Deena C. Bouknight
No one in Annie Jenkins family nor any of her friends aspired to become a competitive equestrian. Yet, when Jenkins watched barrel racing for the first time when she was 10 years old, she become so hooked that she saddled her mixed-breed horse and practiced running around hay bales in her neighbor’s hay field. Fast forward to age 32, and Jenkins practices three to five days a week to ready herself and her horse for the Feb. 6-9, 2020 World Barrel Racing League Finals, for which she is the only known qualifier from Macon County.
Franklin native Jenkins, a part-time assistant at Macon Program for Progress, began competing at age 12. However, she became “serious,” entering major competitions, just two years ago. “I decided this is what I wanted to do the rest of my life.”
She qualified for the World Finals, to be held in Perry, Ga., by entering several top “races” throughout the year. “You have to earn so many points. If you earn so many, you qualify for higher divisions.” Even though she was not able to compete to earn points for as many months that are available in the qualifying season, due to her horse’s need to recover from an injury and a hoof issue, she still had enough points to learn in November that she was a World Finals qualifier and will compete against hundreds of global competitors for four days next month.
International Barrel Racing Association describes the timed equestrian sport of barrel racing this way: “The course consists of barrels placed in a triangle in the middle of an arena. The rider races into the arena with the timer starting when the team crosses the start line, and ends after completing the clover leaf pattern and racing to cross the finish line.”
Jenkins said the time to complete the course and cross the finish line varies from rider to rider. She started out at an average time of 17 to 18 seconds, but was able to “shave off” at least three seconds of her time through mentored training and rigorous practice. “My average time now is 15 to 15-and-a-half seconds,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s raining, sleeting, snowing, whatever. I take my horse to the covered arena [in Clayton, Ga.] and work him.”
Jenkins purchased “Fame and Fortune” (Fame for short) as a two year old. She started him in barrel racing when he was 4 years old; he is currently 6. However, her horse is not what the barrel racing culture would have deemed a potential champion.
“He’s pigeon-toed, so keeping his feet sound has been blood, sweat, and tears. When I found him, I was really going to look at a different horse. I saw him in his stall and he looked awful. He was 600 pounds underweight. But he put his head up against my stomach. I didn’t even look at the horse I went to look at. After a few months, he started getting weight on him. And I put him on a special hoof supplement, he wears horse shoes, and he has a good farrier.” Fame also did not cost much, compared to the cost of many champion-bred barrel racing horses.
Although she has owned other horses, she has bonded most with Fame. And Jenkins is so committed to her sport that she has even ridden with a broken hand and wrist.
She said she plans to continue competing indefinitely as a barrel racer. She has met women competing in their 60s and 70s.
“Generally you want to be out on the road competing in your teens,” she explained, “but I grew up poor and it wasn’t possible until a few years ago. The entry fees, all the maintenance of the horse, clothing, travel … it’s all pretty expensive. But I love it for the speed, the adrenaline rush. When I’m racing, I’m going about 35 miles an hour, and then stopping and starting.”
Jenkins admitted she also likes to “look at all the pretty horses” at barrel racing events.
With serious competitions comes serious money.
“My ultimate goal would be to make money from it and be on the road barrel racing all the time. I love it and my horse loves it.”
According to Jenkins, the World Barrel Racing World Finals will attract competitors from as far away as Argentina and Canada, and cash prizes, horse trailers, saddles, belt buckles, and more will be awarded to riders with the fastest times.
“I will race once each day … four times. Competitors run every day and judges combine all the times on the 8th and the top 12 in each division go back for the finals on the 9th.
“I’m nervous … terrified, but I hide it well and I trust my horse. He acted professional before he really was. He gives me 120 percent. Even when I’ve been sick, he picks up the slack.”
Assisting Jenkins Feb. 6-9 will be her fiancée Daniel Dills.
“He has been with me through this. He doesn’t ride, but he’s the best groomer I’ve ever had. He can make my horse shine like a copper penny.”
No matter the outcome at the World Barrel Racing League Finals, Jenkins said she will continue focusing on the equestrian sport. She occasionally will purchase young horses and train them to either sell or keep as a future competitor. But a goal is to “work regularly with and teach children how to barrel race and do other show events. I’d like to take them under my wing and haul them to shows.”
She added, “Barrel racing has come far. I want to reach out to kids and give them information and opportunities I didn’t have. Barrel racing teaches kids responsibility, money management, and care for the horse …”
A March of Dimes barrel racing competition in Clayton, Ga., April 11 at the Rabun Arena, will showcase Jenkins’ barrel racing skills for those interested in seeing her compete locally.