A local barrel racer prepares for her big chance at California Rodeo Salinas.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
With dirt flying from under the hooves of her horse and her teeth gritted, Shannon Shade looks as if she might topple over with Saty, her 11-year-old, dark-brown quarter horse.
Together, they go almost full-circle around the third and final white barrel at the jackpot barrel race one Saturday last month at the Monterey County Sheriff’s Posse grounds in north Salinas.
Shade clocked in around 18-1/2 half seconds, 1.5 seconds more than her preferred time. Though she did not have the run she wanted, Shade was in a positive mood after the race.
“When you race fast, it doesn’t feel fast at all,” she says, stroking Saty’s nose. “It just feels very smooth. It feels right.”
Once or twice a month, between 50 and 100 local barrel racers each pay $55 in the hopes of winning $250-$300 at the sheriff’s posse grounds for a timed run of 17 or 18 seconds.
Shade, 41, is no newbie to the sport. She has been racing since she was 17, got her first horse at 16 and has been into horses since she was 2. She has participated seven times in the California Rodeo Salinas. Barrel racing is one of three events the Salinas area is known for, and there’s lots of local competition. The other events are steer wrestling and team roping.
A good run not only depends on how fast the rider can turn around the barrels without knocking them over, but also on the relationship the rider has with his or her horse. Shade explains that she prefers a “broke” horse (like Saty), meaning the animal is trained to respond to the rider’s touch.
“My horses are trained to work with other animals,” Shade says. “Some girls like more of a racing horse, but I like them to be used for working with cattle.”
The smooth working relationship is key in competition.
“If you [and the horse] get along, you work better together,” Shade says. “I call her “Puffin” [Hugh Hefner’s nickname], which fits, because she’s sexy.”
Racing with Saty, Shade in 2006 placed in the top 35 female barrel racers at California Rodeo Salinas. Although she doesn’t travel on the professional circuit, Shade hopes for a Top-10 finish in Salinas this year.
“It would be a big honor,” she says. “Being a local girl, everyone knows you It would make me proud to place well.”
For Shade, her attraction to the rodeo began when she was a teen.
“I always wanted (a horse) for as long as I could remember,” Shade recalls. “I just thought they were so peaceful. Once you get to bond with them, you see their beautiful soul.”
At 16, her father thought she was responsible enough to take care of her own horse, and a year later, Shade got into barrel racing.
“I was always a little daredevil when I was younger,” she says, laughing. “When I realized I could go really fast on them by racing, I was all about it.”
According to Shade, California Rodeo Salinas is “very un-traditional” and is about not only the sport, but the entire Western lifestyle.
But the action and glamour aside, Shade says, there is something about rodeo that gets in you: from the boots and bulls to an enormous crowd cheering you on.
“[With rodeo,] you either love it or you don’t,” she says.