Barrel Racing with Mary Burger and Fred

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Rare Fred-Ron Martin's sleek gelding that won the 2006 WPRA world championship for a little grandmother by the name of Mary Burger-is still in the thick of things despite an injury he sustained about seven months after his world-title run.

The 13-year-old sorrel has won nearly every aged-event, breed association, divisional race and rodeo championship possible, but he appeared to have lost confidence after he sat out the latter half of 2007 with a pulled suspensory ligament.

However, Burger, who trained "Fred" a decade ago for Martin, of Seal Beach, Calif., got her superstar back on his game after the lackluster winter in time to put a stomping on all takers at Reno, Nev., St. Paul Ore., and Molalla, Ore.-including clocking two 16-second runs on standard patterns.

That little $22,126 haul pushed Burger back to Las Vegas into her second Wrangler NFR; her first having come in '06 when she won the world title by the closest margin in 25 years and accepted Fred's honor as that year's AQHA/WPRA Horse of the Year.

The difference last summer may not have just been the good ground and cool weather. Thanks to her horseshoeing husband, Kerry, Burger temporarily conquered an ongoing battle with Fred's tendency toward crushed heels (he has flat, slow-growing feet). And after Fred was found to be allergic to pine dust and several other triggers, Burger last year began using a vet-recommended herbal bronchial dilator to ease his respiratory symptoms.

In Las Vegas, the duo uncharacteristically hit barrels in the first two rounds, but ended the season fifth in the average and seventh in the world. And this winter, they were ahead of their '08 pace after raking in $9,722 at Odessa, Denver, Fort Worth and Lake Charles for another top-15 ranking through February.

It would be hard to find equine ancestors with bigger hearts or more speed than those of Fred, who is by Jet Radar. The stallion is double-bred Jet Deck-on the top through the Depth Charge/Go Man Go-bred Rare Jet, and on the bottom through Easy Jet mixed with a Lady Bugs Moon daughter. Even more impressive is that Fred's mother, Sleek Glass, is an own granddaughter of both Secretariat and Johnny Dial.

And Fred's jockey has a story almost as rare.

Besides qualifying for her first NFR at the tender age of 58, Burger is an Indiana native and as a young child had Perthes disease in both hips that rendered her unable to walk. This prompted her father to buy her a pony, from whose back she virtually grew up in 4-H.

Mary, an eventual nine-time AQHA world champion, moved with Kerry and their kids from Ohio to Oklahoma in the mid-1980s, where Mary began to rodeo in addition to training futurity horses. They now live on 28 picturesque acres and own B&B Machine Shop near Pauls Valley, adjacent to their close-knit extended family members.

Burger trains without any arena fences, and always starts her barrel horses on the pole bending pattern, too, to help teach them to elevate their shoulders. She trains her horses to allow themselves plenty of room in a turn and to learn a style that is fundamentally to drop and run around each barrel.

"I want them automatic," she said. "I want them using that inside back leg and for it all to be very fluid. And I go with them. It's not just 'drag and pull.'"

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Winning St. Paul (Ore.)
This picture is what I consider a great example of good position. This is the long reach and the form I look for from a horse in a great run. You can see Fred's stride around this barrel, and the way he has his head down and tipped to the inside.

I am just sitting there letting him do his thing. The ground at St. Paul was Fred's kind. It had a clay mixture that would hold him in a turn.

Even though the barrels were in the center of a football field, Fred loved it. The entrance to the barrel pattern came from under the bleachers on the side of the field. He zeroed in on the first barrel and continued the pattern in perfect form. Leaving the arena exiting into a dark tunnel was a trick, but he handled that well, too.

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Placing third in the NFR's fifth round
Fred's form and stride in this picture aren't really what he needed for it to be a really fast run [it was a 14.01]. He is more gathered up in his turn in this photo, and his stride is short.

Also, he shifted past his turn and lost valuable time. The ground was shifty in Las Vegas, and in that kind of ground he has a tendency to safety up. I am positioned in the "gather up" mode to help him regain valuable time and still leave the barrel standing.

Fred always runs in the same medium-shanked slider bit. I rarely wear spurs, but do encourage him to run out of the arena with an over-and-under type horn rope.

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Winning Reno (Ev.) by half-second
The Reno Rodeo is in a large arena with the barrels set far off the walls. This makes it a challenge for horse and rider to get three good turns and do it consistently in order to win. I am proud to say that Fred did his very best to make that happen.

The ground is a clay mix and somewhat firm. Again, this is Fred's kind of ground, and his reach around the barrel here is long and hard.

I had a slight slip in this picture that put him a tiny bit past his second barrel. As you can see, I was focused on getting out of that turn as quickly as possible. I am looking at our forward motion getting off the turn, and I'm thinking of trying to pick up speed to barrel three. After a slip, staying focused on shutting the clock off is a must.