A black horse with a young rider in a dark glittering shirt and cowboy hat circles tightly, winding up for the moment. The rider has lined up his approach into the racing area. The moment is right, and they shoot through the entrance, heading for the first barrel.
Jacob Schneider, a 17-year-old student from Hickman High School, has been around horses all his life. He’s been riding them since he was 2. His mother, Nannette Schneider, says he has a gift with horses.
“There’s quite an art to being able to step on a horse and ride it as fast as it will go,” she said. “Jacob really has that art.”
The entire Schneider family competes in barrel racing, a rodeo sport where riders have to maneuver their horse around barrels in a clover pattern aiming for the fastest time possible. His mother figures her son’s a natural for the sport with his innate ability to stay balanced on a horse at high speeds and tight turns.
“Most people have to ride and get to know their horse, and know what it’s going to do,” she said. “Jacob just doesn’t have to do that.”
When he was 9, Jacob Schneider won his first state championship. Eight years later, he ranked 22nd in the teenager category after the 2006 National Barrel Horse Association youth world barrel race in Jackson, Miss.
Dirt sprays as Schneider and his horse, Propelli, turn slightly wide around the barrel. Schneider is not happy about going wide on his approach, but he’s grateful that at least he didn’t hit the barrel. He looks up and gets ready to take on the next one.
With his dirty jeans, longhorn T-shirt and John Deere ball cap, Schneider looks like any other teenager. If you look close enough, though, there is a twinkle of adventure in the corner of his eyes.
Besides barrel racing, Schneider also competes in motocross and plays drums in a band called the Memphis Kings. When asked what he does when he’s not busy riding horses or motorcycles, or waking up the neighborhood with his drums, his father Jeff Schneider interrupts, then answers jokingly, “He works for me.”
In reality, Schneider works full-time for his father’s friend at Albright Heating and Air Conditioning, helping construct houses. Even after working 40 hours a week, he still manages to feed his passion for motocross, drumming and barrel racing.
Crop flashing, Jacob Schneider and Propelli come in just right. They find a good spot to turn and are able to make it tight around the second barrel. Horse and rider never touch it or even threaten to tip it. Schneider feels good about the last turn, and gets himself and his horse ready for the last barrel.
The annual NBHA Missouri State Championships was held at the Boone County Fairgrounds this weekend. Schneider was there competing against 89 other riders in the 18-and-under category. In the open-for-all category, the entire Schneider family competed against each other along with 197 other contestants.
The Schneider family spends many weekends together traveling to different barrel racing competitions around the country.
“It’s a lot of work, you get really irritated with everybody occasionally and the animals included,” said Katie Schneider, Jacob Schneider’s 20-year-old sister. “But it’s fun and it’s well worth it.”
The Schneider children each have won a highly coveted buckle from the world championship in the teenager division. Last year, Jacob Schneider outraced his sister while winning his.
Even while racing against each other, the Schneider’s say they stay lighthearted about the competition. Family members will often tease each other about mishaps, but at the end of the day, they are there to support each other.
“Jake and I will joke on occasion...other than that, there’s not much competition,” Katie Schneider said. “Everybody wants to see each of us do well.”
The crowd is cheering horse and rider as they approach the third barrel. Propelli starts slowing down a little before she was supposed to, losing valuable time on the stopwatch. Schneider urges his horse to keep moving and they make a clean turn around the last barrel. Now it’s all about heading back home as fast as possible to make up for the lost time.
When Schneider’s not racing, he is still looking for the next adventure.
Looking from the Schneiders’ trailer a multi-colored hot air balloon becomes visible as it rises from the Relay for Life event being held next to the barrel races. Jacob Schneider looks at his girlfriend, Samantha Cox, and says he wants to take a ride on it.
His mother doesn’t think it’s safe. She looks at him sternly and tells him that she doesn’t want him going up in the balloon. Instead, she tells him he needs to pick up his saddles so the horses don’t trip on them. Schneider groans and says he’ll do it later.
While his mother is not looking, the two teenagers sneak off toward the balloon. Cox is the same age as Schneider and goes to Hickman as well. She rests her head on his shoulder as they wait in line for their balloon ride.
Cox says she is envious of Schneider’s riding skills.
“I wish I could do that,” she said.
Cox has been getting some riding lessons from Schneider’s mother and sister over the weekends, but she says she’s nowhere near his riding skills.
When it’s their turn, Schneider helps Cox into the balloon before he gets in it himself. Soon they are floating a hundred feet off the ground in a tethered balloon, holding each other and enjoying the view.
“That was awesome,” says Schneider after they get back on the ground.
The laser sensors catch the rider and horse crossing back over the finish line. Saturday’s time is announced, 15.033 seconds. It’s a clean run, but Schneider knows he needs to keep shaving away the split seconds if he is to win. Ideally, he wants to cut off another second on the stopwatch. As he leaves the arena, Schneider knows that Sunday brings the final races, and another day to improve his time.
On Sunday, Schneider did come back beating Saturday’s time. In the youth category he scored 14.7 seconds on the stopwatch and 14.8 seconds in the open category. That put him seventh in the Missouri youth category and gave him an overall ranking of 22nd in the state.