Pari-mutuel Barrel Racing-The New Face of Barrel Racing

Pari-mutuel Barrel Racing-The New Face of Barrel Racing

A new face of barrel racing has begun in Gretna, Florida. The North Florida Horsemen’s Association (NFHA) and Creek Entertainment Gretna (CEG) has brought barrel racing to a whole new standard that could potentially become very entertaining and provide profits for both barrel racers and betters. Starting December 1, 2011 NFHA/CEG will begin pari-mutuel barrel racing. I know what a lot of you are thinking, what is pari-mutuel barrel racing? I thought pari-mutuel betting was only for the horse racing track?

Pari-mutuel is obviously betting on horses. We have been accustomed to betting on horse races since the Roman days and even before. NFHA/CEG has decided to give the people another opportunity to bet on horses through barrel racing. Essentially barrel racing is a horse race, except you add three barrels and a clover leaf pattern. Like horse racing, usually the fastest, more consistent horse wins more times than not. But as we have seen at the Kentucky Derby, this is not always the case. On any given day, any horse in the field can win, and the reason why we bet the odds and try to get a good payday. Horse racing is the 2nd most attended spectator sport, right

behind baseball. Having barrel racing run as pari-mutuel, I believe, will bring the sport to a level that barrel racers have been dreaming about. Large attendances, more entries, and the bigger payoff will be the chance to finally make a decent profit. This opens the door to many possibilities in barrel racing.

If you look at some of the competitors that will be part of the races that NFHA/CEG is bringing to us, it is more proof that pari-mutuel barrel racing may be a lifeline to success. With races beginning Thursday, December 15, 2011, NFHA/CEG will include 11 time NFR barrel racing world champion and 19 consecutive NFR barrel racing qualifier Charmayne James. Also participating is NFR barrel racing world champion in 2000 and 4 time NFR barrel racing qualifier Kappy Allen, and 2 time NFR barrel racing world champion, 10 time NFR barrel racing qualifier, and the 1988 barrel racing Olympic gold medalist Marlene McRae (Marlene McRae will not be racing, She will be represented by Alissa Burson)

NFHA/CEG pari-mutuel barrel racing will be run in a format similar to that summarized below. There are two side-by-side arenas containing identical cloverleaf patterns. The horses will begin at a starting gate in each arena where there is a barrier that will start the time. The racers will look at a starting light and when it turns green, you go. There will be another barrier at the finish line that will stop the time. First horse across the finish line wins. It will be set up as bracket (match race) competition. The December 15th race will include 16 racers.

Western All American had the privilege to interview one of the 16 barrel racers competing in this event. Alissa Burson is a student and college rodeo athlete attending Colorado State University. This is her first year to college rodeo and she began the year making a huge impact in the Central Rocky Mountain region by winning the short round at her first college rodeo. Alissa is a very bright individual and has an extreme love for barrel racing and her horses. She has dedicated herself to the sport and we believe that there could be a world championship in her future. In our interview, you will learn what it takes to college rodeo and be a student at the same time. Alissa also explains to us about her opportunity in pari-mutuel barrel racing and what impact it could have in the barrel racing world.

Q. Can you tell us about pari-mutuel races, how it works, and how these races may be the future of barrel racing?

In Florida pari-mutuel wagering is allowed on only certain types of events such as racing. Gretna has taken the sport of barrel racing to a whole new level. Here there are two side by side arenas containing clover leaf patterns, a starting gate where the barrier starting the time is, and another barrier on the home stretch acting as the finish line. First horse across the time line wins. The same rules that regard the health of track horses will apply.

This facility has opened the doors to barrel racers, and the sky is the limit. If the courts allow this style if racing and betting to continue, a Casino will be built and purses will be much, much larger. The location here is great with plenty of room to expand. The next addition may be two more arenas for the number of horses racing against each other increases from two to four. Large 4D barrel races will also be hosted.

Q. What are you most excited about entering a race like this?

This race is giving me an opportunity to try something different. Now that there are more factors especially when it comes to the start, the fastest horse will not always win. You cannot break the barrier you must have control over your horse in the alley. Your planning and timing needs to be perfect. What I am looking forward to most is taking off when I see that light go green!

