Heads Up: You probably have a better internet connection than me. Almost everyone does. Therefore, the videos may not take half a lifetime to load for you. My apologies in advance if they do.
Know how you can tell what event a cowgirl competes in? Ask her how the rodeo went. If the first words out of her mouth are, "Well, the ground was...", she's a barrel racer.
Ground as in the arena surface. Otherwise known as dirt (usually, but more on that later.) Dirt is very important to barrelracers, as they are competing in a horse race that requires three very tight turns executed at a very high speed. You want it soft enough that the horse's hooves can get a good grip on it, but not so soft that they get bogged down. Damp enough to pack well and keep the dust out of your face, but not muddy and slick. (Don't even get me started on the idiot in the water truck who stops to chat on his cell phone, creating a small man-made lake around the third barrel.)
The best analogy I can give to those who are not rodeo people is downhill skiing. The Olympics in British Columbia were a testimonial to how course conditions can take you out of competition before you even leave the start house. Sunshine softens the surface of the snow, making it slower. Shadows and cold weather make ice, which is faster, but also harder to turn on. And rain or snow on the course before you make your run is a disaster. The farther down you are in the start order, the more chewed up the course gets and the harder it is to ski well.
So it is in the barrel racing. Run order is huge. Barrel racers call it being 'on the top of the ground' or 'on the bottom of the ground'. On top means you're running at the beginning, before the horses have dug trenches around the barrels. On the bottom means you're chugging through everybody else's ruts.
Like skiers, different horses prefer different ground conditions. Big, strong horses can power through deep, sandy ground, while smaller, quicker horses usually handle hard pack better. Which means no matter how hard a rodeo committee tries to make their ground as wonderful as possible, someone will nearly always be unhappy. Which is one of the reasons it can be difficult to find
And then there's the weather. Rodeos tend to last more than one day. In the case of the Calgary Stampede, more like ten days. Stinks to be up on the day of the rainstorm:
Even indoors you have to deal with the top and bottom of the ground, although many rodeos do their level best to keep it as even as possible. In the video below, notice the men with rakes who rush out behind each cowgirl to fill in her tracks:
And then, of course, there's Pendleton, which is like nowhere else because there's, you know, GRASS. And the pattern is HUGE, because the barrels have to be set clear out on the dirt track where it's safe to make those tight turns. The extra distance, the unfamiliar surface and running square into the blank wall of the bucking chutes on the second barrel can mess with even the best horse's mind. Witness the horse that ducks off before the second and third barrels, which has qualified for the Montana Circuit Finals for the last three years running and is generally dead solid:
Barrelracers are quite, um, passionate when it comes to ground conditions. To the point that more than one rodeo committee member has considered the wisdom of an unlisted number. And a bodyguard. Because hell hath no fury like a barrelracer on a rampage. Worse yet, a whole pack of them.
All of which leads up to the Joke of the Week, which I first heard at Pendleton courtesy of rodeo clown Flint Rasmussen:
"My wife is a barrelracer. When she dies, she will have to be cremated, because there is no ground good enough to bury her in."