Warren Belgard isn't the quickest barrel racer. His horse doesn't zoom around the barrels.
The two will not take home a National Barrel Horse Association Senior World Championship this weekend, either. No, the pair will just try to run clean like they have in other trips to Augusta. In 45 runs in the NBHA World Championships, Belgard and his gelding Skip have knocked over just two barrels.
"If you knock over a barrel," Belgard said, "it's money down the drain."
The 78-year-old barrel racer, the oldest competitor in the event, shows the spunk of a rider half his age, and he's not thinking of quitting anytime soon. This week, he and his 20-year-old horse will try to make money in the fourth division, or 4D - similar to a golf tournament's fourth flight.
Riders with the fastest times comprise the 1D. The 2D is made up of racers a half-second off the fastest time, while the 3D is a full second off the pace. The 4D is for riders two seconds off the top time.
That's where Belgard, of Wilsonville, Ala., comes in. He and Skip are in barrel racing limbo, too slow for the 3D and too fast for the 4D.
Belgard hasn't figured out how to remedy the situation. He could ride slower, but he feels that's dishonest. He could buy a faster horse, but that can pose a problem Belgard sees with other seniors.
"They get a horse that's too fast and they get hurt," he said. "I'd like to have a horse that's faster. But I don't want a 1D horse."
Belgard and Skip have ridden together in 11 of the 12 NBHA World Championships, missing only the first competition.
The retired Massachusetts school bus mechanic got hooked on the sport at age 55, when his son Keith was preparing for the birth of his first son. Belgard took Keith's horse and tried his hand at the sport in a weekend event.
"I got the bug," Belgard said.
He began competing in Maine and found moderate success. He has won 12 belt buckles, including a 3D Open reserve title in the 1996 NBHA World Championships.
"For an old guy and an old horse, we've had our share of good runs," Belgard said.
He married his second wife, Kay, last year, but he remained wedded to the sport - the newlyweds spent their honeymoon at the 2003 NBHA World Championships.
Kay is not a barrel racer. And she's not too fond of her husband, swerving around three barrels in less than 17 seconds. Yet he remains devoted to the sport.
"When I was 62 I told somebody I was going to quit at 65," Belgard said. "If I talk about quitting, everybody laughs."
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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