They chase 17 seconds of glory. That time, or preferably less, usually wins in the sport of barrel racing.
“At the level we compete at, you have to be very disciplined,” says Jane Melby of Burneyville. “It’s like a full-time job, but you are doing what you love. It is long days, all-night drives, and it is rush … rush … rush … to prepare for 17 seconds or less.”
In barrel racing, the rider guides a horse in an arena through a series of barrels in a clover leaf pattern. Control is as important as speed. The fastest rider and horse win. Tens of thousands of dollars, belt buckles, trophies, equine-related gear and memorabilia – not to mention bragging rights – are prizes that these competitors covet.
Melby has ridden horses ever since she was a little girl. At an early age, she got the desire to compete in barrel racing. It was a love that stuck with her for a lifetime. She passed it on to her daughter, Cayla.
Now both Melbys compete in barrel racing all over the United States and Canada. Both have won numerous awards, which include 2X World Champion Barrel Racer, National Junior High Rodeo Finals Champion Barrel Racer and the Women’s Professional Rodeo Associate Rookie of the Year.
On the outside, this sport might seem like a glorious fun time, but the realities are sacrifice and hard work, Jane Melby says. The sport has a lot grunt work, like taking care of a horse and stables, besides riding, practicing and getting from one city to another.
Cayla Melby agrees: “It can be difficult. It’s a lot of struggles; 20 percent of the time things go right. The other 80 percent you are working on what went wrong.”
A good rider has to be trained the same way a good horse is trained, Jane Melby says.
The Melbys spend a lot of time practicing with their horses. Jane owns nine horses, and Cayla owns 16. They also teach other riders the fine art of barrel racing with clinics taught throughout the United States and Canada. In addition, Jane Melby sells embryos from her champion mare, RC Back in Black, a phenomenal barrel racer named after AC/DC’s hard rock classic.
“RC Back in Black made my dreams come true,” Jane Melby says. “She was the mare I was riding when I qualified for my first National Finals Rodeo. I won over $150,000 in career earnings with her before she chipped her knee running into a turn-out pen.”
These days, RC Back in Black enjoys life at the Royal Vista Southwest, an equine reproduction farm in Purcell.
Growing up in northern Minnesota, Jane Melby says she had to learn about horses and barrel racing the hard way.
“I tell young people wanting to get started that it takes a lot of ‘try,’” she says. “You need to be determined and have a strong work ethic. Having a horse and taking care of it properly is a lot of work in itself … not including learning how to ride and compete.”