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Local rider barrels her way to victory at annual race

July 1, 2011

It might seem pretty intimidating for an athlete to compete against hundreds of others in any sport, all trying to win the same championship. For local barrel racer Sara Kate MaIlwain, it wasn’t too nerve racking.

McIlwain beat out over 100 riders in her class from across the country at the 10th annual All-American Barrel Race at the Kirk Fordice Equine Center in Jackson last month in one of the country’s best competitions. Over 600 riders were on hand for the three-day event.

After qualifying for the finals with her two horses, the Cedar Bluff native took home first place with “Champ” in the 5D category with a time of 15.45 seconds before finishing 10th in the same category with her horse “Renegade” with a time of 16.29 seconds. In all, she went home with over $3,800, a trophy barrel saddle, two belt buckles and a top-5 qualifier vest. McIlwain said this was one of the the biggest competitions she’s ever been apart of.

“I was pretty excited and shocked, but very happy about it,” she said. “It was fun, I love going to them. I get a little nervous watching everyone else before jumping in there, but I had a great time.”

McIlwain, 19, has been involved in the sport since she was eight and although she competes in several other events including goat tying an roping, barrel racing she says, is her favorite. Normally a females only event, there are several competitions, including this one where males are also competing for the coveted championship belt buckles. In
the end, McIlwain clocked the best time.

“They (the boys) had some really good horses and did really well, but it’s whoever gets the fastest time,” she said. “That’s how it goes sometimes.”

The object of the event is simple; record the fastest time possible using a clover-leaf pattern and going around the barrels using two left turns and one right or vice versa. The timer begins when horse and rider cross the start line, and ends when the barrel pattern has been successfully executed and horse and rider cross the finish line.

McIlwain’s fastest time is 13 seconds, but she says there are several factors that can contribute to the times.

“It varies from the arenas that your in,” she said. “The one I ran in Jackson was a bigger arena, so that was a good time for that pen. But I’ve ran in smaller pens and ran 13.2. It just depends on how big or small the pattern is that you run.”

The fastest time can also depend on the horse. Hours and hours of training are put in to bond a relationship with the rider and their horse and for McIlwain and her horses, it was no different. She worked with “Champ” from a young age and although he is more familiar with short patterns he really surprised her in Jackson.

“He did really well,” she said. “I was very proud of him.” Her other horse “Renegade” she rides during her collegiate competitions.

The prize money awarded varies by the size of the competition, but McIlwain said this was her biggest pay-out of her riding career.

“Usually it’s around hundreds of dollars,” she said, “But I was tickled
to get that much.”

In all over $28,000 was up for grabs. And although she was happy with belt buckles, she’s going to relish in her trophy saddle for a few more weeks before she starts to use it.

“I love to look at it.”

Now a sophomore on the rodeo team at East Mississippi Community College, McIlwain hopes to have a much successful campaign in collegiate competition after riding most of her freshman year with a broken leg.
McIlwain hopes to move on to Mississippi State to finish her teaching degree but she still plans to ride in competitions.

“I can’t imagine to ever stop doing rodeo,” she said. “I plan to do that as long as I can.”

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