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Class gives kids horse sense

(ran PAS edition)

Because Nita Clements grew up around horses, the Montana native wants to make sure her sons, Shane, 2, and Jordan, 3, are comfortable around the animals.

So she took them to meet a professional barrel racer who spoke Thursday to about 30 children at the Land O'Lakes library on Collier Parkway.

"I don't want the boys to forget the horses and cows," said Clements, 40, from Wesley Chapel.

The presentation was part of the library's weekly youth program.

Allison Ray, who lives in Odessa and taught the class, has been barrel racing for more than 20 years and riding horses for more than 40. She has won numerous barrel racing competitions.

In 1987, she was the barrel racing champion for the Southeast Circuit, which is a rodeo league of nine states from Arkansas to Florida.

Ray showed the kids horseshoes, barrel racing gear and a video of her races. She also showed them a silver belt buckle, which she won last year at a competition in Texas.

Most of the children were unfamiliar with barrel racing, so Ray explained the rules.

"It's kind of a sport of speed and excitement," Ray said.

Barrel racing is one of the seven events in a rodeo. The horses must circle three barrels arranged in a triangle. The fastest rider wins the event.

"Rodeo is a good, clean American sport," she said.

The horses can touch a barrel, but there is a five-second penalty if the barrel topples.

Ray recalled a competition about 20 years ago when she knocked down all three barrels.

"I was so embarrassed," she said. "I ran into the trailer and changed my clothes, because I didn't want anyone to recognize me."

Some of the kids were disappointed Ray did not bring her horse. But Ray said it was too hot to transport Neat Lady Ray.

Ray said it was a good idea for girls to become interested in horses.

"If little girls fall in love with horses, it keeps them away from boys longer, and that's a fact," she said.

At the end of her speech, Ray answered questions.

Andrew Slaven, 7, of Land O'Lakes asked, "Do horses like pizza?"

"Mine probably would," Ray said. "Do you have any pizza?"

After Ray's speech, Andrew's brother, Kris, 10, checked out a book about rodeos.

"I just seems like an interesting thing," he said.

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