Alexis Blakey and Pico take a tight turn as she practices at the rodeo grounds in Darrington. She calls Pico "the paint that ain't," because the horse is almost uniformly chocolate-colored. The photo is taken with a remotely-triggered camera placed atop the barrel.
In rodeo, rough-stock competitions are the glamour events -- riding broncs and bulls.
To the spectator, barrel racing is easy.
But, barrel racer Alexis Blakey, of Arlington, says hers is "probably the toughest."
"There's the [condition of] the ground, the timing," and it all changes "in the blink of an eye. We've got hay, fuel and have to train five, six, seven days a week.
"In rough stock all you have to do is stay on eight seconds."
And while she's packing up tack and horses at the end of the rodeo, "rough-stock riders can just pile up in their Cadillac."
Blakey, 20, entered her first barrel race four years ago.
It takes two months to two years "to get a horse seasoned, be in sync."
The timed event requires teamwork between horse and rider.
"They know the job, close but not too close, each trusting each other."
The course is three barrels with three turns. Riders run a cloverleaf pattern. A tipped barrel is a five-second penalty and means almost certain elimination from a top spot.
Don't peek at the clock. Make sure each turn is smooth and teardrop-shaped.
Practicing at the rodeo grounds in Darrington, Blakey brings four horses.
Because of the heat, she'll work just two. Close, but not too close, to the barrels.
Her horses Tax and Pico know what to do.
Her goal is to turn pro and make barrel racing a full-time job.
She says, "It's hard physically, hard mentally. You have to love it whether you lose or win."
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