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Trophy rider: Cottage Grove 4-H'er to lead group at state competition

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Good barrel racers have to be fearless.

Halle Sterling, who will lead the Washington County horseback riders into the ring for state competition this weekend, gets “super nervous” before a barrel race. She has to calm down before mounting her horse, J, because he will feel her anxiety.

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Sterling senses when J is ready to race and lets him go by signaling him with her reins and the pressure in her legs that the race on.

The goal is to get the fastest time possible going around each of three 50-gallon drum barrels in a cloverleaf pattern, and Sterling was the second fastest in county fair 4-H competition.

“It’s very precise and much harder than it looks,” she said in an interview last week, and the rider must be comfortable riding at a 45-degree angle around the barrels.

About 100 4-H’ers compete at the county level in various age categories. To win, overall, a rider must win their age division and beat the winners of all the other divisions.

Out of a possible 26 points for five races, Sterling got an impressive 22 points, just missing out on a first in barrels. “I went out too late,” she said.

The Happy Hornets 4-H Club member was the winner in the other races in the games category that includes the egg and spoon competition, key race, figure-eight jumping, pole race and barrels. She was awarded grand champion in four races and grand reserve champion.

As a result, when the Washington County 4-H winners enter the coliseum on the state fairgrounds, Sterling will lead them, riding J and carrying a county flag.

Started riding at 8

Sterling’s horsemanship odyssey began when she was 8 years old. Her mother, Trish, paid for 10 horseback riding lessons.

Halle didn’t like her first lesson and didn’t want to continue, but Trish insisted since she had already paid for the lessons.

Sterling and horses made peace and she was on her way to becoming an accomplished rider. She is now in 10th grade at Cretin-Derham Hall High School. She lives in Cottage Grove.

She spends most of her time during the summer riding and caring for horses at the J-DA Barrel Horses riding school in Woodbury with her instructor, Danielle Ritter, according to her father, Chris.

“I give her a lot of credit” for getting me this far, Sterling said of Ritter.

To compete this weekend, Sterling will miss her school’s homecoming dance, but when she recalls doing five victory laps at the county fair, it will be worth the sacrifice if she has some success at state.

“It was a great day,” she said.

Sterling will have her own rooting section this weekend. In addition to her parents and younger brother, both sets of grandparents — Jon and Jean Shutte and Dan and Sue Sterling — will be there.

A straight-A student taking honors classes, Sterling has no idea what her major will be in college.

After Ritter took her to see a national rodeo in Oklahoma, however, Sterling “wouldn’t mind” if she could be good enough to be on a rodeo circuit.

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Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
(651) 459-7600
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