More than 800 barrel racers in Ponoka for ABRA finals

More than 800 competitors searched for the best arc in Ponoka last weekend to compete at the Alberta Barrel Racing Association finals.

Speeding around the arc: Lisa Zachoda works to make the barrel with as small a corner as possible Aug. 24 during the ABRA finals. Zachoda finished second in the high point with 85.5 points.

Speeding around the arc: Lisa Zachoda works to make the barrel with as small a corner as possible Aug. 24 during the ABRA finals. Zachoda finished second in the high point with 85.5 points.

More than 800 competitors searched for the best arc in Ponoka last weekend to compete at the Alberta Barrel Racing Association (ABRA) finals.

It was a first both for the ABRA who usually host finals in Camrose, and for the Calnash Ag Event Centre, the largest event they have put on yet.

“We had a lot of stuff we had to do to get ready for it,” said Chas Lambert, general manager.

Organizers worked with the Ponoka Stampede Association to ensure there was land for competitors to park their trailers — as the ag centre grounds were overflowing — they prepared 80 extra stalls for the barn, and brought in extra tractor equipment to rake the barrel run.

“Our goal is to see this size of an event on a regular basis,” said Lambert.

Some competitors took some time to talk about what barrel racing means for them.

With 20 to 25 years of barrel racing experience, Theresa Giesbrecht of Rimbey, it’s about the speed. The faster, the better as a best time is determined by hundredths of a second. She could not contain her excitement as her horse, Kuzi, helped bring her a fast time at 18.031 in the second round. “What I’m just tickled about is this horse here has taken a whole second off.”

With some racers completing a run at 17.235 seconds, one second is a big deal.

She enjoyed competing against other woman at the ABRA finals as “it’s a good gauge if you’re looking to rodeo.”

Part of it is working with her horse, when she gets energetic enough that her horse feels it.

Another racer, Lisa Zachoda of Okotoks, came away second in the high point, with 85.5 points. Her fastest time was 17.331 seconds riding Dynamite Perfection.

She has been racing for the last 15 years.

“I like the competing, it gives you something to strive for,” said Zachoda.

It comes from one thing. “First of all, I love horses.”

Her dream has always been to compete at a high level and despite being one of the fastest riders, Zachoda is surprised when she does well.

Riding four to five days a week appears to help keep her ready, and staying fit comes from taking care of her horse, she explained. “It’s more of a total body workout.”

It is not only turns a rider needs to be skilled at. “You still have to have very fast horses, it’s so competitive,” said Zachoda, who is thankful for the opportunity to race. “We’re fortunate to be able to even do it.”

Here are the top three Open High Point results:

• First, Rene LeClercq from Holden, riding Preppies Sundown, 92 points.

• Second, Lisa Zachoda from Okotoks, riding Dynamite Perfection, 85.5 points.

• Third, Melissa Thiessen from Stettler, riding Shake Em Passem, 83 points.

Lambert has confirmed the ABRA finals will return to Ponoka next year.