A barrel of fun at the Stanly County Fairgrounds

Heather Sneed riding "Scooter." Sneed is from Oakboro but now lives and works in Montgomery County. In addition to Scooter she will also rides horses Ice and Marley. | Chris Lentz for the Stanly County Journal

RALEIGH — The Stanly County Fairgrounds plays host to many events throughout the year, and the annual Stanly County Fair is just over a month away with the gates opening on the 84th fair on Sept. 4. But the fairgrounds and its American Legion Post 76 operators have been quietly playing host to barrel racing events for almost two years.

The events, known mostly through a Facebook Group called American Legion Arena, are held each Thursday night and primarily feature novice horse riders in barrel racing events. Barrel racing is a traditional rodeo event where horse-mounted riders complete a cloverleaf pattern around barrels in time-trial competition.

While barrel racing competitions are just a portion of most rodeos, the Stanly County events focus almost exclusively on the races. The events are known as jackpots, and organizer Rick Love says the races are competitive and fun.

Bobbie Lynne Gaskins, 8, with her horse “Dusty.” Gaskins competes in the rookie sport class. | Chris Lentz for the Stanly County Journal

“It’s for all ages and types of competitors,” said Love, who is a lifelong horse enthusiast.

The Thursday night events are a partnership between Love and his family and the American Legion Post 76, which is led by Commander Cal Massingale.

“These events give young people an opportunity to practice,” said Massingale. “We don’t charge for the arena, and the American Legion runs the concession stand.”

Both Massingale and Love touted the Thursday night events as family entertainment that lets children enjoy animals and the outdoors.

“We do fund events for kids, and it gives them something to do besides play on a cellphone or an iPad,” said Massingale.

Love reiterated the comments about putting down electronics in favor of old-fashioned entertainment.

“I don’t do drugs but, I’ve got a bad habit of horses,” said Love, a second-generation farrier who runs a local business that includes horseshoeing and other services.

Love said his first date with his now wife, Anita, was to look at a horse. Anita helps keep the books for the barrel racing events which include points standings and the financial calculations for splitting the jackpot between competitors. Love says the races currently return about 80 percent of the entry fees, which are usually $25, to the competitors. The Loves’ daughter, Heather Sneed, also volunteers with the events and runs the barrels.

The events are fast-paced with runs taking 15-20 seconds. Love says that he spends up to eight hours on his tractor during the events where he serves a Zamboni-like role maintaining the surface for the competitors. After five barrel runs, Love drags the ground to level it out.

The normal crowd for the races includes younger riders who are looking to gain experience as well as seasoned veterans who consistently make a run for the jackpot. The fourth Saturday of each month also features a horseshow with even more kid-friendly events.

Love says the competition will increase as the barrel races take the spotlight during the Stanly County Fair.

“Some of the people that come down for the fair are on ESPN,” said Love.

Those interested in seeing the event can follow the group on Facebook, which Love says is important since weather can affect the start and the night of the events.