Q. Is there entry fees? How does payback work?

The only thing you will spend your money on for these races is fuel! Not even shavings, stalls, or R.V. Hookups. The pay is coming from the gambling, since a certain amount has to be paid in prize money. The races are in brackets. The winner of each race wins a check. This gives racers a chance to win up to four checks, the last one being the largest.

Q. There have been some negative press about this type of race, such as, some races are rigged track owners are using the horses to add a poker room and possibly slot machines. What do you feel about the race and what do you have to say about the negative press?

The more successful the wagering programs are the higher the purses will be for the racers. This is the same relationship as it is with the track racing. Barrel racing here is highly regulated, equine health is priority, drug testing is done, and all of your paperwork on the horses must be in order. It is not rigged, the field, if anything has become more level. People who are opposed may not understand or have their own benefits from this racing not being allowed. Others possibly are just set in their set in their ways.

Calcutta’s have been preformed, and Las Vegas has hosted the NBHA super show and the NFR year after year. Betting has been around barrel racing, but now barrel racers are given the chance to benefit from the gambling.

I am very enthusiastic about this. The new challenges are very satisfying to my competitiveness. It’s all about having an open mind. I hope people give it a chance, and if some continue not to agree with this that’s fine, they do not have to participate.

Q. You are going to Florida to race against some of the best known barrel racers in the world such as Charmayne James and Kappy Allen. How do you feel being part of this race?

I strongly believe that pari-mutuel barrel racing has a bright future. Participating in this race to me is a chance of a life time especially because my fellow opponents include former world champions Charmayne James and Kappy Allen.

Q. Knowing that Charmayne and Kappy were both world champions, will you try to learn from them about the sport of barrel racing?

When you have the chance to be around people so well established in the rodeo world you should always be ready to learn. This is what I plan to do. It is all about listening and not being afraid to ask questions. When I get to Florida one of the first task will be mastering the timed starts. I will be asking all of the girls for tips.

Q. What did you do to get invited to this race?

Marlene McRae had originally asked to borrow my college rodeo horse, Frisbee, to compete in Florida, but she ended up having prior commitments and was unable to go. Since I had already taken Frisbee down to Marlene, she had the idea of me running Frisbee. The paper work was already sent in so after receiving the permission from Charmayne and North Florida Horsemen’s Association it was decided that I would be riding for Marlene.

Q. When will you be racing?

I will be racing the 15th and 17th of December. The races leading up to the main event will consist of the members. On the 17th Chaymayne James, Kappy Allen, Andrea Cline, myself (Alissa Burson), and four Florida women will be running in the race with the $20,000 added.

Q. How many horses will you take and what are their names?

I am hauling one horse to Florida, her name is Frenchmans Highlight aka Frisbee. This name comes from the fact that she is so smooth and hardly looks likes she’s running. She is a 10 year old buckskin mare. We have both come a long way since my junior year of high school when I first started riding her. In the past year our relationship has come to the point where I think she does it.

Q. There is a $20,000 purse for this race, how exciting are you to race for this kind of money?

Twenty thousand dollars is a lot of money, but going into this I am pushing that to the back of my mind. I want to have nice runs without mistakes. Barrel racing has always been more than riding for a pay check to me. What I plan on taking home is experience and memories of this great opportunity.

Q. What did you do to prepare yourself and your horse(s) for the long haul to Florida?

I had to take all of my finals a week early so I could go on this trip. Frisbee, well she’s been living the good life down at Marlene’s ranch. I believe it is a 14 hour drive from Austin, Texas to Gretna, Florida. Frisbee had a few well earned weeks off after the college rodeos ended, but for the past month she has been conditioned 4 miles a day. When it comes to hauling that far, I am all for walking the horses often and giving them drinks. We ask a lot of our horses, and they deserve to be kept comfortable.

Q. Can you tell us about North Florida Horsemen’s association and how they have treated you thus far?

Well we broke down on Sunday night and had to call them for help at midnight. We had a place to stay the night thanks to them and a driver was sent to retrieve us the next day. They have welcomed us and listened to our opinions. Their priority is to keep is keeping us happy.

Q. This was your first fall season of college rodeo, how did you like it?

Heading to my first college rodeo I was not sure what to expect. When I took third in the long round I was surprised, the ground was really packed and slick. The next day I won the short go. The rest of the rodeos went smoothly as well. We made it back and placed in all but one short go round. The rodeos are well put together. Having fellow teammates to cheer you on is really neat. I really liked my first season, and being in a new state and meeting people really helped make it unique.

