One of the largest barrel racing events held each year at the Mississippi Horse Park begins on Thursday.
The sixth annual Speedfest is one of four multi-day barrel race events held at the Horse Park each year and one of three organized by promoter Mary Jane Carpenter of Prairie, owner of Ride West Marketing.
This weekend's Speedfest is the 25th barrel racing event Carpenter has organized at the Horse Park over the last 10 years. She also organizes the June Jam NBHA Super Show and the March Madness Barrel Race.
In barrel racing, competing riders ride a course of three barrels placed at opposite points from each other in a triangle formation in the arena. The riders must ride around each of the three barrels without knocking them over in the shortest amount of time possible.
Some of the top riders competing in previous barrel races completed their rides in times of 15 seconds or less. In fact, top riders in previous Speedfest competitions have completed the course in just over 14.8 seconds.
After every four to five riders, tractors ride through the arena to smooth out the dirt and help keep the arena floor on an even keel for all riders.
Past Speedfest events have attracted riders from numerous states, including Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Missouri and Illinois.
The barrel races are unique in that they provide all levels of riders and horses a chance to compete for prize money. Last year, the Speedfest alone paid out $39,402 to various winners.
Youth Ashley Snedegar, of Iuka, Ill., won $3,071 on her horse VF Coup DeVille and had the fastest average time. Back to compete this year is 11-year-old Aubrey Grace Caldwell of Columbus. Riding her pony Madison, Caldwell won $543 and the 4D average at last year’s race.
Both are scheduled to compete this weekend during the Speedfest.
Admission is free for the public to attend the event, with all barrel racing taking place inside the Horse Park's covered arena.
Horse Park Manager Bricklee Miller, who herself has competed in barrel racing, said the crowds attending the event have been solid every year.
"This event draws a good crowd every year," Miller said.
Speedfest barrel racing action kicks off at 6 p.m. Thursday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. Saturday.
Sunday's Speedfest events kick off at 8:30 a.m. with a Cowboy Church service, and the first barrel races will start around 10:30 a.m. or shortly after.
Concessions will be available, and a number of vendors selling western attire and gear are open along the concourse of the Horse Park's indoor arena.
For more information on the Speedfest and upcoming events at the Mississippi Horse Park, visit http://www.mshorsepark.com  or call the event information line at 325-0508.