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Barrel racers show agility and skill as high-speed horse competition returns to Worthington

Event draws riders from the tri-state area.

Barrel racing
Morgan Ober competes in barrel racing at the Worthington Barrel Racing Circuit earlier this month at the Nobles County Fairgrounds.
Special to The Globe
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WORTHINGTON — Morgan Ober started racing horses just five years ago, and now, she and her husband, Cody, have established the new Worthington Barrel Racing Series that runs twice per month inside the horse arena on the Nobles County Fairgrounds.

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Their next competition is Thursday evening, with open arena and exhibition time taking place from 4 to 6:30 p.m., and competition starting at 7 p.m. among three classes — PeeWee (ages 10 and younger), Youth (ages 11-17) and Open (18 and older). The competition is open to males and females, and typically draws riders from the tri-state area.

Their first event was May 26, during which 83 runs were completed. The contest went past 10:30 that evening, and Ober couldn’t have been more pleased with the turnout.

“Worthington has this nice arena, and why don’t we use it?” Ober said of her idea to bring a barrel racing circuit to the community. The arena has been largely unused since the 4-H Horse Show combined with Jackson County several years ago due to declining numbers in the project area.

Having a local contest closer to home is also appreciated. In recent years, Ober has traveled to race in Pipestone, Jackson and Parker, South Dakota. And she still gets to those contests when she can.

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Morgan Ober
Morgan Ober with her horse.
Special to The Globe

The rural Rushmore woman created a schedule to include two racing nights a month from June through August. Their second contest was June 7, and while the number of riders was smaller, there was still a lot of good racing.

“We’ve had a lot of people from all over — a lot of local people in southwest Minnesota, northwest Iowa, and Vermillion in southeast South Dakota,” Ober shared.

Ober hadn’t spent much time on a horse until she met her husband. She first began riding 7 years ago. Now, their two-year-old daughter just loves horses and competing in the PeeWee division of barrel racing. The youngest competitors have a parent seated with them on the horse.

“You’ll see anything from a little tiny pony up to a 17-hand horse,” Ober said of the equines brought in for the competitions. “I just love that the animal gives you 110%, no matter what. Even if you’re having a bad day, he’s going to give you his love and affection and just go out and give you his heart.”

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In barrel racing, riders run a cloverleaf pattern around a trio of barrels that are set up inside the arena. If a barrel is knocked over during a run, the run gets no score; if the barrel is bumped but doesn’t fall, they lose some points off of a perfect score.

“We’re running a standard pattern, which is a big pattern,” Ober said, adding that 18.883 seconds is the fastest time run thus far at the Worthington contest.

With many of the barrel races who have competed in Worthington also interested in pole bending, the Obers are considering adding that to the circuit next year.

“Just this first year I wanted to keep it simple — see if there’s enough interest,” she said.

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The Obers do all of the arena maintenance for the Worthington Barrel Racing Circuit, and are appreciative of the Nobles County Fair Board for mowing around the arena. They also appreciate the sponsors and the volunteers who have made the Worthington Barrel Racing Circuit a reality.

Flag on parade
The American flag waves as a rider brings it through the ring at the start of an evening of barrel racing in Worthington.
Special to The Globe

“Participants are willing to run the gates when they aren’t running and help out,” Ober said. “Parents and siblings of barrel racers are barrel setters, so it makes it a lot easier.”

She went door to door to local businesses seeking donations for awards to riders, and said Wilson Cattle Co. donated funds for the belt buckles this year.

Riders compete for the most points, with awards given out in each age division.

“They pay to ride and 75% of that is paid back,” Ober shared, adding that they give monetary prizes to first and second place in each age division. Those who compete in the series earn points to go toward the grand prize belt buckle and other prizes at the end of the season.

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The Worthington Barrel Racing Series contests for the remainder of the summer are: 7 p.m. July 14, 1 p.m. July 31, 1 p.m. Aug. 7 (during the Nobles County Fair), and 7 p.m. Aug. 18. All of the shows are free to attend, and food trucks are set up on site during each of the competitions.

The public is welcome to follow the Worthington Barrel Racing Series Facebook page for details about upcoming contests and information.

Limbering up their horses
Riders planning to compete in the Worthington Barrel Racing Circuit earlier this month walk their horses during open arena time in advance of the competition.
Special to The Globe

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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