PORTER TWP. – At the age when most kids are peddling around on a small tricycle, or maybe a bicycle with training wheels, a four-year-old Kendall Kirkpatrick began learning how to ride a horse.
Now, at age 12, Kirkpatrick’s dedication to riding has paid off as she prepares to take part in the rodeo barrel racing event at the Junior World Finals this December in Las Vegas.
Kirkpatrick and her older sister Sydney, 13, competed in a qualifying event for the Junior World Finals in early September in Lexington, Va.
“It was some tough competition,” Jessica Kirkpatrick, their mother, said. “They are well experienced and work really hard.”
In her age group at the Virginia event, Kendall Kirkpatrick and her horse, Snap, competed against riders from all over, including Canada, Georgia and Tennessee. While she finished fourth during an earlier qualifying event in Bloomsburg, Kendall ended up placing first in Virginia, making her eligible to take part in the Junior World Finals.
The Kirkpatricks explained that at the Finals, Kendall will compete twice, on Dec. 11 and 13. If she makes it through those rounds of competition, the finals will be held on Dec. 14.
In barrel racing, the horse and rider team navigate a pattern around three barrels as quickly as possible. Locally, Kendall took part in the event at the rodeo at this summer’s Clarion County Fair. She also competes in a number of shows throughout the area, as well as some out of state. One of their farthest trips so far was to the Junior American competition in Texas last February.
“They ride year-round, even when it’s cold,” their mother said. “It’s a lot of work but they love to do it.”
Kendall said there is much more to the competition than the actual racing. Riding around five times a week for practice, she said she also gets up early every day to take care of the horse before she goes to school.
“We clean the stalls, give them treats, pet them, brush them,” she said. “You have to have a bond with your horse.”
She has developed that bond with Snap, a light brown female horse, who at age 12, is middle-aged for horses.
“She is very tall and quick and fast,” Kendall said. “She acts like she’s a princess — she’s very confident.”
While she mainly rides Snap in the competitions, Kendall also has a younger horse she is also working with to train for future events.
Although horse riding takes up the bulk of her time, Kendall said she is also active in her church and youth group, as well as chorus at school.
As they prepare for the trip to Las Vegas, Jessica Kirkpatrick said that her husband, Ryan, will haul the horse across the country, while she and the girls, as well as younger brother, Easton, and several members of their cheering section, will fly out and meet them there for the event.
They likened the Junior World Finals to the Super Bowl for their sport’s season-ending event.
“It’s what everybody strives to get to,” Jessica Kirkpatrick said.