Grace Sams has a lot of responsibility and she likes it that way. The rising sophomore at West Stokes spends up to three hours a day at Takota stables in King working with her two horses, Wrangler and Scooter in preparation for competitions in barrel racing, pole bending, and goat tying.
Sams said she loves the adrenaline rush she feels seconds before events begin.
“It’s just me and my horse and we both know what to do,” the teen said. “The clock is our competition.”
In barrel racing Sams can hold a 17 second pace but what spectators don’t see on Saturdays are the hours of work put in behind the scenes.
“Every day I go in the pen, warm up the horse, set up the pattern and we trot. It starts slow and then speeds up. When we finish you play a few games with your horse and come back and unsaddle. I brush him down, feed him, and take care of him,” she said.
Although Sams has been riding horses since a young age, she’s only competed competitively for the past three years. She quickly learned the importance of bonding with her horse.
“It’s very important to have a horse you trust because if you don’t have the trust the horse doesn’t have the confidence,” she said. “You’re at risk of knocking almost every barrel down and your horse not doing the right job.”
She also realized you have to take things slow when beginning.
“You train and teach the horse so you just start off walking and slow trotting the pattern, just getting the horse use to it with no mistakes and knowing what to do on their own,” Sams said. “It is has to be fun for the rider and the horse.”
They need to know it isn’t about work every day, Sams explained.
“The horses have to know what fun is because if they don’t enjoy it they won’t give 100 percent. You can always spot the horses that don’t want to be there. Ours may get a little antsy sometimes but as soon as you walk them in, they’re fine. When they get to the arena they enjoy it.”
Sams competitive season runs from March until October and the teen has recently aged into the senior division of the North Carolina Youth Rodeo Association and is facing her toughest competition yet.
“In goat tying we run down the pen and I get off my horse and run to the goat that’s staked out on the line,” she explained.
The teen then flanks it, lands on it, and picks three legs up to tie and whoever gets the fastest time wins.
“It’s pretty complicated when you first start learning how to do it. You have to make sure you’re in sync with your horse to know when exactly to get off and then you’re on your own trying to figure out all your ties and get everything without bobbles in it,” she said.
Sams has taken first place in the event and said she treats the sport like any other athlete.
“It takes a lot of time. We put in the hard work just like football, cheerleaders, basketball players,” she said.
Sams mother, Shelley has watched her daughter improve over the years and is proud of what she’s accomplished in such a short amount of time.
“If she knocks over a barrel I just tell her the professionals still do that, it’s part of it. At the end of the day you watch your video, you learn from it and you go back to the pen. You step back and say ‘This is what I did wrong and how do I correct it?”
The teen credits Takota stable owner Lisa Motsinger who has over 30 years of equine experience for teaching her new techniques and horsemanship. Although Sams knows there’s more to learn, she has her sights set on advancing to the national level of barrel racing and working towards college scholarship money.
“I’d like to be a large animal veterinarian,” she said.
For now her focus is ending her season strong alongside her horses.
“I work at it every day. These horses are my babies but they’re also working tools,” she said. “I’ve learned to have a lot of respect for them.”
Amanda Dodson can be reached at (336) 813-2426 or on Twitter at AmandaTDodson.