Megan Yurko is small, but she's a big name in barrel racing. And the 16-year-old is on track to be crowned the world's top cowgirl barrel racer at the upcoming International Professional Rodeo Association's finals in Oklahoma City.
Just under 4-foot-10, Megan depends on her 1,200-pound filly Beea in a sport where the fastest rider around three barrels in a cloverleaf pattern wins.
"The thrill of it all is awesome," Megan says.
Megan's father, Karl Yurko, is a veterinarian, and like his daughter, he loves this sport. "First barrel's the money barrel," he says. "If the first barrel is good --the rest is gonna be simple."
But Megan's life is anything but simple. She's been barrel racing since she was 6 years old, she snowboards, she's on the swim team at Wheeling Central Catholic High School in Wheeling, W.Va., and she's in school five days a week — unless there's a weekend rodeo.
"I'm normally up at 5 a.m. I go feed the horses, take care of them, say good morning and all that stuff, and I've got to be at school by 7:30," she explains. At 2 p.m., she says, "I go home and ride and then I sit down with my tutor and do my homework."
Add in hauling Beea around in a trailer to rodeos, and when does she sleep?
"Never!" Megan says. "You never sleep."
But Megan is making money. As a professional cowgirl barrel racer, she racked up more than $21,000 in winnings for the 2013 season.
She spends that money on stuff for her horse, she says, like gas, feed, boarding and entry fees, and spa treatments for Beea.
Her father says that's a big help for a horse in a sport that's hard on their tendons.
"We have massage therapy for [Beea], we have acupuncture therapy for her, laser therapy, ice therapy," he says. "I think if it's out there to make her feel better [and] protect her, we're looking at it."
Bobby Row, producer of the Salem Stampede Days Kroger Valleydale Rodeo in Salem, Va., says cowgirl barrel racing had no standard rules until the 1950s. And the International Professional Rodeo Association didn't recognize cowgirl barrel racing as a world championship event until 1961.
Many on the IPRA's board had wives who barrel raced, he adds — "So they had a lot of pull — the wives did."
Last week's cowgirl barrel rider competition at the rodeo in Salem was the last before the finals. Gearing up, Megan was psyched. Megan and Beea hurtled onto the clumped dirt into the arena and finished in 14.9 seconds.
Hearing the results, her dad could hardly breathe. "That's really good — that's smoking!"
But Megan gives all the credit to Beea. She says they're going to have one heck of a ride in the finals this weekend in Oklahoma City. And if she wins, Megan will be named the IPRA's 2013 world champion cowgirl barrel racer.