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The Central Coast Riders (CCR) wrapped up their weekend Gymkhana competition with a special 9/11 memorial ceremony.

On the eve of the 16th anniversary of the September 11, the club dedicated Sunday’s racing at the Elks Unocal Event Center to Marine Sergeant Leia Larson, a former helicopter crew chief and door gunner who served two tours in Iraq in 2004 and 2005.

“This is our 9/11 remembrance show," said Christopher Rowles, the CCR’s club spokesman. “We dedicated the show to all the people who lost their lives in 9/11, all the first responders and our military and with Leia having served two tours in Iraq, we thought she would be the perfect person to carry the American flag into the arena.”

“It was so sweet of them to do that. It was such an honor — any time you get to carry the flag it’s a huge honor,” said Larson, who teaches riding in Santa Margarita. “So I’m riding my horse Brenna  it means “fiery in old Norse  around the arena, carrying the American flag and trying not to tear up. But it still brought tears to my eyes, it was so special, such an honor.”

Then it was time for a full day of racing that wrapped up the two-day event and Larson has an excellent day.

Normally an AA rider, Larson was bumped up to the AAA division in the Poles I race  which is similar to a traditional Pole Bending race  winning the day with a 12.677-second time. Larson was also first in the AA Speed Barrels race (which is similar to a traditional barrel race except that you have to weave down and back in a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels) with an 11.261-second time, and second in the AA Big T (weaving through three poles then around two barrels) at 17.518 behind Shannon Lemons 17.377.

Gymkhana is a series of 13 unique speed pattern races. The times from each race are carried over with the rider posting the lowest total time for all 13 events winning the championship.

There are several different classes that are determined not by age but by skill level.

“Each of the races presents different challenges,” said Rowles. “For instance, in Quadrangle, riders start in the middle of the arena. There are two poles, 75-feet apart, on each side of the timing lights and the riders have to race around the poles making two left turns and two right turns; and in Speed Ball, riders have to race up to a cone, drop a golf ball in the hole then race back to the starting line.”

Riders also compete in traditional barrel racing as well as Speed Barrels, two different pole weaving events, a race called Figure 8 Stakes, Figure 8 Flags, Birangle, Big T racing, Keyhole  where riders having to race into a chalk outlined in the shape of a key hole, turn, and race out the way they entered  Hurry Scurry and Single Stake.

“Hurry Scurry is the only one with jumps in it. You’ve got to get your horses stride just right so that you can make two jumps going down the course, turn around a pole then make a third jump on your way back,” said Rowles. “I believe Single Stake is the hardest. You’re asking your horse to fly down the arena, pivot around a stake then race back to the finish line  all without stopping.”

Each race officially begins when the horse and rider cross break a beam on an electric eye. Timing stops when the team passes through the beam at the finish line.

“Each race is timed electronically. The results go directly into our computer. The national Gymkhana association has developed a special program to track each event,” said Rowles. “Then everything goes to the state association so you can see where you stand against other California riders. It’s important. The times need to be correct so you get your correct state rankings.”

After two days of competition Katelyn Hurl, riding Barbie, was crowned the AAA-plus division champion; Katelyn’s mother, Johna Hurl aboard Rudy, took the AAA title with Briena Chatham and Cisco winning the AAA reserve champion title; Lemons, riding Lorelai, won the AA division title with 7-year-old Weston Handy and Copper Penny — bumped up from the A class — taking the reserve champion crown; Emily Parker aboard Button is the A division champion with Valen Chatham and Jasper earning reserve champion honors; Kylie Hurl, Johna Hurl’s niece who was riding for the first time at a CCR event, won the 11-and-under Futures Champions title; another first time Santa Maria Rider, Lea Geronimo riding Owen, won the Future Champions 12-99 crown; and yet another first-time Santa Maria rider Edyn McCracken, riding Alujo, won the Lead Line division — the division for the youngest riders where parents are allowed to walk the arena holding a lead line to help the young riders.

“We had a great crowd both days,” said CCR club secretary Janice Rowles. “We’d like to thank the judges  Christopher Rowles, Allyson Shiffrar and Shannon Lemons  and all the volunteers who make it possible to put on our Gymkhana events. And a big thanks to Riding Warehouse for providing sweatshirts, hats, gift certificates and discount certificates that we gave out as prizes to the top finishers in each division.”

CCR, whose formal name is California Gymkhana Association District 40, still has one big event left this year  it’s big Halloween Gymkhana show on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 28-29.

“We don’t race in November and December because the weather is so iffy,” said Janice Rowles. “So this will be our big year-end show. We’ll have costumes contests for both the horses and riders, there’ll be a barbecue and music on Saturday night. It should be a whole lot of fun.”

“And admission is free, there’s always fee camping and free lodging for horses,” said Christopher Rowles. “We'll have a concession stand from Dogfathers Hot Dogs. You don’t have to ride to have fun out here — people should come on out.”

Registration for competitors begins at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 28. Racing gets underway at 9 a.m.

For more information, visit the CCR website at


Senior Sports Reporter