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When children get involved in an activity, many times, their parents get roped in as well. Carroll County’s John Perkins was one such parent. What he did not expect was to come off the sidelines and jump in himself.
Perkins said his daughter Christy wanted a pony when she was 12 years old. She got involved in 4-H and was introduced to barrel racing by Bud Skaggs. Barrel racing competitions involve a horse and a rider racing against the clock to see who can maneuver in a designated pattern around three barrels the fastest without knocking any of them over. Normal races are 14-15 second patterns, he said, however some could be up to 17 or 18 second patterns. There is no set pattern for a race.
As she began competing, his daughter needed a bigger horse and things snowballed from there. “One thing led to the next and the next, and we had a whole bunch of horses,” Perkins said.
However, as children sometimes do, Christy eventually grew out of barrel racing. “I got stuck with a barn full of 1-D horses, and no one to ride them,” Perkins said. He and his family live on a farm off Buffalo Creek Road.
Professional trainer Jim Berry rode the horses for him for a few years until he got sick with cancer. Perkins exercised the horses and would take them to horse shows and pay someone else to ride in the competitions for him.
One night in 2005, at a race in Warsaw, there was no one to ride his horse, and a friend suggested that he take the mare out to exercise it. Well, the mare expected to race, Perkins said, and the duo ended up winning the 1-D heat. Perkins went on to win four more races in a row after that. “I’ve been stuck doing that ever since,” he said, “and have grown to love it.”
And, over time, he has gotten very good at it.
Perkins won first place in the International Barrel Racing Association’s Masters Division National Finals last year with a 15.062 and looks to defend his title this year. The competition began Tuesday, Oct. 2 and will culminate in the finals Saturday, Oct. 6.
This year’s competition will be held at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville. It has been held the past two years in Wilmington, Ohio, then in Murfreesboro, Tenn., before that. This season, Perkins said he led the state in points until the state finals when his favorite horse, Pay Day Meyer, got hurt and was out for eight weeks.
Barrel-racing competitors earn points throughout the season to try to be one of the top five runners in the state, called “Top Dogs.” The year-long season begins July 31. Those individuals automatically qualify for the state finals; however other riders also have a chance to qualify.
Perkins competes in both the open and masters divisions. Normally, he will run two horses in a competition. In this area, each horse runs the course only once to try and get the fastest time; however, national competitions have different setups.
In the international competition, 20 people will qualify automatically from the state for the open class, Perkins said. He estimates 600 riders will run in the open class and about 250 people in the masters class to make it in the competition.
Perkins has competed against professional riders who come from as far away as France and Italy. “I look for it to be big this year,” he said. “It will be harder to win it this year than last year.”
Perkins differs from most other barrel racers in that he began competing on a 1-D horse, which is the highest quality. Most start on a 3-D or 4-D horse and work their way up.
He won the national finals last year on the back of Pay Day Meyer, a quarter horse owned by Berry, his former trainer. Perkins said Berry was an “old cowboy,” who believed in caring for his horses himself rather than taking them to the doctor.
Berry fell with Pay Day Meyer when the horse was 5 years old. Berry could not figure out what was wrong with the horse and quit riding him. However, when Perkins began barrel racing, Berry suggested he start riding Pay Day Meyer.
Perkins took the horse to the chiropractor and discovered that the horse’s right front shoulder had been out of place for about five years. He began riding Pay Day Meyer in 2007, but it took him some time to convince the horse that he was not injured anymore. The duo won their first races in 2008, and he is the main horse Perkins rides in competitions.
“The best horse I’ve ever rode in my life,” he said of Pay Day Meyer.
When asked what is his favorite part about barrel racing competitions, Perkins said the excitement and the people.
“There’s a tremendous amount of good people involved in horses,” he said. “ … You can go to a horse show and there are so many people. They’re so nice; they’ll give you the shirt off their back. … In horse shows, they may be in competition against you, but they’re really nice people.”
Perkins said he has gotten a lot of support for his racing. In years past, most of the sponsors have been from companies out of town, but this season, a number of local companies have supported him.
Perkins said he wanted to thank Ghent Saw Mill, NAPA, Gene and Son, Luhn and Oak Construction and Farm Bureau Insurance.
“Without people like that, it’s hard for a person like me (to compete),” he said. “I’m just a regular guy, not a professional rider. … With help and support like that, it makes it a whole lot easier.”