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Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015

Turnin,' burnin' and winnin'

Friday, August 31, 2012

Sydney and DeeDee cut it tight at the 2010 Tennessee IRBA state finals in Shelbyville.
(Submitted photo)
Three barrels, two hearts and one soul is a popular saying with barrel racers.

Sydney Ely of Chestnut Ridge and her mare, Smokies DD Gold Lady -- or "DeeDee," for short -- have a true understanding of this intertwined soul. They've worked hard to develop this trust.

Sydney Ely and her quarter horse companion, DeeDee.
(T-G Photo by Mitchell Petty)
"You've got to have a real relationship with your horse," said her father Tim Darnell. "She can lay down and fall asleep with DeeDee."

"She can climb under her, whatever," said Sydney's mother, Shelly Darnell. "When DeeDee hears her voice, she'll start nickering and looking for Sydney."

Young start

Sydney and her palomino quarter horse have been competing in rodeo competitons for years, and get this -- Sydney is only 13 years old.

It all started when Sydney attended her first barrel racing competition with family friends, and was hooked. Sydney, 7 years old at the time, called home and said, "Mama, that's what I want to do, barrel race!"

She was already a novice rider, having trail rode with her parents at the time. But to be a cowgirl takes a whole different type of dedication and mindset. You need a horse that can pound the ground and sprint, and you've got to have a daredevil's spirit.

Great deal

As luck would have it, Sydney got a heck of a deal on a competitive barrel horse less than two years later. Her aunt Tammy had gotten DeeDee after the mare's previous owner finished racing her, and it just so happened that Tammy's deck was falling to pieces.

Knowing that she needed a new deck and that her niece wanted to try her hand at barrel racing, Aunt Tammy struck a deal with Tim. Build a new deck and DeeDee would be Sydney's.

Since then, Sydney's been turnin' and burnin' around barrels with the best of them. It takes a ton of guts, control and balance to rein a thundering horse almost 20 times your size, but there's nothing that makes Sydney happier.

Time and practice

Pole bending is also in Sydney and DeeDee's repertoire. This shot was from last summer, before Sydney broke her arm in a four-wheeling accident. She came back strong, and was still able to qualify for the NBHA Youth World competition.
(Submitted photo)
To reach this level of disciplined comfortability takes time, though, and it's been a family effort. Tim and Shelly have been supremely supportive of their daughter's passion. Sydney's brother, Dylon, has helped keep another of her competition horses conditioned, as well.

To train for her circuit of competitions, Sydney rides at least 15 hours per week to keep DeeDee's legs strong and her wind built up. And they've got the perfect place to do it, too. Their plot of land is near mountainous, providing the perfect place to keep a horse in shape.

Sydney's training and confidence has garnered her many titles, most recently as a National Barrel Horse Association Youth World Finalist in late July at the annual competition in Perry, Ga. But, she's still motivated for more.

Zeal to win

"I want to win," she said. "Trailer, trucks, saddles, all of it."

Her long-term goal is to earn a collegiate scholarships for her rodeo skills. She's seen some of her older cowgirl competitors earn full rides to schools around the country, and knows it can be a reality for her, too.

The lessons Sydney's learned in her years with DeeDee are also applicable to daily life.

"Barrel racing has not only taught Sydney self-discipline -- it's also given her confidence," Shelly said. "She has had to take the time to train with DeeDee, to get the feel of her and know her every move.

Chasing a goal

"I'm very proud of the fact that my daughter set her mind to something at 7 years old, and has reached a portion of her personal goal at the age of 13 without any professional training."

What's one more positive to the pursuit of her dream?

"I guess it keeps me out of trouble," Sydney joked.

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