By Bill Choy
Triplicate Sports Editor
Charli Penn and her horse Hula are ready to test their mettle in the barrel racing event at the Redwood Coast Rodeo during the Del Norte County Fair next Saturday.
Penn, 15, will be competing with the adults in the California Cowboys Professional Rodeo Association (C.C.P.R.A) competition.
"I've been practicing a lot and getting my horse in shape," she said, adding she is "nervous and excited" at the same time about the opportunity to barrel race in a professional competition.
Penn, of Crescent City, has been barrel racing since she was 11 years old and is a member of the Lake Earl Grange Equestrian team, which competes in Gymkhana events. She has previously raced in the youth barrel competition at the fair.
She was told by her Gymkhana coach Helen Ferguson, who is the Lake Earl Grange Youth Fair Program Program Director, that she believed she should compete at the rodeo.
"She can hold her own," Ferguson said about Penn, adding she has done well at the Gymkhana events and is working hard to qualify for states in her division. "She's good. A lot of them (Gymkhana participants) look up to her."
Barrel racing is a timed event that combines a riders horsemanship skills and the horse's athletic ability.
The goal is to safely and successfully work the horse around three closed-end metal barrels placed in a cloverleaf pattern in the center of the arena, while going at breakneck speeds.
Penn said to do well, you have to have good balance and "have a horse that knows what it's doing."
She said Hula, who she got this year, fits that bill. Penn said she is quite comfortable riding her horse, who she described as quite a friendly and agreeable animal.
"I'm going to try really hard," Penn said about competing next week, and added it would be nice if she could beat her best time of 18.9 seconds.
Penn expressed gratitude to Charles Haynes of Charles Haynes Horse Shoeing in town, a family friend who sponsored her so she could pay for and obtain the C.C.P.R.A membership, so she could take part in the rodeo.
Without that that help, Penn said being able to race at the rodeo would not have become a reality.
To Ferguson, the Gymkhana group "has a nice nucleus of kids that are practicing really hard."
She said Penn has been a mentor to the other kids with her hard work and dedication to horseback riding.
"She's definitely demonstrated that there are things for our youth to do here," Ferguson said. "You just have to look for them... It's really taken off here and she's one of the people leading the way."
She added Penn also helps her on her dairy farm taking care of baby calves.
Redwood Coast Rodeo at the Del Norte County Fairgrounds
When: August 4, 4 p.m. The youth barrel races will be held at 1:30 p.m.
Where: Del Norte County Fairgounds, 421 U.S. Hwy. 101