A Magoffin County teenager is making a name for herself in a scene many around here know very little about: barrel racing.
Jackie Beth Arnett, 14 years old and a Magoffin County High School freshman, has been around horses her whole life, but happened across a barrel racing competition on television when she was around 9 years old. A year or so later she was able to watch it in person at a rodeo, which planted a seed in her mind.
Barrel racing is a rodeo event involving a horse and rider to attempt to exit the gate, navigate a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels and then go back through the gate in the fastest time.
“After that I talked about it once or twice a year, but when I was between 12 and 13 years old I begged my mom to let me do it,” Arnett told the Independent. “I talked about it anytime I got the chance and on my 13th birthday I opened all of my presents and the last one was a box with a website paper in it saying the trainer’s name and ‘congratulations, your lesson is Wednesday.’”
Despite being around horses her whole life, she said the first time she rode a horse during training she was clueless, nervous and scared.
“I’m still always nervous, but it’s an adrenalin rush,” Arnett explained.
She started with and old, well-broken gelding that was easy to ride, but after he was sold she started riding the horse named “Y’all French Kiss,” also known as Frenchie, a very large mare, 15 years old, with a much different temperament.
“She’s high-strung, always wild and always ready to go,” Arnett said. “The first time I rode her I was scared to death – and I still am – but I love her to death.”
Arnett explained that the horses do most of the work, but the rider is there to calm the horse and give it direction, but said the horse always picks up on her nerves.
“I sit up, put my hands down and try to calm her down,” Arnett said. “Most of the time she doesn’t, though. “She can sense my nerves so you just have to deal with it. If she starts raring up, I have to bear down, deal with it and turn her loose.”
Frenchie stands over 16 hands tall and is the granddaughter to the horse, Frenchmans Guy, the leading sire in the world worth over $11 million.
Arnett bought Frenchie, a sorrel mare, off of her trainer, Chuck Givens.
“She’s sassy and mean, doesn’t like to be petted, but lives for treats,” Arnett laughed. “She’s likes having her back scratched. I ride with a girl who had her before me and she tells me about her.”
She boards Frenchie with Chuck and Laurie Givens, and they take care of the horse, but she has to exercise her, meaning at least once a week – often more than that – she goes to Richmond to work her horse to keep her in competing shape.
The Givens train horses year-round, with an annual sale slated for later this month.
Right now, Arnett competes in the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) league competitions, but she hopes to also get into the National Barrel Horse Association, which Arnett said would have more opportunities to win bigger sums of money.
Only one year and seven months in, Arnett has already competed in more than 20 competitions, sticking mostly to shows in Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky and Indiana.
She said she regularly trains with Givens, competes in local shows as they come up and Givens lets her know when the big shows are scheduled.
“Chuck is a wise person and knows a lot about the industry,” Arnett said. “He’s hard on me, but I appreciate it.”
On the bigger shows, which usually last three to four days, she said they usually stay in campers or rent a hotel, boarding the horses in the stalls at the event.
“The hardest part is, it’s a physical and mental thing to ride and whenever you’ve worked so hard for something and mess up so quickly, it’s literally blood, sweat and tears,” Arnett said. “It makes it even better when you do well - working, competing and doing your best – makes you understand why you’re doing it. If I didn’t get nervous in the gate, I wouldn’t be doing it. It’s an adrenalin rush.”
As for the competitions, Arnett said she does not remember any of her runs, with her memories ending at sitting in the gate and picking back up 14 to 16 seconds later as she enters the gate, again.
“It’s so fast and I’m just in the moment, I can’t ever remember it,” Arnett said.
The 14-year-old said she hopes to keep up competing in the barrel races when she starts college in a few years, keeping it on the backburner while she pursues a career, but keep it as a hobby as long as she can.
“Whatever happens, happens,” Arnett said. “I would like to compete as long as I can and I’m determined to keep it up. It’s a lot of money and time. A lot of nights where you don’t get to go to sleep until 4 a.m. if you drew last.”
Arnett said it took her a little while to be accepted into the group, but the girls she competes with have all become one big rodeo family.
“We’re just a bunch of softies,” Arnett said. “If someone said something about my horse I’d break down. The girls are great and we all support each other. If you get a flat tire, they come to you. If a horse is out of shape, someone will work it. You help each other out. If you’re not a social person, you don’t need to get into it.”
Arnett said accidents are a large factor of the competition.
“There’s always a danger to it,” she explained. “You’ve got a 2,000-pound animal and a 200-pound chick and it changes the game.”
She said there’s a lot of injuries with barrel racing, but that’s just part of it.
“Every time you hit a barrel, you hit your knee,” Arnett said. “So if I hit a barrel in training, I’m limping into the school on Monday with everyone wondering what happened.”
In a competition, she said if someone knocks over a barrel, it’s a 5-second penalty.
“You win by one one-hundredth of a second, so it’s a tough competition,” Arnett explained.
Despite the tough competition and short amount of time she’s been in the game, Arnett has won a lot of local shows (which she described as anything close to Richmond), and placed often.
While she’s had many victories, she said the first time she placed in second, before ever even winning a competition, was a game-changer for her.
“I placed second in the second division and won a good amount of money,” Arnett remembered. “The was the first time I had an envelope in hand and I never dreamed in a million years I would place. I knew there were girls there better than me. Everyone knew there were girls better than me. We all knew it, but no one told the horse!”
At the beginning of August she participated in the Youth World Championship in Oklahoma as part of the Ohio State Fair.
“You have to have four points to get in, but every time you win a show you a half or a third of a point, so it was actually hard to qualify,” Arnett explained.
While she was nervous the night before, Arnett said a calmness came over her and Frenchie ran fast and clean, but she didn’t take her directly to the first barrel, veering off past it, costing them more time.
“She placed 31st out of 61 horses, so I was pleased with that,” Arnett said. “My trainer was proud we went out there and we knew it was going to be tough, but I was just going to get the experience.”
Arnett said her parents, Jeff and Jacqueline Arnett, grandmother, Brenda Powers, and her trainer Chuck and his wife Laurie Givens have supported her through this endeavor.
“A lot of people don’t understand why I do it, but a lot have helped me,” Arnett said. “It’s very humbly because you never know what can happen. Sometimes it’s disappointing. It’s always challenging. I’ve always had a passion for horses a love for animals since birth, but horses – there’s always been something about them.”
When she’s not with her horse or in school, Arnett is also on the volleyball team and she sings.
“You appreciate your down time with friends,” she explained. “It’s always go to school or race? Football game or race? I always choose racing. I can’t turn it down.”