PENDLETON — Three hours had passed since Amy McHale rounded the barrels inside the Pendleton Round-Up Grounds on Wednesday. Nearly 100 riders had repeated her path, up the right or left dirt sides of the arena, splitting across the field of green grass in the middle before turning into the dead sprint from the far side of the oval.
The riders followed in the horseshoe prints of McHale’s Chasndreamsof Gold and each one failed to live up to the cowgirl’s time of 29.578 seconds on Pendleton’s famous barrel racing pattern.
Then Reiney Hatch came along.
Hatch, No. 101 in the field of 106 entries, knocked McHale from the top of the leaderboard with a 29.402-second ride. A new leader, and the eventual winner of the PGG Independence Day 4D barrel races, came as a shock, a strike of lightning out of calm skies, surprising everyone including Hatch.
The Pendleton pattern, where barrels are separated by nearly a football field’s worth of turf compared to the typical layout of 60 to 100 feet of dirt, can be intimidating for first-time riders like herself, Hatch said.
“It was scary. I’m not really a fan of grass and I didn’t know if (my horse Sizzle To The Touch) would turn too early in front of the barrels,” she said.
Hatch took the top check of nearly $500 with the win, as well as another $290 in a side pot for the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association.
McHale, who set the pace as the fourth rider early that morning, said she tries not to take a different approach for the mammoth pattern. The cowgirl from Long Beach, Wash., brought plenty of experience to Wednesday’s run, her fourth total at the Round-Up Grounds.
“Last year when I ran (this horse), he got real lost, but this year he seemed like he saw the barrels despite that distance across,” McHale said.
The volunteers running the event gave the women a chance to try out the distance before having to ride it — especially crucial for those coming into the Round-Up Grounds for the first time to ride. The arena was open for practice runs most of Tuesday afternoon.
Many of the riders who were in town at the time took advantage of that offer, said racer Heather Lin Astbury, even if they were familiar with the pattern.
“We had time (Tuesday) and you don’t get that at a rodeo,” said Astbury, a Pendletonian who’s rounded the barrels in town for the past five years. “It’s normally, ‘Get in here and just get to it.’ That was a nice thing to be able to go through here, trot through and your horses get acclimated a little bit.”
Astbury finished down the rankings a bit after running a 30.570-second time.
The Fourth of July celebration and barrel racing is something new to Pendleton this year, but a welcome change, said Hermiston’s Jerita Belyea, who came in third by stopping the clock in 29.684 seconds. Getting a chance to race in a big event without wearing out the wheels on her horse trailer is truly appreciated, she said.
Also, the competitors coming from far out of town got to see a distance runner’s take on barrel racing and, for the most part, enjoy it.
“It’s what I tell everybody. If anybody runs barrels, they need to run at Pendleton,” Belyea said. “Good, bad or indifferent, it’s a kick in the pants.”
The competitors filled out four divisions of racers with Hatch taking the top spot in the top division. Pat M. Smith (30.578 seconds) won Division II, Melody Payne (31.476) took Division III and Cally Hermansen (32.648) finished highest for Division IV.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at email@example.com or 541-966-0839.