Quiet summer leading to Oil Country Barrel Challenge

Masha Scheele Photo

Alexa Parker makes the turn during a barrel racing run at the Alberta Barrel Racing Association jackpot ride Aug. 19 at the Mary Reimer Rodeo Grounds. The grounds will host the annual Oil Country Barrel Challenge from Sept. 11-13.

Masha Scheele

Hinton’s rodeo grounds are usually busy each summer with weekly barrel racing jackpots, rodeo competitions, and people practicing their skills.

Alberta Barrel Racing Association (ABRA) and River Valley Riding Association (RVRA) both use the facilities for weekly events, but were shut down until the middle of July due to the pandemic.

ABRA was given permission to run a scaled down version of their regular jackpots, and are making sure to follow the provincial pandemic regulations.

“We’re limited to 100 people outdoors and that includes the spectators, judges, timers, etc.,” said Cathy Barber, who runs the ABRA jackpots at the Mary Reimer Arena.

Less people are attending the jackpots as well as participating. On an average night prior to the pandemic, about 15 adults would participate, whereas this summer their biggest night saw 10 adults, Barber explained.

The reason less people are entering could have something to do with the cancellation of the finals, she noted.

Members of ABRA have to run in a certain amount of jackpot events to qualify for the finals, which would have been held in Ponoka this year.

“They figured why should they buy a membership for [more than] $100 and ride all year and have nothing to ride towards,” Barber said.

Members can ride in any ABRA sanctioned event, which would count towards their qualification for finals. 

Adults have to ride nine events to qualify, while youth have to ride six. They don’t need to place in the events but must participate.

Each participant pays an entry fee, which is paid back to the riders at the end of the jackpot within three divisions.

“A group of girls originally started this 25 years ago, so everybody had a fair chance at barrel racing from beginner to novice up,” Barber said.

Finals would have been held at the end of August and generally sees 700 to 800 adults running, approximately 200 intermediates, and 100 peewees aged five to eight.

After the finals, ABRA normally hosts two jackpots in September and two in October, depending on the weather.

“Generally we quit after that because we don’t have an indoor arena. A lot of the girls may go to Edson, Edson quite often holds them in winter, not always,” Barber said.

While ABRA has been in the arena every other week, RVRA has been able to host a small barrel series, The River Valley Summer Series.

“It’s been a quiet season for us at RVRA. We cancelled our auction in April and our annual rodeo in July,” said Shauna Cruden, a member of RVRA.

As a board, RVRA decided to allow no outside bookings such as weddings due to COVID-19 as well.

“Aside from that we have Oil Country Barrel Challenge coming up and the arena has been used for open riding,” Cruden added.

Hinton’s biggest barrel racing event, the Oil Country Barrel Challenge, will be limited to 150 entries this year. The limited entries will ensure the number of contestants, spectators, and grounds crew stay below restriction limits.

Two members of the local River Valley Riding Association (RVRA) started the Oil Country Barrel Challenge nine years ago.

The event quickly became known for its big payouts and nice prizes as both aspects go over and above what is normally seen at a jackpot race event. 

However, this year there will be no short go and slot races or prizes due to the current pandemic and economic circumstances, according to the RVRA Facebook page.

Instead of slot races on Friday, there will be “Time Only” runs from 2 pm until 8 pm.

A 3D format for barrel racing is used for the event, allowing riders at any level to compete.

The 2020 Oil Country Barrel Challenge runs from Sept. 11 to 13 at the Mary Reimer Memorial Park in Hinton. For more information, go to Oil Country Barrel Challenge on Facebook.