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By Emily McAfee
Delaney Denham, age 15, competes in horse competitions across the country. Delaney and her horse compete in barrel racing and pole bending events.
Delaney is from Clark County and she is a sophomore. Her parents are Kim Helbing and David Denham. Kim used to train horses and she competed in horse reining and halter competitions.
Since she was little, Delaney has ridden horses. After being around the horses, she decided that she wanted to start barrel racing.
The first barrel race that Delaney competed in was in October of 2018 on a pony.
“She wasn’t a real barrel horse, but I knew that was what I wanted to do, so I convinced my dad. I really wanted a barrel horse and he thought oh you are going to grow out of it, but I finally convinced him. I got an actual barrel horse in November of 2018,” Delaney said.
Her first barrel horse’s name was Willie and he was a registered American Quarter Horse. In March of 2020, she decided to sell Willie and buy a new barrel horse named Lil Man, who is six years old.
“That was when I started actually competing because on Willie, we just went to smaller Jackpots, but with Lil Man he’s taken me really far and he’s kind of the one who started it.”
“He was a futurity, so he was running at like three years old, but it takes a while for them to get super consistent unless you are really pushing them. With Lil Man, Hannah, his old owner never pushed him super hard, but he’s just now starting to tap into his full potential and that’s been three years. It all depends on the horse. A lot of the time they are super consistent by five,” Delaney said.
The futurity horse competitions focus on a horse’s first year of competition. These horses must be 5 years old or younger to compete in specific events.
For barrel racing, three barrels are set up in a triangular shape in an arena. The objective of the barrel racer is to go around the three barrels in a specific pattern as fast as they can without knocking over a barrel.
After a horse gets the pattern down, you have to keep up with their exercise routine. Delaney exercises Lil Man daily with slow work which she describes as “things to keep them fresh on the pattern.”
“We never really train them because once they know the pattern it’s all about more runs under their belt and you don’t really have to tune on them unless they start to have problems.”
“We do slow work probably two to three times a week and that’s usually me doing it, but I’m learning from Hannah,” Delaney said.
Hannah Kaufman is Delaney’s trainer and she is from Russellville, Missouri. Hannah trains horses for different types of events and she also trains futurity horses.
Lil Man is easy for Delaney to handle but she says some horses “have to be drilled on quite a bit.”
When barrel racing, a rider can choose which barrel to go around first and this determines the direction of the turns in the pattern.
“It depends which barrel you go to first, so Lil Man goes to the right barrel first, so he has one right turn and two left turns. Some horses run to the left barrel first where it’s one left turn and two right turns. It just depends on what they like,” Delaney said.
A barrel racer requires certain equipment to compete and sometimes certain competitions have different requirements.
Some of the equipment needed is horse protection boots, a bridle, a saddle, a saddle pad, and a breast collar. There are also some competitions that have a dress code.
“Sometimes they have a dress code where it’s either a button-down shirt, hat or helmet. There are some barrel racers where there is no dress code and you can wear whatever,” Delaney stated.
Delaney competes in pole bending events as well. Lil Man is new to this event, but he performs well in these competitions.
“He hasn’t been on the poles that long, but he runs really well. I think when I bought him he never ran in poles and he just did it on his own. All you do is run down and you weave through six poles and weave back up and then you come back.”
Delaney has been to competitions in Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Tennessee, Illinois, and South Dakota. She hopes to continue traveling to other states in the future.
“I’ve been all over. I really like BBR, which is Better Barrel Races. I’ve been to their world finals twice. It’s a super fun experience. I also really like the Power House in Festus, Missouri.”
“I’ve been to BFA, which is Barrel Futurities of America. I actually ran one of Hannah’s colts, which is Lil Man’s sister and she did really good. I really liked it there and that’s why I’m trying to get more into futurity training,” she said.
Last year Delaney qualified for Junior American in poles, but she was unable to attend. This year she hopes to go, and she also plans on going to Las Vegas to the Junior NFR and the Vegas Tuffest.
Delaney has won a buckle for pole bending and some cash prizes for poles and barrels.
“If you do the sets consistently all year, you can get year-end awards and that’s where we got the buckle from.”
The prizes for the competitions can include buckles, saddles, or money.
Certain horse competitions are split into divisions based on how fast a horse completes the event. These divisions can be 1D, 2D, 3D, 4D, and even 5D.
1D or the 1st Division is the fastest time a horse and rider run in an event. The next division begins a 1/2 second or a second after the fastest time. The time that you run for the event determines what division you are in and what prizes you may win.
Delaney explains how these divisions are split up in barrel racing and pole bending.
“The 1st Division is the fastest and then usually they do 1/2 second splits at shows but sometimes they do full second splits. For pole bending it’s actually full second splits. In barrel racing, if a 14.5 won it you would have to run a 15.0 to be in the 2D.”
Delaney goes to most of her shows on Friday, Saturday, and Sundays. Delaney tries to start her competitions in March and she tries to give her horse a couple of months off in the winter and a month or so off in the summer to rest.
This summer, Delaney plans on working for Hannah and taking on a few client horses.
Barrel racing and pole bending is Delaney’s passion and she wants to continue her work with horses.
“I love it so much, the people it’s brought to me and I just like going fast honestly. It’s just what I’m meant to do I guess. I know it’s what I’m going to do in the future and I know I’m going to make a living off of it, like it’s going to be my whole life,” Delaney smiled.
Lil Man and Delaney’s first run for the year is March 12th.