Lindsey Pace rides into the dirt arena at Circle C Saddle Club astride a horse with the unlikely name of Doctor Feel Good. As the last entrant of the barrel races — the goal of which is to take a horse around three barrels in a pattern resembling a peace sign as fast as possible — the 15-year-old rider faces impressive times in the 19-second range.
As Doctor Feel Good trots past the arena gates, Pace kicks her heels and the horse tears off at a sprint. Curving low to the ground together like a motorcycle on a racetrack, Pace and the good doctor are close enough to reach out and touch each barrel as they round them — a 5-second penalty should it actually happen.
Rounding the last barrel, Pace pushes the horse hard, nearly standing in her stirrups. The dust cloud kicked up by Doctor Feel Good’s hooves hasn’t yet cleared when her time is announced: just over 17 seconds, the best time of the event.
“I just like going fast,” said Pace afterward.
Pace has been riding horses since she was 3, keeping up a training schedule that sees her riding about three hours a day and regularly competing in North Alabama Saddle Club Association events like the one at Circle C, as well as statewide competitions.
Although these races are the focus of the next set of competitions at Circle C May 31, the show also features categories like racking, in which horses perform a sort of prancing run, or costume classes, where kids dress up their ponies — like young Ella Doriot’s Pocahontas-themed costume with her pony, Prince Charming.
“It’s Ella’s third year and the horse’s first, lots of first times for him today,” said Ella’s stepfather, Jake Tucker. The small pony stands nearby in a headdress, covered in Ella’s painted handprints.
According to the club’s vice president, Kevin Strickland, there are members who have participated in Circle C Saddle events for more than 30 years, and the club and its activities have clear benefits for kids and their parents.
“It’s good for kids, you always know where they are on Friday and Saturday nights,” said Strickland, whose own daughter participates in the barrel race events.
“It’s a good, clean activity,” agrees Pace’s mother, Melanie. “It keeps the kids out of trouble.”
When asked if she enjoys being part of a clean activity that keeps her out of trouble, Pace laughs and nods. With a plan to continue riding into adulthood at a professional level, it’s part hobby, part career for her.
Other young riders have similar expectations including 17-year-old Candace Paige, who showed her palomino horse Summer Starlight in the competition. Paige plans to major in equine sciences at Judson College in Marion next year, her first step toward her goal of becoming a veterinarian.
“I’d be handling large animals,” she said. “But I want to specialize in horses, dogs and cats.”
Taking care of horses professionally makes sense — competitors say their animals are like part of the family. Doriot’s mother Nicole points out that Ella can be be very protective of her pony.
“When we got him, Prince Charming’s name was Oscar,” said Nicole, prompting Ella to cross her arms and huff. “Just don’t let her catch you call him that.”