published Saturday, June 26th, 2010

Cowgirl up!

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    Staff Photo by Allison Kwesell/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Lacey Hamby, 15, runs barrels on Tucker at a Barrel Racing Clinic at Suzanne Howard's farm in Chickamauga, Ga. The clinic is one week long and girls goat tie, barrel race, practice general horsemanship, swim and play games. Ms. Howard uses the money she makes form the clinic to go towards her pre-veterinarian degree at Chattanooga State.

CHICKAMAUGA, Ga. -- Children attending the Suzanne Howard Barrel Racing Clinic and Camp aren't only learning to ride horses, they're forming friendships and working toward their future.

"We need to get back to the basics, go back to living around nature instead of doing so much material stuff," Ms. Howard said.

The 47-year-old single mom and former rodeo participant operates two to three-week-long barrel racing horse camps a year in which she teaches girls ages 10 and up to improve riding skills and race horses.

Eight girls who have been attending camp all this week will show off their skills at a barrel racing and goat tying competition at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Ashlyn Capps, a 16-year-old aspiring veterinarian from Knoxville, is among the girls competing.

"It's not about running around barrels and racing," she said. "It's a technique to it. You have to know where to put the horse and when to do it."

Sometimes it's hard to get the horse to agree with you, she said, and it's lot of repetition, doing it over and over.

Girls watch videotapes of themselves riding horses, and Ms. Howard helps them identify adjustments they can make for a smoother and faster ride.

"It's quite incredible how much they change from the time they stay here until the time they leave," Ms. Howard said. "If they come in walking a horse around barrels, they're running the horse around barrels when they leave."

Most girls at camp can already sit on a horse and guide it around a ring, Ms. Howard said. She recommends lessons for girls who have never ridden a horse. She teaches horse riding lessons throughout the year.

Girls at the barrel racing camp start their day at 7 a.m. They wake and feed horses while Ms. Howard cooks breakfast, then eat and ride horses until lunch time. After eating, they ride horses again until 4 p.m., then go swimming.

They endure temperatures of 90 degrees and hotter while perfecting their skill and developing friendships.

Right now, the girls spread their sleeping bags in Ms. Howard's home, but in the future she wants to have dorms on her 40 acres of land.

Ms. Howard said she has an associate's degree in science and is a pre-vet student at Chattanooga State Community College. She hopes to eventually build an animal clinic on her land.

She spent the past 20 years of her life raising her son and, now that he's an adult, she's earning money for her degree while helping to teach other children. Ms. Howard's dream at one time was to be a professional rodeo rider, she said.

"It is a dream that has you working this hard in the heat," Ms. Howard said. "Not as much unto myself anymore as the kids. I like to bring them up and watch them do good."

All the girls at the camp say they appreciate the training, rodeo experience and camaraderie, but the best part, according to 15-year-old Lacey Hamby of Chattanooga, is riding the horses.

"They (horses) love me," said the Silverdale Baptist Academy sophomore, who won first place in the camp barrel racing competition held two weeks ago. "No matter what, they're always there for you."

about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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