Nicole Antonucci/Recorder staff The Cook family from Bleecker prepares for practice runs at the Fonda Fairgrounds Wednesday. From the left: Moriah, Sarah, Becky and Abigail.
Nicole Antonucci/Recorder staff Abigail Cook rides 15-year-old Talent during barrel races at the Fonda Fairgrounds Wednesday.
By NICOLE ANTONUCCI
FONDA -- When the Fonda Fairgrounds were flooded following Tropical Storm Irene, a group of volunteers came together clean up the mess and decided to form a club to support the Fonda Fair.
Since 2012, the Montgomery Equine Club has grown to more than 40 members and has been hands on in restoring many of the structures on the grounds, painting the barns, adding horse stalls, and hosting events to raise money for future improvements.
"Our club is very hands-on," club president Betty Kilcullen said. "The goal is to get more action around here. The more we have down here, the more its beneficial to everyone."
The Equine Club is part of the Montgomery County Agricul-tural Society, which owns the fairgrounds, located on Bridge Street.
One of the main fundraising events the club hosts is the weekly jackpot barrel races, which draw a large crowd of horse riders from throughout the state.
Wednesday's event was no exception, as the warmer weather attracted more than 50 riders, some traveling more than two hours to have a go in the arena.
Admission is free, but the competition requires a $25 entry fee for all riders.
The money raised from the barrel racing events goes toward the repairs and maintenance in the horse department. The money will also be used in the future to buy more equipment, such as a computer for timed horse-racing events and adding more stalls.
Some of the money is also given to the Fonda Fair Board of Directors to maintain the fairgrounds.
"The club has a positive role on the fair and its great to see clubs with this much activity," Fonda Fair board member Martin Kelly said prior to the event. "It's great they are involved improving the fairgrounds. It's a win-win for everyone."
Rulison said many of the participants have been coming since the club formed but every week, more and more people are showing up.
"Our volume is growing," Rulison said. "Every day I get bombarded with phone calls from people wanting to join."
Outside the arena, the riders gathered, some conversing in groups while others attended to their horses. The atmosphere was light and people joked with each other as they got ready for the competition.
"It's a family," Rulison said.
However, inside the arena, each participant became focused on the challenge. One by one they entered the gate and led their horse around three barrels before galloping back out of the arena in an attempt to get the fastest time.
The races are a chance for many of the horse riders to practice before the National Barrel Horse Association New York State Championships, which is held at the fairgrounds Memorial Day weekend.
"You can work with your horse and become a team with him," said Sarah Cook of Bleecker, who sat on her 7-year-old horse named Tashunka.
Sarah was joined by her two sisters Moriah and Abigail and her mother Beth, who were all participating in the event.
The Cook family is part of the Montgomery Equine Club and represents three generations of riders who have participated in the event. The daughters are home schooled and work during the day training their own horses.
Moriah Cook is a gymkhana champion and even qualified for the NBHA world finals with her horse Kiss-my-sassafrass, who she received from club member Pam Rulison.
According to Rulison, the horse was orphaned after it was born when its mother died. Rulison said they raised the horse as one of their own, even sleeping in the barn with her.
The horse joined the Cook family after it turned 2 years old and quickly made friends with the family's other horses, though according to the family there is a pecking order. Tashunka is the head of the horse family and lets them know it.
"They are like a bunch of teenage boys with their hormones," Rulison said, laughing. "There is a hierarchy."
Others just came out to watch the event, like 17-year-old Beth Mallet of Fort Plain. Mallett said she plans to participate in the future but her horse is not ready for the competition.
Mallett said she has been working since January on breaking the horse in. It wasn't until March that she was able to ride him.
"He wouldn't let anyone go near him. The man who had him before me abused him so he was very sensitive," Mallett said. "It was a challenge breaking him but it was about desensitizing him so he wasn't scared."
Mallett said she plans to ride him at the Fonda Fair in August.
The Montgomery County Equine Club Wednesday Night Jackpot is held every week at 7 p.m. in the arena.