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Champion barrel racer competes in Worlds

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By Rachel Johnson, Staff Writer

ASH—A little girl’s dream turned into a lifelong passion with a five-time path to the barrel racing Youth World Championships.

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Jesse McLamb, 19, never thought twice about it when her mother picked her up from Waccamaw Elementary School on horseback with her horse in tow. She simply climbed in the saddle and rode Shadow home.

Later in high school, she was known as the “Rodeo Queen” and would often be greeted by “Hey, Cowgirl,” as she walked down the halls of West Brunswick.

Shadow was Jesse’s first horse, an Arabian who is now 36 years old, a cancer survivor and is missing an eye.

“He was my babysitter,” Jesse said. “I retired him three years ago. He is my big dog. If people got on him to ride, he faked sick. He’d lay on the ground. I’d call the vet out and he’d get up and be fine when they got here.”

Shadow was a little girl’s dream come true.

When Jesse was a child, her parents got interested in horses. The family had six at their home in Calabash.

Ten years ago, they moved to a horse farm in Ash called Cypress Bend Farm & Stables. There, Jesse’s passion for equestrian sports came alive.

“My dad started everything. He was big into riding,” Jesse said. “My grandparents really started the racing.”

 

The hook

Jesse remembers being exposed to barrel racing for the first time at age 10. She went to watch her cousin barrel race. She remembers sitting and watching every race with a growing sense of purpose.

In barrel racing, the horse and rider enter an arena with three barrels. The goal is to set the fastest time while running around each barrel in a clover-leaf pattern.

“When I left I was determined that was what I wanted to do. I was dead set on it, hardcore,” Jesse said.

After it became clear she wasn’t to be swayed from racing, Jesse’s grandfather challenged her to find a quarter horse with potential. And she did. Jesse and her grandfather traveled to Elizabethtown, where she said their lives changed forever.

“There were four horses. I rode all four but it wasn’t as easy as I thought,” she said.

And then she saw a young quarter horse. His name was DHR Jetpower with a barn name of Stoner.

“I rode him and I fell in love. He was learning, too,” Jesse said.

Stoner’s name was taken from his father whose barn name was Sticks and Stones. His father was taken off the racetrack as a champion and went on to become a world champion barrel racer.

Stoner was taken off a quarter horse racetrack at age 2 and that is when he came into Jesse’s life.

 

Competition

Driven by her will to succeed and a passion for horses, Jesse began barrel racing about 8 years ago.

Prior to that she competed in pole bending and dash races. Just about every weekend from age 10 on, she has been involved in a competition.

“It was every Friday and Saturday and some all weekend,” she said.

She travels to races throughout the southeast including North Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia and more.

“If we find one we go,” she said.

The competition field is vast. At any particular event she can compete against 200 to 300 people.

She races all year in National Barrel Horse Association (NBHA) events to earn points to compete in the World Championship.

Jesse explained there are four divisions, and the top five competitors in each division advance to the World Championship. As she accumulates points she also wins prizes ranging from cash to saddles.

The hard work has paid off. Jesse recently competed in her fifth Youth World Championship.

In July, Jesse traveled to Perry, Ga., to compete with her two horses. There were 3,000 competitors. Jesse and Stoner made it into the finals, the top 20. A judging error occurred and Jesse, along with another finalist, were unable to run in the finals.

Jesse has already qualified for the World’s next July in the Open Category.

She admits traveling to the competition is a lot of work. With temperatures in the 100s, the horses have to be washed down four or five times a day, walked and fed. In past years she has taken up to four horses to compete in four spots she had earned. This year she brought along Stoner and Rebel.

 

Stoner and Rebel

“Stoner is an outstanding athlete,” Jesse said. “But he has anxiety problems.”

Often when Stoner approaches an arena gate with Jesse on his back he stands up and bucks.

She said when she is in competitions where the announcer knows her and Stoner, they will announce for the audience to clear the area. He has had a history of damaging things in his path including vehicles, motorcycles, chairs and people.

“Rebel is dependable. She usually places,” Jesse said. “If I can get Stoner in the gate, he will win the show,” Jesse said.

Jesse has come to realize, and so have her competitors, that if Stoner acts out to look out.

“If he acts like he’s going to kill me then you get a great show,” she said. “He loves to run. The older he gets the faster he gets.”

Stoner will be 7 this year. With his age, he has become set in his ways.

“He will not practice during the week,” Jesse said. “As soon as I walk toward the arena, he throws a temper tantrum.”

Evetta’s Effort, otherwise known around the barn as Rebel, has been with Jesse for nearly eight years. She has won many awards and has qualified numerous times with Jesse for the World Championship.

“The two are completely different,” Jesse said. “She is very fast. I have to actually ride her. She works up to her speed. Stoner is full speed around every barrel. I have to hang on. He is uncommon because he is a natural barrel horse. He’s the star. It is hard to train a horse to barrel race, but the moment we found that click, we went from being at the bottom of the totem pole to pulling in and everybody knowing who I am.”

 

Danger

“Barrel racing is rated the second most dangerous sport under bull riding,” Jesse said.

She is no stranger to the pains of playing the game. She has broken her foot seven times as well as breaking her wrist, finger, collarbone, ribs and countless scrapes including ones on her face and a concussion.

“I’ve been gashed from the barrels, bucked off, thrown off, kicked off, bit and stomped,” Jesse said. “When I was younger, I was in the doctor’s office every other month.”

The injuries never slowed her down. She has raced barrels with casts on her foot and arm.

“It’s dangerous to have a 1,000-pound animal running at such extreme speeds,” Jesse said. “It takes a lot of time, practice, tears and scars. You have to really understand them. Horses are just like kids. They all have their own personality.”

Each of her horses has a special place in her heart.

“Shadow taught me how to ride, and Stoner taught me how to hang on,” Jesse laughed.

 

The future

As a young girl Jesse wanted to be a veterinarian. That is until she job shadowed a vet and was given a few words of advice.

“It was all I wanted to do until she told me she hadn’t ridden her horse in three years because you don’t want to come home and do your job again,” Jesse said. “I can never imagine my life without them. My first horse (Shadow) was my best friend.”

For now Jesse is staying in Ash and attending Southeastern Community College. She turned down a full scholarship to rodeo school at Cal-Poly in California. The scholarship was in Stoner’s name and was contingent upon his health.

She declined and stayed in Brunswick County with the loves of her life—all of them.

Jesse loves to share her passion for horses with others. She is available to train horses, teach lessons and lead trail rides. Call Cypress Bend Farm for more information 287-6662.

 

Rachel Johnsonis a staff writer at The Brunswick Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or rjohnson@brunswickbeacon.com.