Camaraderie, adrenaline and fun are in obvious abundance at a barrel horse race.
At a recent event on a sultry Sunday afternoon, about 30 spirited horses and their equally enthused riders, ages 10 to 63, are kicking up lots of dirt at Hidden Pond Stables in Manorville.
When each rider’s name is called, they come barreling into the ring, guiding their horses in a tight circle around three 55-gallon drums arranged in a large triangle at dizzying, breakneck speeds — it’s over in well under 30 seconds.
“Get! Get!” yells Michelle Miller, 28, of East Hampton to her mount, Frenchy. But she’s disqualified for knocking down the third barrel.
RACING AS SPORT
For the Schwambs, who keep several steeds at their home stables in Bohemia, horse racing is a family affair.
“My kids were born on the horses. They’ve been riding since 2 or 3,” says Clarisse Schwamb, 42.
“The wind’s in your face and it all happens at once,” says Matthew Schwamb, 12, of barrel racing. At 16.633 seconds, Matthew goes on to win the junior division drag that day.
“You just bounce around,” says Dustin Schwamb, 10. “You go fast and it’s fun — and you win lots of money.”
Not so, says Sue Fiore, who runs the Long Island events and heads the local chapter of the National Barrel Horse Association. Any money to a child seems like a huge sum, she says. Winnings, for which she declined to give any figures, are based on the number of racers: the more entries, the bigger the pot.
Though this is a highly competitive sport, there’s an abiding sense of bonhomie among the fellow riders who gamely cheer each other on.
“Loosen up,” Ken Schwamb yells to another competitor during her ride. The horse will go smoother if you relax, he explains. As a farrier — a craftsman who shoes horses — Schwamb, 43, knows his way around an equine.
The barrel-racing community is a rather insular one, and over time, everyone begins to feel like family. Former racers still come to events, these days as spectators, mostly standing close to the railings in rapt attention. On this day, there are a few dozen onlookers.
“I’m older. I don’t balance well anymore,” says John Gallucci, 58, of Ronkonkoma, who says with his children grown, his empty nest feels less so with the horses they keep at their stables.
Nerves — not age — are the issue for Lynne Barba, of Ridge, who cracked several ribs after falling from her spooked horse several years ago.
“I probably get more nervous than anyone here, but I still do it,” says Barba, who at 62 is the oldest rider of the day.
That’s only because Fiore, 71, had to bow out of racing this season due to surgery.
“I just love it,” says Fiore, of Lindenhurst. “It’s an adrenaline rush. You get on the horse. You’re out there. You’re running as fast as you can, turning around the barrels, trying to not knock them down. It’s a lot of thinking and doing.”
Her daughter, Sheralee Fiore, 44, of Lindenhurst, who runs the events with her mom, wins the day’s open division drag.
“I like the speed,” Sheralee says. “You need to take your time with the horse.” Completing her race in 16.025 seconds, that’s barely any time at all.
National Barrel Horse Association competition
WHEN | WHERE 11 a.m.-3 p.m. July 9-10 at Hidden Pond Stables, 197 North St., Manorville. Also Sept. 24 and Oct. 1-2.