Local barrel racers qualify for Bonus Race Finals
From left are Jessica Sandbulte with her horse Reba, Deb Kruger and her horse Raz, and Emily Kruger and her horse Rocky.

Most sports have their season, but for barrel racers the season lasts all year. There are the winter/spring jackpots and the summer/fall rodeos.

For local horse lovers and riders Jessica Sandbulte, Emily Kruger, and her mother, Deb Kruger, the jackpot season has been heating up.

These ladies have been saddling up and heading to barrel racing jackpots since November, and they have been doing well — so well that each qualified to compete in the Bonus Race Finals in Lincoln, Neb.

The Bonus Race Finals run from April 11 to 14 at the Lancaster Event Center.

The event features two separate barrel racing competitions with payouts exceeding $40,000.

There are more than 900 participants competing for the prize money.

Jessica and the Kruger gals each earned enough points in South Dakota qualifying cloverleaf jackpots to earn a spot in the 4D barrel races.

This is the second year Emily, a college student and former Hills-Beaver Creek graduate, has qualified for the event.

She attends school three days a week in Sioux Falls. The remainder of the week she is on her parents’ horse farm helping break new horses and working with her own horse.

The family has 16 horses and boards 10 additional horses on their property. They like to work with horses until the age of four before finding buyers. Good barrel horses are between 9 and 15 years old.

Emily is a member of the South Dakota Rodeo Association and spends her summer and fall months competing at sanctioned rodeos.

For Jessica and Deb, competition has become second nature.

Jessica, a junior at Hills-Beaver Creek High School, is often forced to choose between the sport she loves and the activities her friends at school are enjoying. For her the decision is easy — spending time with her horse wins every time.

Her mother, Jodi Sandbulte, said, “People wanted her to play basketball and although she would have loved to, there just isn’t time to do both — and this is what Jessica loves.”

Jessica trains with her 13-year-old horse, Reba, on a daily basis. She explains that he needs to be conditioned between races. That means riding him two to three miles a day — even in the cold and darkness of winter.

She bundles up and heads out to the road every night for a good hour of conditioning. Her winter gear includes multiple layers and a facemask.

In the summer the conditioning sessions can last hours.

She travels with her mother, her horse and their “home-away-from-home.” The front of their traveler has a living space that they call home when they are on the road.

This year she added pole bending to her skill set. Most barrel race jackpots have pole bending races as well.

Pole bending is a timed event where the horse and rider weave a path around six poles arranged in a line.

Her summers are filled with 4-H rodeo competition where she competes as an independent member of the Minnehaha 4-H Club. This gives her an opportunity to complete in other events including roping a calf.

Joining Jessica at the pole bending races is Emily’s mother, Deb.

She started barrel racing when Emily was 10.

“She started it because what her daughter was doing looked like fun — I figured I could try, I did, and I loved it.”

Now it is a hobby they share together.

“Our competitions are so much fun — everyone supports one another and we all enjoy the same things.”

It’s a hobby she has managed to be very successful at — winning plenty of prize purses and ribbons.

Last year she was the top point earner at the Web Ranch Series of racers. This earned her a saddle trophy valued around $1,000.

This year she is in the running to win again — her competition is Jessica. The two are separated from the top two places by one point.

Next week the three ladies will head to Lincoln for their biggest competition of the year. They don’t expect to place but in a race where the finals are determined by hundredths and thousandths of a second, anything is possible.


What is barrel racing?

Barrel racing is a rodeo event in which a horse and rider attempt to complete a cloverleaf pattern around preset barrels in the fastest time. Average time for one event is between 15 and 16 seconds.

Competition divisions are not determined by age level but by time.

The race combines the athletic ability and the horsemanship skills of a rider in order to safely and successfully maneuver a horse through a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels placed in a triangle in the center of an arena.

The purpose is to make the run in the fastest amount of time possible without knocking over any barrels. Riders who knock over a barrel or who do not follow the pattern do not score a “no time” and finished in the competition.


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