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Racing for rodeo fame

IRONTON — Ask any 12-year-old what goals he or she wants to accomplish when they get older and answers could vary from one day to another.

Ask 12-year-old Summer Shafer what goals she wants to accomplish and her aspiration is cemented in the hard work, drive and dedication she has shown since she was 5 years old.

“I’m going to be a world champion professional barrel racer. I want to do it my whole life and be the best.”

And based on her success so far, the barrel racing and rodeo world should keep their eye on and remember the name Summer Shafer.

She might be the most driven 12-year-old in all of Lawrence County – and she’s just getting warmed up.

It all started ironically back in 2001 when a 4-year-old Shafer saw her first horse — a half-pony, half-horse part-bred owned by a family friend. Shafer said she was hooked from the beginning and after three years of asking (and a little bit of begging) her parents, Michael and Trish Shafer, got Summer her first horse.

Just one year letter, Shafer started her barrel racing career and hasn’t looked back.

Today, Shafer, who practices every available day, is mostly self-taught with occasional help from Texas-based, barrel racing legend Martha Josey. She competes on the regional and national level with a pair of horses: “Peppy,” a 7-year-old Quarter Horse gelding that had never been around a barrel until Summer trained him and “Lendy,” a 6-year-old Quarter Horse mare.

Barrel racing is a women’s rodeo event in which a horse and rider attempt to complete a clover-leaf pattern around preset barrels in the fastest time.

The sport combines a horse’s athletic ability and the horsemanship skills of a rider in order to safely and successfully maneuver a horse through the pattern around three barrels — typically three, 55 gallon metal or plastic drums — placed in a triangle in the center of an arena.

In timed rodeo events and competitions, the purpose is to make a run as fast as possible. Time begins when the horse and rider cross the start line and ends when the barrel pattern has been successfully executed and horse and rider cross the finish line.

A rider or horse tipping a barrel over during the run results in a 10-second time penalty in most competitions.

While most riders will enter the course and first circle the barrel on their right, Shafer already has a huge advantage compared to most competitors her age.

That’s because “Peppy” starts right while “Lendy” starts her rides off left. That ability to have rides from both the right and the left gives Shafter a huge edge.

“It is an advantage for sure in learning different courses,” the Ironton Middle School student said.

That advantage allowed Shafer to get national recognition last month in Columbus at the 2009 All American Quarter Horse Congress — the largest horse show in North America. In the 13 and under age class, Shafer finished in 13th place nationally and was just a half-second out of first place.

That success followed a pair of grand and reserve championships at the West Virginia Quarter Horse Association championships with both horses.

But despite all the ribbons and trophies Summer has garnered the past seven years, it’s her work ethic behind the scenes in taking care of “Peppy” and “Lendy” that has her mother Trish the most proud of her daughter.

“It’s awesome what she has been able to accomplish in far exceeding what kids her age have done,” Trish Shafer said. “Her commitment though has been the most noticeable. She is a leader and not a follower.”

Summer Shafer may not be a follower, but fans of hers will probably be following her all the way to the top of the barrel racing world.