The Other Races

FONDA – Race car drivers at Fonda Speedway aren’t the only people racing at the Fonda Fairgrounds these days.

In an arena on another part of the grounds, horse riders of all ages from around the state have been converging on Wednesdays for a night of jackpot barrel racing.

The weekly event was organized as a fundraiser by the Montgomery County Equine Club, which is affiliated with the Montgomery County Agricultural Society. The society owns the speedway and fairgrounds.

The Equine Club started in 2012 after flooding from Hurricane Irene damaged much of the fairgrounds, including horse barns and stables, club members said.

“We are trying to improve things so we can have more events come here and expand the programs,” Equine Club President Betty Kilcullen said during the last round of racing Wednesday.

Admission is free, but the competition requires a $25 entry fee for all riders.

Officials said the money raised from the barrel-racing events go toward the repairs and maintenance in the horse department. The money also will be used in the future to buy more equipment, such as a computer for timed horse-racing events.

“We have to borrow things to put on a show, so anything we accumulate as a club can also be used for the events during the week of the fair,” club Vice President Deb Yacobucci said.

Some of the money also is used by the Agricultural Society to maintain the overall fairgrounds and conduct events throughout the year.

The National Barrel Horse Association New York State Championships is held at the fairgrounds on Memorial Day weekend. Riders are using the Wednesday events as an opportunity to get a competitive edge before the championship.

“We had over 700 entries last year [at the championship],” said Samantha Eyster, state director of the NBHA. “A lot of people are coming here to take part in this so they can have some practice in this arena before the championship.”

Eyster has been showing the club how to time and host events under the NBHA format and rules.

On Wednesday night, riders approached the entrance to the arena before letting their horse gallop with a burst of power in the ring. Riders then had to get their horses around three barrels and back out with the best time possible.

The competition, which has been held for three weeks, is routinely bringing more than 40 riders from throughout the state, including the Binghamton area. Chilly showers prevented a large turnout last Wednesday, officials said.

The friendly weeknight competition is an opportunity for the riders and horses to get familiar with the arena and for the horses to stretch their legs after a long winter, many of the riders said.

“It’s nice to get your horses in here and comfortable with the arena,” said Amy Caswell, a rider from Broadalbin. “[Arenas] are all different sizes, and this arena is actually pretty big, so especially after the winter, it’s good to get your horses here to stretch them out. The weather has been bad, so everyone is trying to get their runs in now.”

Some of the younger riders also said the events give them a chance to see how their horse is going to react when approaching the barrels.

“It’s good for me to get out here to learn what she is going to do so I can help her get better and help myself get better,” said 13-year-old Jasmine Pechtel of Johnstown, who brought her horse Naira to the competition. “The weather changes them too because she gets lazier.”

The Montgomery County Equine Club Wednesday Night Jackpot is held every week at 7 p.m. in the arena.