COLUMBIA — Inside the Boone County Fairgrounds rodeo pavilion, a deep voice boomed over “Summer Nights” from Grease.
“Remember to stop by and pick up your complimentary horse treats,” the announcer reminded the crowd.
Sunlight peeked through the top corners of the ceiling, and the garage-style doors let in a soft breeze. Pods of people in folding chairs surrounded the riding ring and watched as horses whipped around the course. They came together on Sunday afternoon to watch the finals of the Missouri State Championships in barrel racing.
In barrel racing, a horse and rider attempt to complete a clover-leaf pattern around barrels in the fastest time. Winning times vary depending on the venue; 13.7 seconds was the fastest time in the competition at the fairgrounds over the weekend.
Dee Dee Burbes said she has been on a horse since she was 18 months old. She traveled from Wentzville this weekend with her twin sister to compete in the three-day event.
Burbes and the horse she rides, Frankie, were eliminated before the final day, but she stayed around to help out, cheer on her sister and ensure the event ran smoothly. She spent Sunday placing barrels back in their appropriate spots after they were knocked over.
Burbes said many things factor in to how well a horse rides. She once suffered a broken leg when her horse couldn’t handle a track with particularly soft soil.
She equated her riding mentality to Tom Hanks' no-nonsense approach as manager of a women’s baseball team in the film “A League of Their Own.”
“Cowgirl up, or stay home,” she said. “There’s no crying in barrel racing.”
As a race ended, two men on tractors circled the arena to smooth the dirt. Children joyfully glided about the arena on bikes and scooters, maneuvering around lawn chairs and family dogs.
Outside the arena, the dusty gravel parking lot was speckled with trailers and pickup trucks.
Pat Wehmeyer knelt next to her trailer and used a special tool to scrape mud from a horseshoe. Nearly every weekend, she travels from her home in Rocheport to a different equestrian event. Later in the day, her 16-year-old daughter and their horse, Mellow, would be competing.
Wehmeyer said that during the 15-second dead sprint of barrel racing, a rider must develop instincts.
“You can’t think too much,” she said. “You have to react a lot.”
Back inside the arena, Burbes cheered on her twin sister. She brought her hands to a cup at her mouth and nervously bounced up and down while shouting words of encouragement.
But even after her sister had completed the course, Burbes didn't relax. Specks of dirt shot at her from the ring. She continued to stand several feet from the barrel, enthusiastically cheering on the riders competing against her sister.
Burbes travels around the Midwest for barrel riding and said she enjoys the camaraderie and community that the sport inspires.
“You see a lot of familiar faces,” she said. “They become like family.”