.176, run on Reds Money. 2D champion Elizabeth Caldwell, of Powhatan, Va., and her horse, March of Honor, won $388 for their 15.704-second run. Pilesgrove, New Jersey’s Tori Keen won the 3D championship and $277 for her 16.180-second run on Boleo Express. Zachary Bunner, of Parkersburg, W.V., won the 4D championship and $221 with a 17.196, run on VL Liberty Luck.

The stalls were pretty much empty and few trailers were left at the Virginia Horse Center at 6:30 this evening. Contestants were heading home in all four directions. Some will once again drive through the night, others just a few hours. All will likely be back to try again next year.

Liz Walsh


August 21

At 12:20 this morning, only the diehards were left in the stands as Kate Keeney, of York, Pennsylvania, guided her well-known horse, Hope To Burn, to the lead with a 15.143, the only 15.1 of the first go-round. Her run, which took place only twenty-seven minutes before the end of the first Open long-go, upset the times in all of the other divisions and caused a last-minute change in the 2D, 3D and 4D winners.

Megan Bridgers and her horse, Megs Bay Money, won the 2D with a 15.646, Gary Stillwell won the 3D on his horse, Shaka My Olena, with a 16.146, and Linda Stillwell and Amigo Versa Bars won the 4D money with a 17.149. The four winners were paid $1,718; $1,498; $1,059; and $839 respectively. They shared in a total payout of $25,578, only a fraction of the Open’s total payout of an estimated $85,000.

With the order reversed for the second long-go, those up well into the morning were back at it at 8 a.m., after only a few hours of sleep. Things got off to a rough start for many, with several competitors knocking early in the second long-go of the Open. Early leading times were reminiscent of the day before, lodged firmly in the low 15’s, until midday, when Senior 1D winner Lorraine Bytheway blew her winning time from that race out of the water with the first sub-15 second run of the weekend, a 14.753, made on her horse Panamas Charlie Harley. As of 5:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon, that time still held.

As is usual, those who qualified in the first go were considering the pros and cons of scratching their horses from today’s race to give them a chance to rest before Sunday’s short-go. With an estimated $25,000 up for grabs, it will surely be a difficult decision.

Liz Walsh


August 20

Last night, Senior1D winner Lorraine Bytheway set the bar high for today’s Open riders, laying down a 15.15 about halfway through that no one was able to beat. She and her fellow Senior champions, 2D winner Richard Charles with a 15.676, 3D winner Randy Taylor with a 16.169 and 4D winner Gracie Lea Reed with a 17.184, shared in a total payout of $4,38l, with the top spot paying $456.  Each of the winners will also receive a trophy saddle and buckle for their efforts.

This morning’s crowd, possibly suffering from exhaustion after staying up to watch their friends the night before, seemed to move at half-speed as the NBHA staff prepared for the start of the first Open long-go. The few spectators who roused themselves talked softly over coffee and breakfast sandwiches as they watched things kick off at 8 a.m.  Early times seemed to average in the mid-16s, with a few mid-15s leading the pack. Most hats stayed on, and most barrels stayed up.

Although some pro rodeo women have begun to ride in non-traditional attire, the announcers reminded riders in the first few drags that the NBHA dress code – a collared, long-sleeved western shirt, jeans or western riding pants, boots and a western hat or helmet – would be strictly enforced. They were also asked to remind spectators of the Virginia Horse Center’s rules prohibiting both dogs and coolers of beer in the coliseum.

As of 2:30 this afternoon, an average of 50 riders an hour were being pushed through.  Given that, after add-ons, the Open now has 838 entries (which breaks the old record by one entry), the first long-go will likely finish some time after midnight.

Jhonda Cox, of Grayson, Kentucky, has held on to the lead for the past few hours, with her time of 15.281 clocked on her horse, Fabulous Parade. As the night wears on, everyone will be watching to see how that time holds up.

Liz Walsh


August 19

To accommodate the constant arrival of horse trailers throughout the night, the staff of the Stable Office at the Virginia Horse Center got little rest, closing for only an hour and forty-five minutes between 3 a.m. and 4:45 a.m. Many competitors, like the group of Wendy Chestnut, Natasha Greene, Kim Balch and Becky Lawrence from Vermont, traveled through the night to arrive early this morning, in time for open arena and exhibitions. Others described getting up shortly after midnight to pack up their horses and hit the road. Despite their lack of sleep, all seemed excited to be here and eager to run.

Although most had uneventful trips, some were not so lucky. Punch Haring, a member of PA 00, had her trip take an unexpected turn when her truck broke down shortly after crossing over the Virginia state line on Wednesday. Fortunately, Cathy Champy, Director of District NJ 02, was not far behind her, and pulled off to assist.

Since they could not safely unload Punch’s horses on the side of the road, Cathy followed behind the truck that towed Punch’s rig, horses and all, to the nearest shop. There they transferred the horses to Cathy’s trailer to continue on their trip, while Punch waited for her truck to be fixed. Cathy, who was on her first trip to Colonial Nationals, said that she was glad that she was in the right place at the right time and able to help. Punch, who was grateful for Cathy’s assistance, is now looking forward to running in the Senior tonight.

The view from the top of the hill behind Anderson Coliseum is breathtaking—a sea of trailers framed by the Blue Ridge Mountains. As some stragglers continue to arrive, the helpful staff of the Virginia Horse Center surely looks forward to going to sleep at a more reasonable hour tonight.

Liz Walsh


August 18

For many barrel racers on the East Coast, the NBHA Colonial National marks the last big barrel race before Labor Day and the subsequent end of summer. The allure of a final road trip seems to be stronger than ever this year, with 737 pre-entries in the Open, 231 in the Youth and 166 in the Senior—an 18 percent increase in Open pre-entries from last year. With 36 wild cards, 12 saddles and a payout sure to match or better last year’s $91,833 up for grabs, it is no wonder that contestants, who will begin arriving today, are traveling from 19 different states, some from as far away as Florida and Maine.

The Colonial National has been a regular stop on the NBHA’s seven-city National Tour since the show’s inception in 1997 and has retained the informal epithet of “Crown Jewel” of the tour over the past several years due to its historically high attendance rates. The grandeur of the Virginia Horse Center and a spot on the calendar that coincides with the wind-down of many Northeastern districts’ barrel racing seasons both play a part in the show’s success.

Last year’s Open 1D winner, then 16-year-old Katelyn White, ran the only sub-15 second time of that show, a 14.793. Back again on her horse, Miss Panama Perks, it will be interesting to see if Katelyn—or anyone else—will be able to replicate or beat that time this year. Many of the best barrel racers in the Northeast will be in attendance, and no doubt will be trying to do just that!

Liz Walsh



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