Barrel racer records three-peat
Barrel racer Jenna Mergl continued to roll in 2021.
The 17-year-old Fonthill resident won the Ontario Barrel Racing Association and Niagara Barrel Racing Club Youth and Open year-end averages.
“It’s definitely something really hard to do and this is the third year in a row that I have won OBRA Youth and Open,” the Grade 12 student at E.L. Crossley said.
It was a challenging year for Mergl.
“With my brother (Ethan) passing this year, it made it very hard to focus. Barrel racing is definitely a mental game. If you think the worst, like you think you’re going to knock a barrel, you probably are going to knock a barrel,” she said. “With barrel racing, I found when I would just go out there with no plan, I would never perform my best. So, I would try to mentally prepare for each run before I even got on my horse. Also, I would always try to focus on what I had to do and I would try and vision my run in my head.”
The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t affect her training much because her horses are kept on the family’s property.
“Whenever I wanted to train I could. I’m very fortunate to have the horses on our property,” Mergl said. “As for competing, the show season started later until the weather improved where we could compete outside. All the early indoor shows were cancelled.”
The compacted season required modifications.
“I had to alter the horses’ training schedule as well as limit the runs I did in a weekend because there were competitions every weekend,” she said. “Another disappointing part about the pandemic was the land border being closed to travel. I could not travel to the United States to compete in some of the big U.S. shows.”
Despite the challenges, she feels she evolved as a racer during the season by being more consistent in everything she did, including training techniques, training schedules, and mental preparation for competitions.
“For competitions, I would try to get a little better each time. I never made huge adjustments in the year but minor ones to help Winnie and I stay on the right track.”
She is looking forward to the 2022 season.
“I want to learn more training techniques so I can keep developing my young horses and fine turning my seasoned horse.”
Her goal for the upcoming season is to change her riding style for each of the two horses she competes on.
“I must ride Winnie and Spartan differently which will be my biggest challenge, but I’m up for the challenge. I am looking forward to competing with my five-year-old horse Spartan in the futurity class. This will be his first year of competing. It will be very exciting to see how we do together as a new team. I have spent a lot of time training and building a solid foundation on him.”
That training will resume in about a month and a half.
“I start riding again at the beginning of March to get them back into shape because we give them some time off and let them just be horses for a bit.”
Mergl started riding horses by herself when she was six. Her father Brent Mergl, also a rider, began taking her to local saddle club horse shows and she tried a number of disciplines before deciding to focus on barrel racing.
Barrel racing is a rodeo event which combines a horse’s athletic ability and the rider’s ability to safely and successfully maneuver a horse in a pattern around three barrels placed in a triangle.
“I enjoy the speed and excitement of competition but the best part by far is the special bond you develop with your horse,” Jenna said. “I find it amazing how we move as one at such great speeds.”