Makayla Fennegan and her horse lean into the end pole Friday at the Freeborn County Fair. Many riders in pole weaving say the skills needed to turn around the end pole is their favorite part. — Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune
Makayla Fennegan and her horse lean into the end pole Friday at the Freeborn County Fair. Many riders in pole weaving say the skills needed to turn around the end pole is their favorite part. — Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune

Riders compete against clock in pole weaving

Published 1:00pm Sunday, August 3, 2014

Six poles and a clock.

Throughout the morning Friday the Freeborn County Fair Horse Show was about judging. One class looked at how well the horse conformed to its breed. Another judges how well a handler shows the horse. Another looks at how much fun the horse is to ride. Another determines how well the horse and rider work together.

Finally, in the afternoon, the riders and horses no longer have to meet a judge’s expectations. Instead, they have to beat a clock. These are the game classes, and the crowd at the Outdoor Arena of the Freeborn County Fair swells.

There is pole weaving, a keyhole race, jumping and barrel racing.

“I myself like the poles the best because it takes more skills with your horse,” said Gary Richter, who with his wife, Steph, are superintendents of the Freeborn County Fair Horse Department.

Girls and women dominate the class, but there are a few men and boys who compete, too. Gary was among them.

He said its crowd appeal is seeing the horses run and whether the rider has control of their horse. The best times are posted when the horse and rider have the routine down pat: going in and out of the six poles, turning around and going in and out again, then bolting for the finish line. For many riders, they know they won’t win but want to get the horse experience with the routine and in front of a crowd.

A good time is usually less than 16 seconds.

Fourteen-year-old Terri Wolfe of Hartland posted a 15.5 during her run on Spot. She competed in the division for ages 14 to 17.

She said the combination of speed and accuracy make pole weaving more interesting than going around the ring in a circle for the judging classes.

Growing up around horses, Wolfe said, gives young people experience with handling animals that are useful for a lifetime.

One of the cutest moments Friday came when 14-year-old Grace Bergstrom of Brownsdale led a pony named Leo ridden by her 3-year-old little sister, Gloria, through the poles.

Grace raced two horses in her age group: Riley and Jess. She placed on both horses, with her run on Riley having the faster time of 14.7 seconds.

“It’s all about slow and collected, being able to control the horse, then get the speed,” Grace said, adding praise for how well Riley responds.