Q. What is your major?

I am majoring in equine science. I hope to pursue a career dealing with equine nutrition products or research. It is a perfect major for me.

Q. How is it managing both school and rodeo?

College is a whole new world. I went from my back yard being an arena to having to drive to my horses. When I want to rope I have to haul somewhere also. The first semester for me was all about balancing homework and practice. I always need to remind myself school comes first.

Q. What type of practice routine do you have during the college rodeo season?

During the rodeo season I ride my barrel horse at least 5 days a week. I usually rope twice. Roping the bale is very important too.

Q: What events did you compete in this 2011-12 college rodeo season?

I competed in barrels and breakaway. Breakaway is my fun event, although I really struggled last season because we changed some stuff. I haul two buckskins to all the college rodeos, Frisbee and Taz my rope horse. Although I’m sure some people wonder if it is on purpose, it really is not.

Q: Who has been your mentor to help you with some of the success you have had in rodeo?

I believe it is crucial to have a great support system behind you. My mom and a close family friend Nancy Brimhal have hauled me to all my rodeos this past year. Without their help I would not be on this road chasing my dreams.

My mentor for the past 4 years has been Marlene McRae. She has taught me everything I have needed for that competitive edge. Marlene has definitely been a wonderful role model to me. She is always a phone call away and reviews all my videos.

Q: When did you begin to rodeo and when did you start barrel racing?

Unlike a lot of girls I did not grow up riding horses. Nancy Brimhal taught me to ride horses and run barrels my 8th grade year. I did a few barrel races here and there, but mainly focused on my horsemanship skills. I began high school rodeo my sophomore year. I did not have a nice horse the first season, but I still loved every second. When spring came that year I purchased my first barrel horse from Marlene. I began running at all the local barrel races, and every year I improved greatly.

Q: What is gameday like for you at a college rodeo?

Gameday’s for me at college rodeo consist of making sure Frisbee and Taz are feeling great, observing the arena set up, and checking out the ground. If they are in a small stall I walk them frequently.

After hauling and running, I hose Frisbees legs. Our warm ups consist of me making sure she’s listening after we trot and lope a few miles we are good to go. She knows it is almost our turn when I stretch her legs like she loves, and put her polo wraps on. For roping, I rope the bale a lot and make sure I know my game plan before I get in the box.

Q: What are your plans after college rodeo and will you continue to rodeo?

I want to pursue pro rodeo after college most definitely. I will see where rodeo takes me the next few years and plan according to that. I also plan on having a job dealing with the equine industry.

Q: Do you have a funny or serious story that you would like to tell us about your college rodeo life?

Well I must say I have an embarrassing story from my first college rodeo. I am still teased about it to this day. I missed my calf, literally. I misunderstood the day sheet and thought I was up in an afternoon performance. Turns out there was not an afternoon performance and I was up that morning. My traveling partner called me and said hey you were just turned out. I was new and no one knew me very well, so my first impression to my team was probably “Oh boy, look at this blonde who doesn’t even know when she’s up”. Luckily I redeemed myself in barrels.

Q: Do you give your horse any special grain or supplements during rodeo season? If so what?

I feed whole oats with platinum year round.

Q: What other hobbies or activities to you enjoy besides rodeo?

I enjoy snowboarding and lake sports when I’m not riding. I also like to play intramural volleyball at school.

Q: What is it like to rodeo at Colorado State University? What made you chose this school?

We have a rodeo club, not team unfortunately, so all of us are at CSU for an education. We raise almost all of our money and have to work together to establish practices. I chose CSU to challenge myself with an advanced education.

Q: What is your goal for the 2012 college rodeo season?

Due to a torn ACL and meniscus that occurred in the middle of this college rodeo season from a freak accident, I may be looking at setting out for the spring. Although I was able to run and compete despite the pain a few days after the injury, I will have surgery the day after I get back from Florida. I need to allow myself time to heal properly. It’s kind of a heart breaker since I’m setting so well in the points. The fall season of 2012 for me will be all about coming back bigger, better, faster, and stronger!


Go to to read more about North Florida Horsemen’s Association (NFHA).

Go to to read about Creek Entertainment Gretna (CEG)

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