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Manorville barrel horse competition tests riders

Kenneth Schwamb rides during the Open Barrel Race

Kenneth Schwamb rides during the Open Barrel Race in Manorville on Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. Photo Credit: Ed Betz

Matthew Schwamb may be just 12 years old, but atop his quarter horse Fly By, he has the steely-eyed determination of a seasoned veteran.

His objective at a Manorville barrel horse competition Saturday: to navigate Fly By around three barrels set in a cloverleaf pattern that fill a corral at Hidden Pond Stables -- all at top speeds and without tipping over a single barrel.

When the clock starts, Matthew zips toward the first barrel, cuing Fly By to make the turn around it with a squeeze of his leg and shift of his weight. The pair lean at a diagonal angle during the circumnavigation and quickly ride on to the next two barrels, completing the same precarious formation in under 20 seconds.

"The closer to the barrel you are, the faster you go," said Schwamb, who has been riding since he was 3.

Schwamb was one of about 45 riders, ages 9 to 70, who participated in the event organized by the NY03 district of the National Barrel Horse Association. The competition continues Sunday.

Riders said they are drawn to the adrenaline rush and the tight-knit community's camaraderie, evident in competitors cheering for each other.

"It's exciting once you get in there," said Sue Fiore, 70, of Lindenhurst, who is director of the NY03 district, which includes Long Island and some of Westchester County.

"You gotta remember when to turn, when to pick up the rein, when to sit back, when to sit up. There's a lot of things to remember, especially for an old person," she said, laughing.

Horses also must be trained, Fiore said. Most riders do "slow work" with horses new to the sport, directing the horse to trot or walk in a circle before progressing to a run.

"When they turn, it's very stressful on their bodies," she said. "They have to learn how to turn without getting hurt."

Sheralee Fiore, 43, of Lindenhurst, said that to navigate each turn, the horse must sit back on hind legs and then launch out of that position to run to the next barrel.

"You don't want their weight on the front end," said Fiore, Sue's daughter and co-director of the district. "You want all the power to come from the hind end."

Horse and rider must work as a team, said Matthew's father, Ken Schwamb, 41, who races and uses kissing sounds to get the horse to go faster.

It's a family affair for the Schwambs. Ken's wife, Clarisse, 41, and son Dustin, 9, also compete.

For Michelle Miller, 27, of East Hampton, the sport offers riders the opportunity to compete against themselves, since a clock determines their scores and prizes that can range from $30 to $280 -- unlike other equine races with judges.

"The best part about it is the bond," said Miller, offering a bucket filled with water to her 9-year-old quarter horse, Frenchy, whose dark mane features a lone braid with a peacock feather. "She's my buddy."


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