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Rider barrels along into equestrian excellence

May 29, 2010|By KATE S. ALEXANDER
  • Tiffany Plessinger and her horse, Jesse "Jess" James are shown with the saddle she won in the 2009 West Virginia State National Barrel Horse Association Competition.
Submitted photo,

NEEDMORE, Pa. -- Three barrels. One horse. 16 seconds. Put them together and to Tiffany Plessinger, it's just another Saturday.

A 20-year-old barrel racing champion, Plessinger speaks of her sport as if it is a lifestyle, and in many ways, it is.

Commitment is what sets the great above the good and Plessinger has no shortage of dedication, her mother Kim Nutwell said.

"She really is amazing," Kim Nutwell said. "She rides every day."

She has also qualified for the 2010 National Barrel Horse Association World Championships in Georgia this October, she said.

Barrel racing is a demanding sport that requires skill, training and a busy schedule of competition, Plessinger said.

Plessinger, a senior at Southern Fulton High School in Warfordsburg, Pa., chooses to spend her free time training her horses or out "fundraising," Kim Nutwell said.

The goal of the sport is to weave a clover pattern around three barrels as fast as you can.

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Therefore, a barrel racing horse must not only be fast, but controlled, Plessinger said.

Because not every horse and not every saddle are made for barrel racing, Plessinger's family has invested a lot of time and money into the sport, which Chuck Nutwell, Plessinger's stepfather, said they do willingly.

To help pay her share, Plessinger has found a unique way to earn extra cash.

Kim Nutwell said her daughter collects and recycles aluminum cans.

"You'd be surprised how many we find along the roads," said Chuck Nutwell. Even on a simple trip to town, he said, they will stop if they see cans. "It's interesting just to see what people drink."

The amount of trash thrown on roads is ridiculous, Plessinger said, something she is glad to remove for her benefit and for the planet's.

Inspired by a movie where a young boy collects cans to go to a fair, Plessinger said she and her mother decided they could do the same.

Plessinger has been barrel racing for eight years, she said.

Kim Nutwell said Plessinger got into the sport when the horse she rode in English riding competitions became ill and she decided to train a Morgan horse how to barrel race.

"Morgans are very versatile but you don't see many in barrel racing," Kim Nutwell said.

Using the only horse she had available, Plessinger and the Morgan learned the sport together.

Pleased to be away from the subjective judging of English competitions and into the clear-cut world of barrel racing where the clock does not lie, Plessinger said the sport quickly became her favorite.

Not only has she risen to become a champion in her sport, winning 1st place in the third division at the NBHA West Virginia State competition in 2009 and qualifying for Worlds in 2010, Plessinger inspires others, Chuck Nutwell said.

"For the little kids at these shows who are just starting, to see someone like Tiffany who has moved up in the sport, they just eat it up," he said.

She even has inspired others to collect and recycle cans to fund the sport, he said.

Yet what keeps her going is not the recognition or the trophies, Plessinger said.

It is a love of horses.

"She just has this intuition about horses," Kim Nutwell said. "It's amazing."

Plessinger and her parents own six horses, but she only races two, Jesse "Jess" James, a Quarterhorse-Thoroughbred mix, and Kit, a retired Thoroughbred race horse.

Both horses were trained by Plessinger, Kim Nutwell said.

Plessinger said she will have horses all her life and plans to follow her family legacy by making the gentle giants her life's work.

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