Farm Horizons, April 2012

Local cowgirl races her way to the top in barrels

By Kristen Miller

“Mark my words, someday she will be the top barrel racer in Minnesota,” said Dave Riegstad, owner of Smilin’ D Arena in Kandiyohi, of 17-year-old champion youth barrel racer Vickie Simenson. She was the winner of the National Barrel Horse Association’s (NBHA) state championship for youth at Fergus Falls last August.

Simenson, a senior at Dassel-Cokato High School, has been competing on horseback since age 5.

“She’s been on a horse all her life,” said Vickie’s grandfather, Dellis Simenson.

In 2007, she began focusing completely on barrel racing, a rodeo event where three barrels are placed in the shape of a clover and whoever gets around them in the fastest time wins.

Each year, Vickie competes in roughly 12 events within a three-month period. In order to qualify for state finals, riders must compete in at least three shows at the district level.

It was her first time competing at state, where all of the six districts compete against each other. This year, there were 130 participants competing.

Her winning time – 15.7 seconds.

In barrel racing, competition is very close, and becoming the champion in the youth 1D “felt awesome,” Vickie said, adding she never thought she would make to finals, much less become champion.

Not only is she the state champion, Vickie also breaks and trains her own horses – with some pointers from trainer Sue Ahlgren of rural Darwin. Ahlgren is also a fellow champion barrel racer, receiving a trophy saddle in the senior division (age 50 and older) at the NBHA in Fergus Falls.

“It was just a good weekend for both of us,” Ahlgren said. Oftentimes, in open class, the two will find themselves competing against each other.

Of course, Ahlgren likes to win, but she always says, “If I can’t win, I want a student or horse I trained to out-run me.” Ahlgren competes in roughly 50 to 60 shows throughout the year. In October, she will be competing with three qualified horses at the NBHA World Championship in Georgia.

Ahlgren won her event on a horse named Jackie, which she had previously sold. Her good horse had been hurt so she needed to borrow one. “I had to thank her (the owner) big time,” she said.

As Vickie’s trainer, Ahlgren sees much potential in the young rider.

“Lots of people want to ride, but not everyone wants to, or can become a horseman,” Ahlgren said. “Vickie has a natural feel and timing . . . She is truly becoming a horseman.”

Becoming a horseman takes time, Ahlgren commented, who has been showing horses for nearly 50 years. “Only for the last 20 years have I really worked at becoming a horseman,” she said.

Ahlgren described a horseman as someone who works hard to understand the way the horse thinks and the mechanics on how it moves, “and then works to develop the timing and the feel to set the horse up to be willing and able to move correctly,” Ahlgren said. “It takes years.”

Vickie has been training her 8-year-old registered quarter horse, Dodge, for competition for the past four years. His registered name is Hombres Rock Hancock.

To get him ready for competition, she started him out slow, getting Dodge used to the different cues used for barrel racing. “There is a lot of exercises and paces you put them through before you even start the barrel pattern,” she said.

One thing required is a horse with a lot of flexibility, she commented.

Ahlgren also commented on how well-rounded of a rider Simenson is.

In 2011, Vickie was eighth in the world for the youth in the National Sorting Cow Horse Association (NSCHA).Vickie has also appeared in The Working Horse, a national publication for the performance horse and rider.

Though she has excelled in sorting, Vickie has decided to focus on barrel racing since that is what she started out with, she said.

The upcoming year of competition, Vickie is still eligible to compete in the youth division, but will also compete in open class.

Vickie comes from a family of riders. Her dad, Steve, has showed horses, as well as his wife (Vickie’s stepmother), Lynn. Her grandfather, Dellis, also grew up with horses.

When asked what she particularly likes about riding and competition, she said, “everything.”

By showing, she gets to meet a lot of people. “It’s just fun,” she said.

The competition arena has also taught her a lot about horses and riding, watching video from competitions to see how she can improve for next time.

Her sponsorship is with the Howard Lake Country Store, which helps pay for part of the entry fees. That’s also where Vickie gets her feed for her horses, she noted.

Vickie’s ultimate goal is to someday compete in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and go to the national finals in Las Vegas.

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