Many barrel race events take place in Alberta, but most of them take place at least four to five hours away from Hinton in central Alberta.
For Hinton riders to take part in competitions, they drive hours just to get there. This lead to local Bobbi Leakvold’s idea to host a big barrel racing event right at home, and so the Oil Country Barrel Challenge was born eight years ago.
Leakvold has been involved with the River Valley Riding Association (RVRA) for nearly 19 years.
“I just got involved because I was riding down there and I felt that if you’re going to be part of something you might as well do your part as well,” she said.
Together with another RVRA member, Leanne Campbell, they started the Oil Country Barrel Challenge.
“I wanted something here, local, a place for people to come. I knew we had a good facility, we have good ground. It’s beautiful scenery, there’s lots of space,” said Leakvold.
The event quickly became known for its big payouts and nice prizes as they go over and above what is normally seen at a jackpot race event, she added.
Campbell, who is participating in the event this year, added that it’s great to have one more event at the rodeo grounds, which are otherwise pretty quiet.
“It’s in our own town. As a competitor, who doesn’t want to win that much money and those awesome prizes?” Campbell said.
There’s no cost for people to watch and have a good time at the rodeo grounds. People are invited to camp and hang out together and over the years it has been nice to see familiar faces returning, Campbell said, adding that her eight-year-old daughter is also competing on her pony this year.
“It’s exciting, everyone’s out there having a good time, everyone is doing their best.”
A 3D format for barrel racing is used for the event, allowing riders at any level to compete.
The 3D format creates an equal playing field for riders, the fastest time of the whole race is the winner of the first division.
Then, one second is added to that fastest time, which is the winner of the second division, and another second added is the winner of the third division.
“The purpose of that is to give everybody of all different riding levels equal opportunity to win the exact same money and the exact same prizes,” said Leakvold.
“With the introduction of that it brings in way more contestants. We have upwards of 300 riders that come from BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan. It’s been a really successful race for sure.”
A second doesn’t seem like a lot of time to add, but it makes a huge difference when races are counted by thousands of a second, she explained.
“You can literally place 999 girls in a second,” she said.
The fastest division is filled with the faster horses no matter the riders level, in the past they’ve had a girl in the peewee division place the fastest time.
Friday night starts off with slot races, there are a 100 slots for $300 dollars and on Saturday they typically get 300 entries for $100 per horse. Within those two days, there’s $60,000 to win divided equally across each division. The top 10 per cent of Saturday’s riders continue on to race on Sunday for prizes donated by local companies.
“All of the local companies in Hinton and Edson have donated money for me to go out and buy saddles, buckles, horse blankets, boot bags, nice high quality prizes and those are given away to your fastest runs on Sunday,” said Leakvold.
The 2019 Oil Country Barrel Challenge runs from Sept. 6 to 8 at the Mary Reimer Memorial Park in Hinton.