Horsing around: Young barrel racer challenges the big guys
When he was younger, barrel racer Derek Jones didn’t carry a blanket or teddy bear. Instead, he dragged around a horse lead. And Derek still hasn’t grown out of his childhood obsession with horses. Of course, he’s still only 6 years old.
Derek just started competing in 2010, but he was the youngest rider in the Dave Martin Rodeo at the 2011 Delaware State Fair.
“I don’t know what people thought when they saw him come out,” said Derek’s mother, Celeste Jones. “You have all these big guys and then this little man on a pony.”
Celeste said Derek has been riding horses since he could sit up. Seeing Derek’s enthusiasm, a neighbor helped the boy compete in a barrel race in April 2010. Barrel racing is a timed event in which horses and riders maneuver quickly around barrels in a predetermined course, without touching the obstacles. It is intended to showcase both the horse’s athleticism and the rider’s horsemanship, and was one of the first rodeo events in which women could participate, though men, women and children all compete today.
When such young riders are involved, adults generally lead the horses and their young riders through the course. After his first event, however, Derek was moving too fast for any person to run fast enough to keep up with him and his mount.
“So they just let him go,” Celeste said. As a result, Derek was allowed to race solo in the 11-and-under age group.
Derek regularly competes and excels in the older age group. His trainer, Kayla Bowden, estimated that he ranks third or fourth out of 20 other riders in his class at Circle D Speed Club in Felton. He also rides in the Laurel Saddle Friends events.
Barrel-racing riders earn points based on their racing times, and their total points lead to season rankings.
Last year, Derek was Reserve Champion in his class, which is equivalent to second place. He also earned the “Most Improved” award.
“He’s doing very well for his age,” Celeste said. “He holds his own.”
Derek said his favorite cowboys are the classics: John Wayne, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. When discussing horses, he keeps it simple.
“It’s fun!” he said.
Derek’s grandmother gave him a horse when he was 3 years old, and, today, Derek quickly points out that he has ridden horses for two-and-a-half years.
Derek regularly rides a Welsh/Shetland crossbred pony named Dusty, owned by Jane Silvernail at Circle J Farm, where he practices. Celeste said the family has done much to support Derek’s riding.
Kayla Bowden, 15, is a barrel racer and Derek’s coach. The Indian River High School student trains Derek at her family’s farm. Although horseback riding is a year-round activity, she said the barrel racing season is primarily from April to October.
Kayla said riders need time to get used to the turns, but Derek seems to have learned quickly.
In the future, Derek said, he would like to be a jockey, although the 6-year-old is already approaching the short height limit for the pros in that career.
Until then, Derek is focusing on barrel racing and an upcoming vacation at Kentucky’s Claiborne Farms, the onetime home of legendary Thoroughbred racehorse Secretariat.
“You figure, at 2 or 3 years old, they’ll grow out of the cowboy [phase], but not Derek,” his mother said.